The unspoken rule is that business owners across the board don’t accept tips. That goes for all service industries. So whether it’s the restaurant owner, or the salon owner or the massage therapist – we are expected not to solicit or receive tips.
Why is that?
First, from my vantage point as a massage therapy business owner, it’s complicated because I’m a healthcare provider. When I worked in a clinic as an employee it was already a grey area if clients should be expected to tip. However, since the pay wasn’t great, I was never in a position to refuse a gratuity.
In my own practice however, I don't accept tips. If someone leaves extra money in the massage room, I call them, say 'thank you' and let them know that it’s been added to their account to be applied at their next visit.
This is the thing. If I wanted more money, I should just raise my rates.
Consider this conundrum that tipping culture creates for your clients. Under the expectation to leave a monetary gratuity, the massage recipient has to gauge how much they liked or appreciated the experience or results and assign a dollar value to that.
I’ve actually spent time on massage tables thinking, “Oh wow this is so great! I’m going to leave an enormous tip!” And I’ve also thought, “Wow! This is great, I feel so bad that I don’t have the money right now to leave them the tip they deserve.” I’ve also thought, “This isn’t the best massage but I don’t want the therapist to feel bad if I don't tip well."
Those kinds of thoughts have no place in bodywork. Clients need to be invited into a space where they can focus on their bodies and get out of stressful thinking.
Now consider this: Your clients may avoid scheduling if they feel stressed about paying your fee plus including an extra 10-20% tip. If you charge $100 for an hour and they know that’s all they’ll be paying then there’s a different psychological experience for the client, compared to if you always charge $85 and expect a $10-$20 tip. The end amount that you receive and that the client pays are equivalent, but the psychological experience of one is more stressful than the other.
So what benefits are there in tipping?
For business owners who have employees, allowing them to receive gratuities can be an important part of their compensation.
There is another psychological phenomenon in pricing where it can make more sense sometimes to have a low base price and then tipping and upgrades are added on later. The customer doesn’t think about the total bill when booking. For therapists that have a steady influx of new customers all the time – such as those in tourist areas or airports – that pricing structure makes much more sense. But when you have a business that relies on regularly returning clients, having an all-inclusive set rate – even if it’s higher than average for your area – is more appealing.
My opinion and conclusion is that it makes better business sense, and is clearer from an ethical standpoint to have a no-tipping policy when you run a solo massage practice.