Just the Tip: A Question About Massages

Due to the weird neck spasm thing that happened to me a year ago, I’ve resigned myself to getting the occasional massage whenever my neck starts to tighten up again. There are worse things to resign oneself to.

That was the case yesterday when I woke up with a stiff neck. I called my local massagery and made an appointment for later that afternoon. The massage was a success–no farts, no erections–and afterward I paid the bill ($74) with the recommended tip ($15). There’s literally a sign on the desk of Massage Luxe telling you what the 20% tip is.

I’ve worked in the service industry, so it didn’t even occur to me not to tip. It seemed like I should pay the masseuse via the tip, so I did. But later that night I was thinking about the cost of the massage, and it hit me: If $15 went to the woman who made my neck feel better, what the heck was the other $74 for?

Now, I run a business, so I can check off a list of things the $74 is for: facility, utilities, insurance, hardware, software, equipment, laundry, front desk personnel, and, yes, hourly wages for the massage therapists (hopefully). I would guess that the masseuse gets $20 at most.

Consider another expensive service: getting your car inspected. Do you tip for that? Of course not. The cost of the service is $60, so you pay it. You don’t tip the mechanic for doing the service you already paid for.

So why is a massage different? You might say that if you got a particularly good massage, you should tip to show your appreciation. But the whole point of a massage is that it’s supposed to be really good–that’s why you’re paying such a high price in the first place.

Despite my confusion, I also feel like I can’t not tip. The fact that the massagery has a recommended tip says to me that the massage therapists aren’t getting paid enough. They did the hard work, so I feel like they deserve to be fairly compensated.

What do you think about all this? Why is there the expectation to pay and tip for certain services but not others? Do massage therapists get paid enough before the tip? Are there any spas that pay their therapists well enough that a tip isn’t required to properly compensate for their time and expertise?