When should I tip for a massage?
Relaxing at spa...Ahhhh
Tipping at the Spa
This is the one that most people know already. You go to the spa for a nice relaxing manicure, pedicure, and one hour massage. When you check out the receptionist tells you your bill amount and then asks if you would like to add gratuity. You might even consider bringing some cash with you to hand to the therapist after the treatment, so you can show them your appreciation directly.
In the rare cases where the therapist does a terrible job, then of course don't tip them. If you are asked to leave a tip, explain that you weren't happy with the service or simply decline adding a gratuity. You might feel bad not tipping the therapist, but if you tip someone for doing a crappy job, then you are not really helping them get any better. Since tips are expected in this environment, you will send a signal to the staff that you weren't happy with the therapist. This way the staff can address the reason and correct it.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you have the most amazing massage of your life and the therapist went above and beyond the call of duty, then a 20% tip is going to tell them you really appreciated what they did. If they did a good job, maybe 15% and if it was just okay then maybe you only do 10%.
Tipping at the Chiropractic office
One of the other common places to get a massage is at a chiropractic office. Chiropractors generally recommend massage for tight muscles and other medical conditions. There is often some confusion about tipping, because it is in a medical setting. You don't tip your doctor, right? Well if you do and they accept it, they are breaking the law. But not the case for the massage therapist working in a chiropractic office.
I have personally worked in two chiropractic offices. One where we didn't accept tips, and the other where I did.
Tipping the private practitioner
If you go to a therapist in private practice, you might wonder what their tipping policy is. Many therapists aren't up front about tipping as this can be awkward when accepting payment. Since they are the one who schedules the appointment, does the service, and takes your payment, there is often no way to ask someone else if tipping is expected.
Here is another thing to keep in mind. If you want to know if they accept tips and you ask them, they are almost always going to say yes. But...this doesn't mean they expect a tip. It simply means they will accept a tip if offered. Here is what I do. I personally see a private practitioner and the first time I saw them was through a highly discounted promotional offer on Groupon. Since I knew they were only getting about 25% of their usual fee, I gave them an extra $20 tip for that massage. I did ask if they accepted tips, and he said yes, but I also asked if he normally received tips. I asked him if I were to go to him once a month, would he expect me to tip each time, and to that he said no.
So the thing here is that if you plan on going regularly to a private practitioner, then don't worry about tipping them. They know you appreciate what they do because you visit them regularly. But if you only go, lets say once a year. In that case you might give them an extra $5 or $10 each time.
The thing to remember is that once you tip a therapist, they are going to remember the tip you gave them. If you all of a sudden change the amount, they are going to wonder if you weren't happy with the massage for some reason. This is where it gets kind of tricky. The first visit as I mentioned earlier, might be a great deal and you want to tip them good for that one. But once you go back and are paying full price, you will want to tip less in order to keep regular massage affordable.
The best thing to do in my opinion is mention during the first session that you think the massage was worth way more than the cost you paid and "here is something extra." You are telling them in a subtle way that you are tipping them because you realize they are greatly discounting their service to get new customers. The next time if they do a great job, you can tip them a small amount like $5 or not tip them at all. I think not tipping is probably what most people would choose to do in this situation, and as a massage therapist with his own practice I think that is fine.
General rules of thumb
Here are a couple general rules of thumb for tipping a massage therapist. If you can find out if the therapist is an employee or the owner of their own business you can decide whether or not a tip is expected. If employed, they will expect a tip most of the time. If they are the owner or a sole practitioner, they won't expect it.
The next rule of thumb is that if you are in a medical setting, you should ask if tips are accepted if you would like to leave a gratuity for the therapist. In most cases at a doctors office you can leave a tip for the massage therapist and they will greatly appreciate it. If you are in a spa, wellness center, or salon then you can figure a 15% - 20% gratuity is expected for good service.