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.