Gratuity, Massage, Spa Gratuity, Tipping

The In’s and Out’s of Tipping Your Massage Therapist

Ashley M. Heidi Carter BS, LMT

The custom of ‘tipping’

The modern understanding of the word tip itself was first documented in the English language in 1706 and is the first mention of a ‘gratuity’ being offered in exchange for a product or service. Tipping was viewed as ‘undemocratic’ in some areas of the United States until the early 20th century when some segments of the economy recognized that they would be able to increase their profits by supplementing their employees’ wages with tips.

In 1916, William Scott ranted against the practice with more than a little irony on display in his book “The Itching Palm” where he states: “In the American democracy to be servile is incompatible with citizenship. Every tip given in the United States is a blow at our experiment in democracy. The custom announces to the world…that we do not believe practically that “all men are created equal.” Unless a waiter can be a gentleman, democracy is a failure. If any form of service is menial, democracy is a failure. Those Americans who dislike self-respect in servants are undesirable citizens; they belong in an aristocracy.”

Defining the value of Health and Wellness

Determining the value of a product or service is not always recognized as an objective decision but rather as a matter of personal taste and sense of ethics or for some, morality. As an example, the growth of the service sector in modern American economic history and life has not been viewed as a win-win for society at large. Many pundits have decried the growth of this segment of the economy as a herald of a larger societal decline resulting from the effects of everything from globalization and immigration to religion and politics. Despite these cries of heresy, in the 21st century, tipping does form the basis and backbone of the wages of all service providers who are not employed in the traditional STEM disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Tipping today is totally voluntary. When you book a massage, do you view yourself as purchasing a preventative health care product or modality or a personal care service? For the massage consumer, does a visit to your massage therapist signify a rare event for a special occasion, a gift, or is it about your quality of life? Are you visiting your massage therapist to recover from an injury or to maintain your health? Make a note of your answer and then consider if the answer to this question changes your perception of the value of the service you’re purchasing?

Tipping your Massage Therapist

Tipping anyone for any reason is customarily based on the consumers’ sense of satisfaction after having received a product or service as a rule of thumb. The following are basic rules of thumb to consider when tipping your massage therapist.



  • Does the setting my Massage Therapist works in determine how much I should tip? That depends on YOU – the consumer! In a spa setting, many guests take their total bill for all services and then apply the 15 to 20 percent rule and divide that amount between the various service providers. This can be done via credit card or cash tips. In both cases, let the desk know how much you would like to tip and they can allocate the amounts for you. In MOST Chiropractic offices, Wellness clinic or private Massage clinics, it is also presumed that a 15 to 20 percent tip or gratuity will be added onto the final bill for the service provider.
  • Should I tip more for a specialized massage such as Hot Stone, Neuromuscular, or Deep Tissue?

This often depends on whether or not the service was purchased a’ la carte or if a service charge on package purchases. If you’re visiting a private practitioner or a spa, it is appropriate to

tip a basic standard of 15 to 20 percent on the price of the service. It is always advisable when purchasing a massage package of any kind, be it from a spa or from a private practitioner to inquire if a service charge is included before receiving your treatment session. Don’t forget to inquire how much of that charge is received by the service provider.


  • Do I need to give the therapist a tip in person or can I leave it with the desk as I check out?

Either procedure is acceptable. All tips left with the desk upon check out will be allocated to the therapist based on company procedure – regardless of the size of the company. Tipping with a credit card in a large spa or massage clinic is the safest way to ensure your therapist receives the tip you allocated for them if you cannot place it directly in the therapist hand yourself. Many businesses provide envelopes for clients or guests to place cash tips in, and write the therapist name on an envelope once the guest or client has sealed it. These are distributed to therapists at the end of the day.

  • Should you include sales tax when calculating the tip?  Tips are calculated on the before tax price of a service or product.


  • Be Gracious: If you are pleased with the service you received, you are always welcome to exceed the 15 to 20 percent Golden Rule of tipping. The same applies if you are appalled by poor performance, regardless of whether or not you receive your massage from a spa or private massage clinic. Nothing communicates the concept that there is a problem with service quality like the absence of a tip to both the therapist and all management staff – including sole proprietors. If a therapist regularly does not receive tips, management will consider this a problem and over time, the therapist WILL be asked about the situation during performance reviews.

3 thoughts on “The In’s and Out’s of Tipping Your Massage Therapist”

  1. I once got offered a £20 tip for an aromatherapy massage, but I felt too embarrassed to take it, it just seemed like too much! Now I just give aromatherapy treatments to family and friends for free with ‘tips’ being cooked dinner after!


      1. I decided to post this after having been reminded of differing interpretations of politics and history and how views of decadence have changed in the US. I would be curious to see some of this info alongside the advancement of womens rights. I have several books that will provide insight, including one view on politics as gnosticism from Eric Vogelin. My hesitation would be the religious grounds for vogelins assertion in his title, which is the same reason ive not read Peter Gay.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s