Leeann Hysaw has earned 11 years of experience in massage therapy having graduated from Lincoln Technical Institute in 2007.
Tipping is a part of massage culture that can cause confusion for customers. Many clients do not know if they should leave a tip or not, and when they do know to leave a tip they are often unsure of how much to leave or where to leave it. I have even worked with some clients who believed the therapist would get in trouble for accepting tips. They would slip the money into my hand or pocket and whisper that it was a gift for me.
It’s endearing that clients want me to feel appreciated, however, I also wish the system was transparent across the board. It shouldn't have to be so awkward.
There are a few instances in massage where tipping is discouraged or flat-out not allowed, but typically establishments work hard to notify the clients about what their policies are. Some even help further by suggesting how much to leave the therapist. In this article, I offer some tips for recognizing how and when to tip your massage therapist. There are three types of establishments that offer massage, and all have slightly different tip-out cultures. How do these cultures differ from a tip perspective? Read on to learn how!
Types of Massage Establishments
There are some ways to intuit whether you should be tipping your massage therapist. The best method of determining whether or not to tip (or the correct questions to ask) is by looking into the type of establishment. There are many different types of spas and they all have their own rules. The suggestions I make aren't true for each independent establishment; it's always worth asking. Here are the patterns I've observed at different institutions that offer massage.
There are places like:
- Corporate chains: Therapists at large corporate chains tend to rely on the kindness of their clients for tips because hourly rates are lower
- At-home or in-home: A therapist working on their own may politely refuse a tip when it is offered
- In-betweens: Many types of establishments linger in between these two extremes
Massage Chains: Definitely Tip
If you book a massage at a large chain of spas or any establishment that runs as a part of a franchise of locations, your therapist is most likely being paid a percentage of what you are dishing out for the massage. The percentages vary but, on average, your therapist is going to receive less than 20% of what the establishment charges. That may not seem bad but, if you’re paying $100 for a one-hour session, your therapist is probably receiving roughly $15 out of that $100 you give the studio.
Also, remember, these kinds of studios normally do not pay their therapist by the hour. Instead, they are paid per massage. That means during the time between sessions that they spend talking to you, letting you get dressed or undressed, keeping things sanitary, and writing out notes, on top of side work like cleaning the bathrooms, break rooms, or doing laundry, (depending on the setup and division of labor in the establishment) they are not being paid. This time is necessary to the job and can account for a large portion of general work time—roughly 20–30 minutes before each session, for every session.
So, even if a therapist in this location works an eight-hour day, or longer, they may only leave work with five hours of pay because they only get paid for the massage itself, not the extra things they are required to do to properly perform the massage in the first place. These therapists rely on tips to boost their wages similar to how a waitress would.
Self-Employed Therapists: Tip Is Likely Optional
If you happen to be getting a massage from a self-employed person, a therapist who works solely for themselves and not for a business owner or corporation, then you generally do not have to worry about tipping. While this extra money is often greatly appreciated, it is not strictly necessary. Therapists working for a corporation need the tips to offset the lower pay they receive for the same amount of work while a self-employed therapist can keep all the money they charge a client, essentially negating the need for tips. If you feel your therapist goes above and beyond for you, then it is perfectly fine to offer them a tip, but you should not feel compelled to do so.
Therapists in the Middle: Masseuse Who Work at Establishments That Aren’t Chains
Between therapists working for corporations and ones working for themselves, there lay a category of therapists with more ambiguous tip culture. These types of therapists tend to work for someone else like a chiropractor, hospital, or another therapist at a smaller-sized establishment. These therapists do not receive as much money as they would if they worked for themselves, but they also tend to be paid much better, sometimes up to 30% of the massage price or more. Some may even be receiving a base hourly wage that is given a boost when a massage is performed to pay the therapist for the duties they perform in the establishment outside of massage, like cleaning or even secretarial work.
If you are receiving a massage from an establishment like this, it's best to ask about their tipping policy. Some may not allow their therapists to accept tips under the opinion that they are paid a large hourly wage, so they do not rely on tips to make their working wage. This stance on tipping is a rare one. Most will probably say you are not required to tip but of course, whether you do is up to you. You can ask for this information or look around the establishment. Some places will have a notice about tipping sitting up at the front desk, in the massage rooms, or both.
How Much to Tip Therapists in General
If you are sure it is proper to tip at the establishment you are going to but are unsure of how much to give, there is a good way to calculate the amount. If you are going to tip a massage therapist, it's best to tip between 15% and 20%, although 25%–30% is sometimes suggested by certain establishments. These numbers can sometimes be found in the massage rooms on tip recommendation notices. These notices are not meant to tell you that you are required to tip that amount. However, it is a common point of confusion for many clients over how much is considered proper. In order to be helpful, many establishments print these handy signs simply to show clients what is considered standard and leave the rest up to them.
In over 11 years of practicing massage, I have generally seen most people tip 20%. This means that if they paid the $100 for the session they had, a $20 tip is given to the therapist. This number can go up or down depending on how a client’s experience was. So, if you had a great massage, leaving 20% is perfectly fine. If it was the best massage you believe you have ever experienced and the therapist went above and beyond to make you feel better, tipping higher than 20% is always appreciated. And of course, if the session was just okay you are perfectly within your rights to leave $10 or $15. Of course, all these numbers are done as tip percentages for a $100 session, but if your session cost is different simply adjust the calculations to fit the price, your own experience, and judgment.
Reasons to Skip the Tip
- The massage therapist is the business owner: The therapist is working for themselves.
- No tipping allowed: You’re notified in some way, through the front desk staff, signs, or from the therapist themselves, that the establishment does not accept tips (this is rare but, it does happen).
- Rude service: This means poor service from the therapist themselves, not from other staff members. In other words, if the secretary is not pleasant or is downright rude to you please take that up with the manager of the establishment. Try not to let someone else's behavior affect your decision to tip the therapist.
- Low-quality massage: You feel like the areas of focus you mentioned were never addressed fully.
- Not enough pressure: The therapist's pressure was not right (too deep or too light) and even after suggesting a change to the therapist, you do not feel they complied.
- Pain: The massage hurt you.
- Lack of respect: The massage or the therapist made you feel uncomfortable.
- Poor time management: The therapist did not give you the full time. Note: this does not count if you arrived late. In these cases, you may not be able to receive full time due to other people being booked after you. This is not something the therapist should be faulted for. However, if you are on time but your therapist is late, or the therapist takes you on time yet finishes early, you can withhold a tip or give less.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.