The subject of accepting tips as a massage therapist seems to come up often on the many discussion boards and Facebook.
Should you accept tips as a massage therapist?
Some say Yes and some of course say No. Which is best for you and your business will depend on your own values and needs but it is important to also look at your relationship with money. Money is always such a hot topic for massage therapists I think mainly because they struggle to make money for the most part. Money is the one thing that EVERYONE has in common. It is where we project our own feelings of self worth and acceptance. The meaning we give money comes from our early lives and watching our early caregivers talk or NOT talk about money. We project all our meanings onto money when money in fact really means nothing. It really isn’t worth anything. It is just a math problem to figure out for your self so that you have money or you don’t.
Tipping in history was a way to show gratitude and ensure future service. With massage that may or may not apply. When people are there on vacation, they won’t be coming back. Tipping is more common in the restaurant industry where servers are often paid less than minimum wage. Their livelihood depends on their level of service. Higher end restaurants with higher priced food items will of course make a server more since people tip on the amount of the bill.
Tipping can also be a sign of transference on the clients part. They feel better because of your work – or so they think. They want to give you more and they want to please you. Some may even want preferential service like being able to get in for a massage even though your schedule is full or they may want something like extra time or extra care. There probably is some transference going on in the process of tipping for every client. The thing is how you handle your boundaries around your services and let them know that the tip is for saying thank you and not preferential treatment. You can do that through setting your hours and keeping them , keeping on time with your sessions and staying true to your values.
The case for NO Tipping:
- We are medical professionals. Doctors and dentists don’t accept tips.
- If you are contracted with a health insurance carrier, the contracts usually say that you cannot accept money beyond the allowable fee. Would accepting a tip if you are billing the health insurance plan make it insurance fraud to accept a tip?
- It makes clients uncomfortable. They don’t know whether to tip or not or how much to tip and they don’t want you to feel slighted if they don’t tip because they just might not have enough cash or something like that.
- It makes you uncomfortable as the massage therapist.
- You are the owner of the business and charge top dollar for your massage. (The average rate for a massage is about $64 last I heard.) Charging above that sets you apart from all of the low cost massage places. Clients should not have to tip on top of higher fees.
- Tips are spiritually degrading. (From one of my Facebook discussions on tipping.)
This argument that we are medical professionals is futile. Yes, Some massage therapists are medical professionals and many states license massage therapists as medical professionals, but the thing is that we don’t get paid like doctors or dentists. The insurance companies also pay them and they charge $300 for a 10 minute visit. Until we are paid that rate, then you can’t really compare massage therapists to doctors or dentists. I often thing that maybe we should start moving towards a tipping your doctor policy and wonder if they would finally get it. Some massage therapists are not medically oriented – they are more service oriented and work in a spa or resort. People who are employed at franchises depend on tips and their jobs pay so low with the idea that they will be paid a fair wage in tips.
Tips don’t have any meaning except for Thank You and Make sure I get that service again in the future. Money does not have anything to do with spirituality or being a good person. Money is just a way to take care of yourself and your family.
The case for tipping:
- Tips are the way people who work at franchises, bump up their income to something almost reasonable.
- Tips are just a way the client has of telling you they appreciate your services.
- Massage is a service industry and people like to reward good service.
How to set your own tipping policy:
Whether you want to accept tips is totally up to you and how you want to run your business.
Tipping should never be expected. If it gets to the point that you do feel resentful if you are not tipped, it may be time to raise your rated in general.
If your work depends on tips, having a clear policy posted in public can help reduce the uncomfortableness of the whole process. Having envelopes at the front desk or in the massage room or letting clients tip on the credit card, can also ease the situation.
In some ways, the whole tipping issue may be adding to the lack of clarity of our role in the massage profession. People don’t know when or who to tip and it adds many awkward moments to many massages. I hope one day that we can be all on the same page and be paid well enough by the insurance companies, employers and charge enough in our private massage practices so that tipping will be forgotten.
Looking at the reasons why tipping makes you uncomfortable, can be a clue to many other beliefs about money. Start with going through this money autobiography to start taking a deeper look at the things you project onto money or the lack of money.
Should you expect a tip as a massage therapist?
The other part of the tipping discussion is around the many massage therapists who complain on Facebook groups that they were not tipped. This is a whole other issue. Expecting a tip could and being disappointed when you don’t get the tip, is often a sign that you are feeling resentful of what you are charging or what you are being paid. If you are expecting a tip – you are not charging enough or being paid enough. Raise your rates or ask for a raise.
Tips should not be expected. Tips are a show of appreciation and may be dependent on the level of service provided or just as an extra thanks or maybe dependent on how much cash they have in their wallet. Whatever the case, if you are expecting a tip and don’t get it AND let it influence your work, there may be other issues at hand. Consider finding a supervision group or support.
Goal: Raise your rates to the point where you do not want to take tips.
Consider the Spa employee, though. Tipping at a spa is honestly quite expected, as the massage therapist IS underpaid by the house. This is due to the house covering their rent, marketing, supplies, and is making a living off of the therapist as well. So the therapist may only make 30% of the fee. Making a living off of this is challenging. (i.e. 5 massages per day at $18/hr. is a measly $90/day) The waitress however, getting paid a measly $7.70 (?) or so an hour, and is working at a high end restaurant, may get $500/night, if in a resort area. So go figure…we all need to make a living. who has worked the hardest? BOTH! So tipping the therapist due to her/his hard work and the client feeling better, is just fine. Doctors and dentists like to dole out the prescriptions and get paid handsomely on these. Don’t be fooled by the fees for the services. There is always more to the story than meets the eye!
Amy Goodrich says
Good point Leslie, most employees in spa’s are underpaid.
I once got a massage on the house from the hotel in Thailand and tipped the masseuse 20$ afterwards.
Once I walked out the door I heard literally screams of joy coming from inside.
It was probably more then she makes in a day, perhaps even a week.
Tip therapists who work in spas/resorts because they don’t set their rates. Don’t tip therapists who have private practices; they set their rates.
Massages cost around $100-$150 per hour where I live, which is a lot in my opinion for one hour of work. I know it’s not “enjoyable” work in all cases but it’s what they do and they set the price. Recently a massage therapist that was working on me during the massage complained about people who don’t tip… how much do they want exactly? Set the price for what you want from the start, don’t guilt the client on the table. This tipping culture on such high priced services is ridiculous!
Julie Onofrio says
No massage therapy should ever talk about tips or money while YOU are on the table. The thing is that she is probably underpaid even though it is a higher priced place. Employees usually only make $15-$30 an hour and massage therapists work only 25 hours a week on average because of the physical demands on the body. Still they should never talk to you about that sort of stuff ever. Complain to the manager.
So how much does the insurance company pay toward the massage?
I’d like to know how much I’m supposed to tip.
Julie Onofrio says
It depends on what insurance is being billed. If it is a car accident the insurance pays the full fee. If it is workers comp or health insurance they usually pay way less than the cash rates. Your explanation of benefits will show what is paid. or ask your massage therapist.