Tip or No Tip

If I go to a bagel shop or a Starbucks, there is typically a jar so I can leave my change for a tip. However, if I go to a McDonald’s or other fast food restaurant, that’s not an option. Some restaurants, like the chain Noodles & Company, specifically ask diners to NOT leave a tip. If I go to a nicer, sit-down restaurant, there is an expectation of a tip. If I happen to bring a large group of friends, a tip may be added automatically (potentially causing someone—not mentioning any names—to inadvertently double tip after hitting the bar). How is a guy in his early 40s supposed to make sense of all this?

When I get a haircut, I tip the barber/stylist (if you’ve seen my hair, you understand). If I order a beer, I tip the bartender. When I visit the doctor, I don’t tip. I haven’t been to the chiropractor in a while, but I don’t remember tipping him. I recently had eight sessions with a physical therapist. No tip for him, either.

I got a massage the other day, and had a decision to make—do I leave a tip? I did. Actually I can’t think of a situation where I haven’t left a tip for my massage therapist.

Our ABMP Member Survey indicates the following:

  • Therapists who practice in spas/salons receive tips from 90% of their clients.
  • Therapists who practice in a massage-only clinic receive tips from 80% of their clients.
  • Therapists who work in medical offices report receiving tips from 10% of their clients.

Some places where I have received massage encouraged tipping the therapist and suggest an amount; that’s my decision, not theirs.

When I was completing my student clinic work, I received tips, and I know this probably sounds funny, but that was awesome. Many of you know I had no expectations of a flourishing massage career when I embarked on my massage training; getting a tip from a client was not financially material (although it bought a few lunches), but it validated me and my work. It underscored to me that I was providing value to my client. And that feeling meant more than the $5.

Some of this discussion is trivial and certainly subjective, but I think the topic also addresses a larger issue for some people—are we a service profession? Service professionals in many cases receive tips; in most cases, health professionals do not. If you consider yourself a health professional, does receiving a tip marginalize you in any way?

How about you? If you are paying for a massage, do you tip your therapist? In your practice, do you accept tips? If so, how do you feel about them? Digging deeper, do you declare your tips as income? And perhaps the most important question—what’s a decent tip for an hour massage?

15 thoughts on “Tip or No Tip

  1. When I get a massage I always tip my therapist.usually..$10 for a $60 session..I do accept tips…when new clients ask about my tipping policy my reply, “Tips are not required, but always appreciated”. I too, feel it validates me and my work…The feeling of providing a valuable service means more the the dollar amount of the tip…When a client views my work as medical or therapeutic and does not choose to tip, I also feel validated…
    Do I declare them as income? Depends. When I donate a gift certificate to a charity, if I recieve a tip, I declare that, as the payment for the session..When you are the owner and you do the work you can’t declare the value of the certificate as a dontion unless you pay someone else to do the work. I have a private practice with no employees so my donations are just that, charitable donations…a chance to serve or introduce someone new to the benefits of massage. So I’d have to admit that 50%-60% of the tips I receive are not declared as income.

  2. I tip depending upon whether it is self employed person or spa worker. If tipped, I declare as income. After working for years as a nurse I do not take tips. I have never been able to accept tips as a nurse. I inform my clients that their massage will not be one bit better or worse for a service that I get paid well to provide. I work alone and pay rent. I don’t work in spa or office where the therapist only gets a small portion of the amount charged.

  3. I believe in tipping generously.

    I always tip my massage therapist. I am especially conscious of tipping if I know they are working in an environment where they are unpaid.

    I appreciate receiving tips. I believe that a therapist in private practice should receive tips. A therapist in private practice is responsible for overhead, repairs and upkeep, marketing, bookkeeping, paying taxes, laundry, purchasing supplies, cleaning, maintaining client records, paying for licenses, paying for continuing education and paying for health insurance (or going without insurance and paying medical bills independently), scheduling appointments, and paying for assistants’ salaries. A private practitioner deserves a tip as much as a spa employee or someone who works at a franchise.

    On another note, you mentioned that you received tips during your student clinic work. It is my understanding that a student in Texas cannot receive tips or any other form of compensation for massages until afer they graduate and are licensed. Tipping students is strictly forbidden by the Texas Dept. of State Health Services. Each state is different, as we are all painfully aware; however, that’s the rule, as I understand it, in the Lone Star State.

  4. Many of the national chair massage companies have a no-tipping policy in place. The last time I worked for one of those companies, I could have easily doubled my income if I had been allowed to receive tips. The clients felt very uncomfortable when I had to refuse their tips. It was like refusing a gift. It was not only barely profitable, but awkward. The salary wasn’t even $1 a minute and the set-up and break-down time was unpaid. Tips would have been welcomed warmly. I’m listening to an audiobook called “The Tipping Point,” which is not about tipping, but about those decisive moments in our lives when things change. Being forbidden to receive tips on chair gigs has been the tipping point for me. I now put my energy where it is respected and rewarded on a more professional level. I encourage my massage therapy students to ask a lot of questions up front before accepting an assignment, especially in relation to payment policies and tipping. When it comes down to the bottom line, it is worthwhile to pay attention to every detail.

  5. Many of the people in my clinic tip the therapists, and as someone said above, it’s never expected but always appreciated. Anytime someone adds a tip to their credit card or check and it comes out of the petty cash to go to the therapist, that is reported on their 1099. If people give them cash or leave it in the treatment room, it’s up to their conscience of whether or not to report it.

    I would estimate that about 30% of the clients leave a tip. Our focus is on medical massage, but sometimes even people we’re filing insurance on leave a tip.

  6. Working in a Holistic Center we do see ourselves as working in a more medical field. We do provide services, but very valuable, professional and technical services. We do have a sign at the front desk stating that tips are appreciated, but not required. About 90% of our clientèle tip the therapists on average $12. The few times a client has not tipped has not been the fault of the therapist, but because they didn’t know they had the option to tip. The sign at the front desk helps with that. The therapists and myself do not feel entitled to tips, but receiving them makes us feel that we did a good job providing relief and a valuable service. When I receive massages, I don’t tip, usually because the therapist and I are doing trades and we have agreed not to tip each other. When tax time comes around the holistic center works with it’s therapists and totals up the tips paid with credit cards that therapist has received if the therapist does not keep track themselves. If the therapist reports cash tips or not is at the discretion of the therapist. Personally, I see cash tips as a charitable donation and do not report them. I have also found that clients who’s insurance is paying for their sessions tip more and tip on their debit/credit card so they can get a receipt for their insurance claim.

  7. I receive tips from maybe 1% or fewer of my paying clients. I run a volunteer healing night which is contribution based and a few clients tip me there. I work about a day per week on hospice clients and their care givers and am not allowed to accept tips although I am sometimes offered them How often do you tip your doctor or chiropractor? I am a medical intuitive and don’t do massage where tips make more sense. I usually tip well where appropriate but I think that tipping depends on the type of work you do.

  8. “Personally, I see cash tips as a charitable donation and do not report them.”
    I am pretty sure that you have to be a qualified non-profit to accept donations legally. The IRS requires you to report your tips as income. Complete compliance to this is of course marginal, however I would definatly avoid using the term “donation” if you ever encounter an audit.

  9. As an RMT working in a multi-disciplinary clinic, I don’t accept tips. I think letting the patient know that their commitment to their rehabilitation program and eventual recovery is enough of an added bonus to an already rewarding job.

  10. Well yes, we are health professionals. But think about it:

    First: Do you think that waxing legs, a facial, a manicure are part of the “health” industry? So why massage therapy that its part of the health industry, its offered in facilities that are not focused on health or medical services? the nail technicians receive tips, the estheticians receive tips, that’s why the massage therapists receive tips too. So if you are questioning why we receive tips on spas, the real question should be: why massage therapist give massage in places that are not medical/health related? now you have the answer.

    Second: Yes, we are health professionals. From the same department that issue licenses to doctors, physical therapists, etc, they give us a license too. So we should be respected the same way as they respect doctors, PT’s, etc.Right? but unfortunately that is not the case. We struggle with insurance companies to be paid directly from them. If we don’t have any partnership with a doctor, then we need luck to be paid from insurance companies. We are not approved to be on the list of health providers in the insurance companies. But yes! we are health professionals! so, do you think this sounds coherent to you?

    Third: Yes, we are health professionals. But in the most of medical facilities, they pay around $15/per hour to massage therapists. The receptionists that are not health professionals, they get paid almost the same as the massage therapist. So someone that is seated and answering phones on its shift, get paid almost the same than a massage therapist that have to be performing non-stop massages on the same shift? Does this sound coherent to you?

    Conclusion: massage therapists have to accept tips because unfortunately the most of them are underpaid, undervalued and disrespected.

    That’s why I don’t work for anybody. Neither spas nor for any doctors. They just exploit the therapists. And for my clients, I say also,tips are not expected neither required, but highly appreciated. And I always tell them, that the best tip I could get are their referrals.

  11. I have spent the majority of the last four years in the spa industry, where the owner has taken the lion’s share of the income. I depend on my tips to help pay my bills. In similar settings, where the MT has no control over the amount charged or the amount they get paid, I believe in tipping.

    In private practice, I set my rates to what I think are reasonable, what my time is worth, and a living wage. If clients wish to tip me, that is entirely up to them, and it is more appreciated as a measure of my work than in the spa, where I appreciate it more on an income level. If the client does not choose to tip, I do not feel slighted in any way.

    In a purely medical context, such as working in a hospital or chiropractor’s office, I refuse tips.

    I do not tip when doing trade, nor do I accept tips.

    If a tip is included in the payment for a massage (credit card or check), I report it. If the payment is made in cash (which is far in the minority for me), I do not.

  12. I have a private practice and have priced my services at what I believe to be their value. Some clients will tip on top of that even though I have told them it’s not necessary.

    Many times I will continue working on a client beyond their scheduled time, or I will give them their full time even if they are late. This is when I expect a tip.

    I believe that any time a person is paid by another company (spa, doctor’s office) a tip is appropriate.

  13. Oh, this is very interesting to me. I worked for years in the restaurant business as both a food server and bartender before entering the massage therapy field. I was surprised and delighted to learn that massage therapists also received tips.

    I have always approached tipping the same way I did in the restaurant: Expecting a tip may set you up for disappointment, so focus on providing excellent service that will encourage the client to return and refer their friends. I would much rather get a long term returning client who doesn’t tip than a one timer that leaves a good tip. Of course, I want both!

    I noticed that when I worked in a medical setting such as a chiropractic office, I did not receive tips. When I worked in a salon/day spa setting, I did receive tips. Now that I have my private practice, I’ve noticed that the clients that don’t tip are usually coming in for a more “therapeutic” massage as opposed to an “indulgence” type massage. I think it’s a matter of perception.

    Either way, tips are great, but not a requirement, though they sure do help make ends meet!

  14. Hi Interesting comments! I own my own practice,and most of my business is mostly Medical Massage, which I don’t receive tips nor do I expect them. For my other clients I do receive tips (other than medical), but I also do not expect them. The places you mentioned such as a sandwich shop or Starbuck’s I don’t leave a tip unless I ask and get something out of the ordinary. For me a regular cup of coffee is all I normally get, they pull a knob and hand you the cup sometimes with or not the hot sleeve, like I said if the order is big or/and over the top I do and will leave a good tip.

  15. I accept – and expect – tips in my job at Massage Envy. However, in my private practice I do not accept tips. While I understand the intention of it and how it is a pleasure to feel valued by the client, I prefer to set my own value as a professional, which is the benefit of being in business for oneself. I have always tipped therapists who are not in business for themselves, but as a client I see no reason to tip a therapist who sets their own price. Referrals, however, are another matter…