To Tip or Not to Tip?

I'll never forget my first massage. I had experienced a particularly trying finals week during my last semester of senior year at college and my dear friends all decided to chip in and purchase a 30-minute massage for me with the local massage therapist. I was quite thrilled, having never had a full body massage before and I was not disappointed by the massage itself. By the time I walked out of the therapist's office, I was on cloud nine. One thing did strike me as odd, though, as I shook her hand and thanked her for the delightful massage she had just given me. There was a certain hesitancy there, as though she were expecting something. I had handed her the gift certificate, however, so I knew that she had been paid. Shrugging it off as my imagination, I went home and profusely thanked my friends for having bought me such a wonderful gift.

It was only a year later, when I was receiving my own massage therapy training, that I realized the poor woman must have wondered if I had forgotten to tip her! If I could go back now, I would certainly have given her a gratuity for the wonderful massage she gave me, but alas, time cannot be rewound. The experience taught me some important things, however. Chief of these was the fact that many people, especially those new to massage, may not necessarily know that it is customary to tip your massage therapist. Frankly, I can understand why they might think that, especially having come from that group myself in the first place. The massage is already a fairly expensive investment for an individual to make, with most of them averaging around $65 per hour; and I know for a fact that many people either do not consider massage therapy as a service in the "service industry," such as waiting tables or being a bellhop at a hotel, or else assume that we charge enough to include whatever tip they might give us.

With this in mind as I started my new practice, I had to learn to make the decision whether or not I would gently nudge people in the direction of adding a tip or not. In school, we were encouraged to ask "Would you like to add a gratuity today?" While that sounded polite and not too pushy, I never liked the idea of asking someone that as they were preparing to check out from a relaxing treatment. It seemed too much like springing hidden costs on them at the last minute. I know that, had I been asked the same question as a new massage client, I would have been totally flummoxed to find myself without any cash (remember, I was a starving college student and didn't know that tipping was customary) and embarrassed to be unable to tip my therapist. In addition to that, it may have taken my massage-clouded brain a moment or two to remember what exactly a "gratuity" was, since that term is so seldom used nowadays.

So, I decided that I would not suggest clients tip me at all, nor would I treat the ones that didn't tip me any differently than those that did. If a client doesn't tip, I assume that they don't know any better or perhaps feel they cannot afford the additional cost and leave it at that. Most of the time, though, I find that my clients do know that it is standard practice to tip and are quite generous, recognizing that we are providing them an important service and are using our bodies as our tools. For those reading this post, do be sure to learn from it, spread the word to your friends, and please tip your therapist at the end of your session. The tip need not be $20 every time you see them (that's considered the maximum amount for an hour Swedish massage in the trade), and it need not even be in cash. Many therapists offer the ability to add the tip to your credit card if you are charging your massage session. Even $5 is appreciated and encourages us to continue doing the important healing work that we do. And we certainly thank you very much!