Tipping is a customary “social norm” in American culture, but most people still question what the proper amount to tip is.

Should it be based on service or should customers pay a flat rate of 20 percent of the total cost? The 20 percent tip is commonly found in the food industry, but how does it differ for other service-based jobs?

How much should you tip a massage therapist?

Hao Meng, Senior Vice President of Operations at Soothe, a mobile massage company, gave a breakdown of what she has noticed with tipping at Soothe.

“We recommend tipping 15% – 20% based on each client’s comfort and satisfaction with the massage,” said Meng.

Luckily for Soothe, their clients have increased the average tipping percentage in 2021 from 18 to 20 percent.

So if a 60-minute massage costs $80, the tip would be $12 to $16.

  • For a 90-minute massage at $150, the tip would be $22 to $30.
  • For a 30-minute massage at $50, the tip would be $7.50 to $10.

Of course, the tipping amount would depend on the price and what the client thinks the quality of the massage is.

Catie Morgan, a licensed massage therapist (LMT) at Amara Massage Therapy & Wellness in Fort Collins, Colo., said that her opinion on tipping is “somewhat evolving.”

“If the client is going to tip, I feel the proper amount should always be determined personally by them,” said Morgan.

She said that it’s fine to provide clients with a tip chart, but it’s not okay for the massage therapist to set a predetermined tip amount. As for Morgan personally, her experience in the service industry has led her to tip any service-provider.

“I personally tip all service providers between 25-40%,” she said. “If I can’t leave at least 25% tip, I don’t book the appointment or move forward with the service, but that’s just me!”

How much should you tip when using a coupon?

When it comes to using a coupon, Meng said that the tip should be based on the full price of the massage and not the discounted price.

“Coupons are fully subsidized by Soothe. Providers make the same amount regardless of whether a coupon is used,” she said.

How much should you tip for a private massage?

Self-employed practitioners have the flexibility of charging their own prices, but some clients may wonder if they should tip them.

Daniel Akins, LMT, owner of Embodied Health and Wellness in Las Vegas, Nev., believes that tipping should not be expected or asked within their practice.

“Tipping is a way for businesses to keep their labor costs down, inconveniencing both their customers and workers in the process, he said.

Daniel Akins massage therapist works on client's neck

Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Akins, LMT

 

He compared the matter to if a mental health counselor asked for gratuity.

“The focus would suddenly shift from your therapeutic process to you and your therapist’s competing financial needs,” Akins said.

Akins also believes that when a massage therapist accepts a tip, it opens the door for solicitations because the public still associates massage therapy with sex work.

“Gratuity can create an opportunity or expectation for a ‘little extra,’ leaving massage therapists in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations,” said Akins.

Tania Velásquez, LMT, who is the owner of Pinpoint Education and is a private practitioner in New York City, shares Akins’opinion. Since they are private therapists, they set their prices to be self-sufficient and not rely on tips.

“Even if not totally satisfied, I keep in mind that person may not make a livable cut otherwise. I tip at least a minimum because I never know what someone’s situation is,” she said.

How much should you tip at a hotel or franchise spa?

Velásquez said that it’s customary in the U.S. to tip a massage therapist about 18 percent. This is because employees do not keep the full amount of the massage so tipping would allow the massage therapist to earn more money per massage.

Inga Gordon, general manager for Great Jones Spa (GJ Spa) in Manhattan, New York City, emphasized to massage therapists that some European clients may not tip because tipping is not a social norm in some European countries.

“It is customary to leave a tip in America,” Gordon said. “However, if we have European client’s they rarely do leave tips for massage or facial unless they travelling often and know the American rules about tipping,”

Should you tip the spa owner?

Morgan believes that since spa owners are already taking part of the revenue, any tip should go directly to the massage therapist.

catie morgan massage therapist amara

Photo courtesy of Catie Morgan, LMT.

“No, I don’t feel that would be appropriate in a spa or employment setting. I would never take a cut of my employees tips, it’s not my money to take,” said Morgan.

She added that sometimes clients at her spa will tip the reception team.

“I think that is absolutely awesome too, but certainly never expected,” she said.

Some places may charge significantly extra for getting a service from the spa owner. Gordon said that a facial with the owner at one spa that she knew “was priced twice more than the regular treatment.”

“But the clients still left tips for her,” Gordon said. “Here at Great Jones, we think it’s a good gesture to leave tips for the services which were performed, and it doesn’t really matter [if] the owner or not was performing it.”

When should you not tip a massage therapist?

Velásquez and Akins both try to stay away from tipping, but Velásquez did offer insight on when a customer absolutely should not tip.

She based her answer on the assumption that the massage therapist works in an “employee arrangement” meaning that the massage therapist is not self-employed.

And so, for the therapist to not earn at least a 10 percent tip, she said they would typically have to do something egregious.

Her reasons that clients shouldn’t tip include “not listening or hurt[ing] someone, or was texting on their phone, applied strong aromas without consent, was careless, or said something distasteful or caused me to become uncomfortable.”

Should you tip a Canadian registered massage therapist?

When it comes to tipping registered massage therapists (RMTs) in Canada, there seems a different perspective from their American colleagues.

Chris Semenuk, an RMT in Ontario, has been practicing since 2000 and currently sits as Director on the Board of the Registered Massage Therapists Association of Ontario.

chris semeneuk rmt ontario tipping massage therapy

Registered massage therapist Chris Semeneuk treats a patient at his practice in London, Ontario. Photo: Becky Crowley

“I don’t think RMTs should be asking, or hinting, for tips. This is because the word ‘therapy’ denotes a practice that is for medical/therapeutic intent,” said Semenuk. “Any such profession should not be seeking tips for the work they do to provide that care to another person.”

Semenuk acknowledged that many RMTs and LMTs accept jobs where employers take a majority of the revenue, which results in the massage therapists relying more on tips.

“No person should have to rely on tipping to make ends meet. Their pay structure should be such that tips are truly over-and-above what they need,” said Semenuk.

Riley Sullivan
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Riley Sullivan earned her associate's degree in journalism at Palomar College in 2021 and was a staff writer for “The Telescope,” and she is currently attending California State University Northridge.

Riley began playing sports at the age of four, from riding dirt bikes to playing soccer. Immediately after graduating high school, she coached high school basketball and lacrosse, and then worked at the YMCA of San Diego until March 2020.

In her free time, Riley enjoys reading (“A Girl on a Train”), watching movies (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”), and has a new-found love for Brazilian jiu-jitsu.