Is a No-Tip Policy Right for Your Practice?

By Allissa Haines and Michael Reynolds
[Blueprint for Success]

Any business topic related to money tends to be emotionally charged. Tipping takes all that money stress and wraps it in a layer of needy validation and affirmation. It’s an angsty burrito of cash and feelings.

Some therapists will say tipping is absolutely necessary to the culture and business of massage. Others think it’s an outdated pricing model that independent practitioners should drop altogether.

There is no right answer that fits all massage businesses, but I’m a big fan of no-gratuity policies for single practitioner massage businesses. If that makes you instantly relieved or feel flinchy and contrary, that’s a good thing! It means you’ve got feelings one way or the other, and the idea is worth exploring.

Therapists we respect have claimed that refusing tips is more professional or makes sense if you align your work with clinical or medical care. In a culture that has supporting gratuities for personal care workers, we certainly don’t think taking tips makes anyone less professional, nor does tipping invalidate the efficacy of massage.

We throw those arguments to the side because they can never be won by either perspective and, in the end, it doesn’t matter. There are many more reasons to advocate for a no-gratuity policy without insulting anyone’s professionalism or quality of care.

Open to the idea? Here are the factors worth considering.

Business Structure

A no-gratuity policy is easy to implement in a solo massage practice. You’re the only person reaping all the benefits and/or taking all the heat from any particular decision. In a multi-practitioner office where employees make a large part of their income from tips, it can be much more difficult. Would a new policy alienate the staff or are they forward-thinking and open to change? That may be a determining factor for you.

Emotional Attachment/Validation

Even when you know clients tip by habit and amounts are not necessarily a reflection of your skills, it’s easy to have an emotional response when someone doesn’t tip. And when a client who usually tips $15 only offers $5? The most Zen and unattached practitioner would have a moment of “Did I do something bad? Was the massage awful?” reflection. Likewise, when a client tips an uncommonly large amount, it can feel uncomfortable. Do expectations for service change when a client is a big tipper?

It’s so easy (and human) to become attached to tips as a form of validation for our work. It happens to the most boundary-conscious of us. The results of massage can be so subjective that the concrete dollar amounts in the form of tips become a psychic barometer of skill and success.

In reality, that’s not how we should be measuring our efficacy and success as practitioners. We should be asking the questions that demonstrate results: “How are you sleeping? Moving? How is your pain? Is it impacting your daily life more or less since your last treatment?” We should not be counting on tips to measure success.

We should be measuring our retention rates and referral sources, our gross and net incomes, and our own happiness levels walking in and out of work each day.

Tips are a terrible measure of client satisfaction. If a tip amount has ever given you a moment of angst, a no-gratuity policy could resolve that problem.

Be Different

Refusing tips becomes a talking point that differentiates you from other practitioners.

When potential clients ask about your pricing, it’s empowering to say, “I charge $100 for 60 minutes, and I don’t take tips, so that’s the complete price.” Many potential clients ask why, and it’s a great opening for more conversation about the kind of work you do and how you run your business.

Likewise, for those potential clients reading your website, that “no gratuity” alert is a great way to draw them into learning more about you and your business.

I’ve found that it’s a common talking point when current clients refer their friends. Most new clients come in saying, “John told me you don’t take tips, is that correct?” and it opens the door for more discussion about my work and what makes me different.

Simplicity for Clients

There are fees and tips and taxes tagged on to most purchases. People are price-weary and tired of every purchase being more than originally listed.

Every part of your massage business should be easy and straightforward for the client. It should be easy to find you and easy to make an appointment. It should be simple to find your policies, know what payment forms you accept, and how much the service will cost.

Simplicity for You

Having an irregular income makes budgeting difficult. There are factors we can’t always control, like sick cancellations, seasonal fluctuations, and our own emergency time off.

But pricing? We can control that. We can absolutely control how much money we make for each and every massage we perform. If you count on tips to make “enough” money and you fall short when tips are not what you expected, that’s a solvable problem. Raise your prices to match what you feel your massage is worth and eliminate tipping altogether. (Read more about setting prices in “Need to Increase Your Rates?” from the November/December 2018 issue of Massage & Bodywork, page 24.)

Making the Switch

Making a change in any office policy takes a little work. If you decide to implement a new policy, wrap the change together with an updated menu of services and pricing.

Announce the new menu and pricing a month or more in advance. Do so without apology or emotion and include a reference to the new policy. Everyone’s business has a different tone and “voice.” For me, such an announcement would happen via email to my client list and say:

“I’m pleased to announce an updated service menu and pricing beginning March 1, 2019. Along with this change, I’ll be instituting a new no-gratuity policy. You can see the full menu here at my website.”

You could also do this with a sign in your office and post your new menu and fees underneath. Whatever fits your communication preference for your business is just fine!

Be sure to post some kind of alert near your pricing on your website. It doesn’t need to be long or fancy, simply “Gratuities are not accepted” or “Thank you, but tips are not accepted.”

How to Say No, Kindly

Even with a clearly posted policy, some clients will still attempt to tip. (But this happens much less when the new policy accompanies a price hike.) You can be polite and refuse at the same time. My favorite line to refuse a tip is, “Thank you so much, but I work for myself and I price my services accordingly. Tips are not necessary.”

If the client still insists I try, “I would really prefer you use that to come back for more massage.”

It’s rare for a client to insist past that point, but if they do, I take the tip. For every rule there is an exception and a client who just needs to stick with the custom they know. That’s just what it is to run a business dealing with people. But if you have implemented your policy well, that will be rare.

It also helps to have a suggestion of how a client can help you outside of a tip. When you refuse a tip, you could follow with, “But I would love if you told a few friends about me or write me a review online!” and hand the client some business cards or offer to send an email with a link to your Google Business page.

Pricing changes and policies around money are tough. Being different and moving past what “has always been” takes real courage. If a no-gratuity policy piques your interest, be brave and make it happen!