I mentioned something offhandedly on Twitter today about my tips at the spa and quickly had at least half a dozen people admitting that they were lost when it came to tipping at spas, or that they hadn't realized they were meant to tip at all. Here is a crash course in what you might need to know:
Where Should I Tip?
Gratuities are appreciated any time you are seeing a massage therapist at a location where you are not paying them directly for their services. In a spa or salon environment, tips are probably not only appreciated, but expected. In most cases, MTs working at those locations are giving a portion (often the lion's share) of the treatment's cost to the facility and count on tips to make up the difference.
You never need to tip a therapist at their private or group practice. In those situations, they are charging what they believe their work is worth, and generally not paying out to anyone else. It is also unnecessary to tip massage therapists working in a medical environment.
If you are receiving a massage at a training facility or clinic, be sure to ask about their tipping policy. Also, be aware that students are never allowed to accept tips or payment for their services.
How Much Should I Tip?
The standard tip for a massage therapist (or any other spa/salon provider) is 20% of the treatment cost, though tipping 15% is not uncommon.
If you are receiving a treatment at a discounted cost--particularly if it is a steep discount, such as those offered through a service like Groupon--consider tipping based on the actual treatment cost and not the discounted price.
Don't get me wrong: I appreciate any gratuity a client leaves. I respect that anything above and beyond the treatment cost is optional. The trouble is that social convention dictates that clients leave tips for spa services and anymore, tips aren't a reward for exceptional service. They're factored in to what service providers earn. That means that when I'm given a small tip, I have no way of knowing whether the client didn't know any better or couldn't afford more, or if they are trying to tell me something. If a client can't or doesn't want to tip me, that's fine and I don't think any less of them--I just wish I were able to find out if there was a reason.