[Tip Jar] How Much Should You Tip at the Beauty Salon?

On one of the last Tip Jar posts, Kate asked this very excellent question:

Okay. Here’s my question. And perhaps you can’t answer this because, you know, you’re on the other side of the salon and you’re not doing hair, but what about tips on an expensive hair service, such as highlights? My highlights cost $150, and I generally tip $25, which is just over 16%. I guess I could be tipping $30, which is straight-up 20%, but I’m also tipping the shampoo person $5, and suddenly I’m paying $185 to get my hair done. (And that doesn’t include a hair cut, btw.) It’s just a $5 difference, though. Am I being chintzy? Should I just suck it up and tip $30?

I err on the side of over-tipping to a perhaps pathological extent, so I would suck it up and tip the $30. But I fully admit, this isn’t as cut and dried (ha! hair pun, get it?) as when we talk about tipping your nail salon worker, who makes about $50 a day, or tipping me $5 for a three-hour, $55 bikini and leg wax.

So here’s my whole deal on tipping.It’s an unfortunate but necessary evil because it compensates for low wages. Restaurants and beauty salons (among other service industry businesses) offer you a lower price on the menu because they’re saving by underpaying their workers — but what that really means is that you have to help pay the workers directly, because nobody can earn a living on a waiter’s base pay, and the average beauty worker is barely scraping by on $9 to $15 an hour. It’s a scam but a scam we have to keep perpetuating until the entire system changes, but otherwise, it’s the underpaid worker who loses out, not the cheapskate employers.

So, that’s the logic I apply in a Beauty U situation, a discount nail salon situation, or any salon where I know the workers aren’t being paid terribly well. (Are the services pretty cheap? That’s your first clue.)

But when you get to the higher end places, stylists and estheticians are usually working on commission, earning around 40 percent of what you paid. So your hair stylist makes $60 when she does your $150 highlights. If that takes her an hour and she can do six clients a day, I wouldn’t worry too much about tipping her because she just made $400. Instead, I’d probably pass that extra $5 to the shampoo girl, who is making $8 an hour.

My caveat there is that even at higher-end salons, stylists usually have to bring in their own equipment (scissors, brushes, blow dryers) which run hundreds of dollars, and sometimes they supply their own products, too and pay by the week to rent the chair from the salon. When you factor in that kind of overhead, a $400 day isn’t so great, because they might only take home $150 of it after taxes and expenses.

So tip well, grasshoppers. Yes, even if the service doesn’t blow you away. Remember that like the waitress who is slow to bring your food because the kitchen is slow to cook it, something that seems to be the salon worker’s fault (like running late, rushing around between customers rather than giving you undivided attention, failing to take 25 years off your face in a single glycolic peel) may represent a bigger flaw in the system — think, an overbooked appointment calendar, understaffing-created chaos, and hyped up advertising claims that don’t match the reality of what a treatment can do.

Because if there is one thing I’ve learned over the past almost-ten months, it’s that these people are working darn hard for every $5 you throw at them.



Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, In Class, Tip Jar, week 37

11 responses to “[Tip Jar] How Much Should You Tip at the Beauty Salon?

  1. Wendy Lee

    The way I figure it is, the expensive haircut/highlights will last me a few months, during which time I don’t need to devote any more thought or worry to my hair. That alone is well worth a lavish tip to everyone involved.
    Also, on a self-interested note, if $5 can transform your reputation into that of an over-tipper, I’d go for it. It can pay off when you need a sudden appointment!

  2. Denise

    Three hours for a leg and bikini wax?

  3. Marian Sole

    I just had a pedicure at an expensive spa and was horrified to figure out it would cost me $85. ( My mistake should have checked first). Anyway the spa added the gratuity ( that’s what you call it when you charge $85) of 17% automatically. So with taxes my feet came to $105! I think the whole tip was passed to the spa employee because they assured us we didn’t need to tip them directly.

  4. Elizabeth

    I tend to overtip, at least when I’m in a situation where I know tipping is required. I tip my waitress, my hair stylist, and my tattoo artist. I did not know, though, that I was supposed to tip the delivery men from the furniture store.

    Here’s another query: Growing up, I’d always heard that you don’t tip the hairstylist when she’s the owner of the shop. But one of my high school friends was the daughter of a self-employed hairstylist, and she said hell, yes, you can tip the owner – that her mom always appreciated the extra cash and did not find it insulting.

    These days I get my hair cut by the same stylist, who is the sole proprietor of her shop. I tip her approx. 20-25%, and she always thanks me “for the extra”. Has the “never tip the owner” rule fallen by the wayside, or have I simply encountered exceptions?

    • Hey Elizabeth! Great question. I think that rule DOES still apply when you’re talking about a salon owner with a decent-sized store and team of stylists working underneath him or her (sigh — usually seems to be a him, hello, beauty industry glass ceiling!). But when you’re talking about a sole proprietor without any employees, I would still tip, because that’s really pretty close to the booth-renting scenario I described above, where your stylist is highly dependent on tips to help bridge the gaps in a commission-based income.

      That’s my two cents anyway. Hope it helps!

  5. This is helpful.

    And I also thought, “3 hours??” Is that true? That sounds horrible for both people involved!

  6. Well, maybe it was more like 2.5 hours, but yeah, it was rough. Here’s the post, from last week, if you missed all the dirty details…


  7. I disagree with the tipping on services that don’t blow you away.

    I’ve worked in the service industry for ages and I know that things go on behind the scenes that are out of my control, but I also know that I need to buck up when those things happen and still be amazing.

    When I am blown away, I am more than generous. But when I’m underwhelmed, you can bet that’s reflected in my tip.

  8. Stephanie

    At school I generally make a $5 tip on a $10 haircut, though I do have a couple of folks who tip only $1 or $2. Those who tip the least tend (*my experience*) to be the most difficult and picky. The average haircut, shampoo and style is a 1 hr. service.

    I have worked in a salon, as the receptionist, where all salon employees got free services. I tipped the commission equivalent of what the stylist would have made had I been a paying client. I later found out that some employees didn’t tip at all as they felt it was part of their compensation package.

    My mom has always told me, “if you can’t afford to tip appropriately, you can’t afford to go out.” I tip 15-25% depending on the level of service I receive.

  9. Pingback: Check Your Own Pretty Price: What’s Your Beauty No-Fly Zone? | Beauty Schooled

  10. LT

    As an Esthetician working in a spa for 1 1/2 years, I can attest that tipping is greatly, greatly appreciated. Building a clientele can take a long time, especially in this economy (I know, you are sick of hearing that…but it’s true). The spa where I work pays an hourly minimum wage OR 40% commission, whichever is more. There are many times when my paycheck is made up of an entirely minimum wage salary, so I make the same rate as the shampoo girls who are in high school. This is sad but true, especially considering I paid a lot of money to go through Esthetics school (I also have a Bachelor’s degree).

    Tips have been my lifesaver, paying for gas, groceries, and other necessities. That being said, I have noticed that about 80 – 90% of my clients tip at a rate of about 5 -10%, which I personally think is pretty shameful. However, I’ve learned to appreciate every dollar and to be grateful for what I do get.

    I hope that within the next 5 years, my clientele will increase and I won’t depend so much on tips. Something I was very surprised to find in this industry was that the higher the dollar amount a client pays in services, the less they tip. So if I see that a client is coming in to get a facial, massage, pedicure, and blow-out…you can bet I won’t be holding my breath for a decent tip. And I have to say that I think this is absolutely ludicrous…if a client has the money to pay for all of those services, they have the money to tip…they just choose not to. Like I always say, if you can’t afford to tip your waiter – don’t go out to eat. It’s the same for salon services. There should be an automatic gratuity percentage taken for services over a certain set dollar amount in spas/salons in my opinion, but unfortunately my employers have yet to implement such a policy.

    So, a good rule of thumb to judge your technician by is how long they’ve been working and how busy they are – if they’ve been in the business for 10 plus years and tell you their business is “steady” or “busy”, than you can safely bet they are making a comfortable salary and appreciate tips but don’t necessarily rely on them.

    I do love my job, but there are many challenges to it. I adore my regular clients and I love helping people feel good. I think our trade is not looked upon as hard work, but I assure you…my blood, sweat, and tears go into what I do. I work very hard to give the best service to every client regardless of a tip…but if you are a good tipper, trust me, your technician will remember you and will somehow return the favor.

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