How to tip: The dos and don’ts of gratuity at salons


Photography by Peter Stigter

We’ve all been there: you’ve just spent several hours at a salon or spa; you’re in a haze of pampering-induced endorphins and it comes time to settle the bill. Figuring out beauty service tipping can be overwhelming (not to mention how it totally messes with your hazy beauty vibe). And though salon admin are characteristically pleasant, the coy “it’s totally up to you” answer doesn’t help either (we need answers, people!). Well, you can rest your pretty heads, beauty-lovers, because we’ve compiled some guidelines to take the guesswork out of beauty service tipping.

According to Leanne Pepper, an etiquette and protocol consultant, it’s cut and dry when it comes to tipping for beauty services (spa services included), 20% on the service charge is correct etiquette. But that’s a far cry from what beauty gurus are actually receiving. Celebrity hairstylist and salon owner Matthew Collins says that 20% for beauty service is definitely not the average. “A good 10% makes the stylist happy.”

Though 10% will make your service provider happy and save you a few bucks (win-win) it seems strange that we commonly tip wait-staff 20% without question, while beauty service providers, who become invested in both our aesthetic and often the intimate details of our lives, do not receive the same appreciation. Perhaps it’s just beauty provider etiquette not to insist on a higher amount.

When looking at your salon or spa bill, it’s important to know where that money is going. First of all, don’t count any products you are purchasing at the counter. The salon or spa deduces a client charge that covers the cost of products and supplies. Now, looking at your new number, the highest commission possible is 50%, and most make well below that. For stylists and beauty technicians who aren’t on commission, it’s far less than that. If you have questions about how your stylist or aesthetician is getting paid, simply explain your inquiry. Beauty service providers are generally happy to explain – without getting into private specifics.

Pepper says that when it comes down to it, tipping shows appreciation for effort. So that being said, here’s how to tip for different scenarios:

You’re being given a complimentary treatment or are using a gift certificate

According to etiquette, you should be tipping 20% of what the service would have charged if you were paying.

According to beauty professionals, tipping is completely discretionary in this case.

You’re not in love with the final product

You should tip 20%, even if you are not crazy about the final product. “It is no different than if you are going to a restaurant – if you’re not happy with your food you still leave a tip. But definitely say something; don’t leave unhappy. It needs to be brought to their attention because those things are not done intentionally. Give them an opportunity to fix it,” says Pepper.

Your stylist is also the owner

There is a notion that if your stylist or technician is also the owner, then no tip is required because they are raking in the overall profit. And while that may sometimes be the case, it’s not usually true. An owner makes their living on commission earned from each of their clients (like other stylists). At the end of each year (after all costs are covered and paychecks are signed) whatever is left goes to the owner(s). Only 10% of salons in North America are profitable. The other 90% either break even or suffer a loss. “My business partner and I do a lot of training but a lot of people who open salons have no idea about business. With no clue about rent, overhead, top line, bottom line, they open a salon and realize, ‘Oh wow, I’m a creative genius and an amazing hairdresser but I have no idea how to run a business.’ So you may be skipping out on tipping someone who is actually losing money at the end of the year, and that’s a tricky situation,” says Collins.

You’re getting treatments outside of the salon

Many stylists and beauty technicians do work out of salon. Sure, they don’t have a salon or spa making up most of their costs, but the treatments are offered at a discounted rate and usually performed on the professionals’ days off. Advanced colour technician Nikki Desmond says, “Stylists who do services outside the salon still have to buy all the products, they still have to drive to that persons house or have clients in their home, they still have to offer beverages. Maybe it’s not as nice as a salon but there are overhead costs that the stylist is already covering.” If etiquette is tipping to show appreciation for effort, I think we can all agree that working on your day off is definitely effort.

You don’t know if you should tip the assistant

Now let’s address the best most important part of your service, the glorious shampoo. How much does one tip the salon angel who washes your hair? Well the norm is anywhere from $2 to $5 dollars but as Collins points out, “Assistants talk [to each other] and they know who tips [and who doesn’t].” Long before Collins became the go-to celebrity stylist he is today, he was an assistant and admits that when he knew a client tipped well he would “give her the massage of her lifetime.” Just keep that in mind the next time you’re wondering how much to tip the assistants.

On one end of the tip spectrum 20% is correct etiquette, and on the other 10% will keep your beauty service provider happy. So at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide where you fall in that range. Now get out there and enjoy your blowout, and tip confidently.