In the field of bodywork and massage, it’s easy to see why there’s some confusion or even controversy around how much to tip – especially when it comes to massage therapists.
Allison Denney, owner of Rebel Massage in Huntington Beach, California attributes the uncertainty to the wide array of massage services, some of which are more orthopedic than others. “The thought there is you wouldn’t tip your doctor; you wouldn’t tip your physical therapist, so why would you tip your massage therapist?” she says.
To further add to the confusion, some practitioners refuse to accept tips, while others absolutely rely on them to supplement their income. To bring some clarity to tipping conversation, Denney offers some insights about why to tip, when to tip and how much to tip.
Whether you’re getting a couple’s massage at a resort town spa or a Swedish massage at a local practice, your massage therapist isn’t getting every dollar you pay for the service. Massage therapists often make an hourly wage, and tips supplement what can sometimes be a meager income.
“Money is not an easy thing for massage therapists to come by,” Denney says. “Tips can double or triple their income.”
Tipping is also a way of recognizing a massage therapist’s hard and physically demanding work, she says.
“When in doubt, tip your massage therapist unless they very specifically say otherwise,” Denney says.
But note that some massage therapists will expressly ask you not to tip. Those who don’t wish to receive tips typically fall into one of two camps, according to Denney: Either they practice in the more medicinal area of massage therapy, where health insurance may or may not be involved, or they work as sole practitioners, receiving the bulk of the payment for their services. All-inclusive spas might also have no-tip policies. In those cases, Denney says it’s best to respect their wishes.
How Much Do You Tip?
In general, the 20% rule applies to tipping your massage therapist.
So, if you’re wondering how much to tip for a $100 massage, you’d want to tip $20. If you’re considering how much to tip for a 60-minute massage (that costs $100) – you’d still tip $20.
However, generosity is generally very appreciated.
“You’re really paying for your health and wellness, so (tipping) becomes a bigger conversation,” she says.
As you’re considering how much to tip massage therapists, it’s also good to keep in mind the vast range of rates that different massage therapists might charge. For instance, a 90-minute massage at a high-end spa might be $300, whereas the same service at a popular massage chain might be $150. In that scenario, the massage therapist at the chain would get $30 less of a tip.
Ultimately, when you’re tipping, Denney says that what you should really think about is: “How much did this person work? How valuable is my health and wellness? How good do I feel right now? What’s that worth?”
What Happens if You’re Unhappy With Your Massage?
Maybe the pressure on your deep tissue massage was too light, or the pressure on your relaxing massage was too much. For whatever reason, sometimes the massage just might not go to plan. Should you still tip?
In general, Denney recommends tipping even if the massage didn’t meet the mark. Sometimes it’s the case that a massage therapist is learning a new technique and just hasn’t yet nailed it.
Instead of docking their tip, Denney suggest offering constructive criticism so that the massage therapist can grow and improve.
Still, she says there are exceptions. If the massage therapist is rude, or unapologetically late, or answering text messages, you might use your best discretion when it comes to tipping for the service.
What Happens if You Can’t Afford the Tip?
Massages can feel like a splurge, and sometimes the sticker price seems like all you can afford: Do you still tip?
If you’re getting a private massage from a sole practitioner and the cost is really high, Denney says that might be a scenario where the massage therapist might not expect a tip. In fact, “50% of the time they’re not going to even come close to expecting a tip,” she says, adding that massage therapists in other settings are different.
As you’re considering whether to tip or not to tip, remember that for the most part, massage therapists – particularly in many spa settings – are earning much less than what you’re paying. In some cases, massage therapists are making $15 to $18 an hour, which is a fraction of what you might be paying for their actual service, she says.
“The work that a massage therapist does takes a lot of education, takes a lot of physical endurance, takes a lot of presence and knowledge of anatomy and physiology,” Denney says. “If you are paying a lot for a massage, please tip your massage therapist well.”