Tips & Gyps

Jul 15, 10:11 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

In an effort to learn more about the spa industry and doing business in a resort town, I've been doing some parttime massage therapy work at a spa. I'm unhappy to say that the compensation is dismal, mostly because clients don't understand proper tipping procedures.

The average salary for massage therapists nationwide is $24K/year. Yes, you read that correctly... subsistence wages. Most massage therapists rely on their tips to make ends meet. Tips are not frittered away on dining out or splurging at the mall; they're often needed to pay for basic living expenses like the the grocery or electric bill. And massage therapy is back-breaking physical labor; the majority of practitioners wear out their bodies and careers within 5 years.

The base pay at massage chains, clinics, salons and spas has steadily declined over the last 15 years and is now a quarter of what it used to be, with most therapists making between $10-17/hour. At many establishments, employees only make base pay for the hours they actually work, so in a mandatory 8 hour shift, that may be only 3 or 4 paid working hours. The rare exceptions to these low wages: most luxury facilities, because of their need to attract stellar, highly trained therapists.

If your therapist does a good job, please tip and tip generously. In most parts of the country, this means 15-20% of the service at full price. If you're receiving spa services at a destination resort or in a resort town, customary gratuity is closer to 18-25% of the service at full value. Remember, your massage therapist does not have a say in whether spa management is offering customers a Groupon or special discounted membership rates, so they do not deserve to be penalized with a discounted gratuity.

What about those therapists who provide chair massage at grocery stores, airports, malls and the like? The same tipping rules apply. In fact, the only places were tipping is usually forbidden are medical facilities. If your hospice or hospital therapist has been providing excellent long term relief for a loved one and you'd like to show your appreciation, it is usually permissable to give a gift of food (i.e., a tray of cookies or a fruit basket) that can be shared with the entire care team.

Please don't insult your massage therapist by praising their work to the skies, then handing them a $5 tip on a service for which you have paid their employer $150. If you've wondered why so many spa or salon therapists appear to be simply "going through the motions" while providing massage and bodywork, this is why. Tip, don't gyp, and you'll get their best effort to deliver a positive healing experience every time.

Interested in experiencing an aromatherapy massage or bodywork treatment by a seasoned practitioner? Contact me for an appointment in the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley area.

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