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?

16 Responses to “Just the Tip: A Question About Massages”

  1. Joe Pilkus says:


    So, while I’m not one to get a massage or a mani/pedi-cure, I’ll focus on the tipping aspect of the question. Every year for the past seven years, my daughter and I spend 10 days in Mexico at a resort where I own a timeshare. It’s all-inclusive, which I love because the food and drinks are paid for months in advance. The resort’s concierge service will tell you thAt tips are included, but I can’t, as so.eone who worked in the service industry get up from the table and leave without providing at least some small measure of thanks in the form of a tip.

    To your point, most of the time it’s a nameless mechanic who works on your car, but if you knew him, it might be different, or mAybe it’s simply a function of the service provided to you on a much more personal level. When I get my haircut, I tip the barber; when my daughter get a her nails done, the young lady gets a tip. Maybe, it’s just that we appreciate the personal touch when it includes, well…our person.


    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joe. Do you differentiate between paying for goods and tipping based on the service to receive those goods (like at a restaurant) versus paying for a service and adding a tip on top of it? To this point, I’ve tipped indiscriminately for both categories.

  2. Sean says:

    Leaving the video ruining tipping here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_vivC7c_1k

    That being said I would rather have a system where everyone is paid a living wage, and when I received above and beyond service, I added a tip. I know we don’t live in that world, and on the low end i try to tip around 18%.

    Had a similar conundrum at a sushi place I went to. I know that the majority of the tip should go to the sushi chef, vs the waiter that basically filled my water and refreshed my green tea, but wasn’t sure how the restaurant did it, and felt awkward asking.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Sean: Yeah, the video speaks well to the problems with the way restaurants in the US pay servers less than minimum wage, so they actually need the tips. Though that fits into the “pay for goods, tip on service” category. I’d be curious to hear his thoughts on “pay for service, tip on service,” which doesn’t seem to make sense unless the person providing for the service isn’t being paid very well, in which case, why did I pay $74 for a massage instead of $15?

  3. massage says:

    Jamey, the answer to “are there places where therapists don’t expect tips ” is yes, they are private therapists typically charging 50-100 (depending on where you are, their experience and modalities) an hour which is a lot more than the $20 (and it’s often less) from a spa. They will typically have their own private studio or rent a studio in a shared place,

  4. Chris Broadbent says:

    If I am not mistaken, most (all?) of Europe is tip free. It’s a foreign concept to them.
    I put in my time as a waiter in college – $2.13/hr + tips – and so I do tip in restaurants. What bothers me is that I don’t know where to stop (in terms of which services) in tipping. Further, it seems there are services where I feel a tip should not be expected, but others feel differently (the guy at the airport parking lot that drives the shuttle to the gates, for example). I have long since given up hope of having a standardized list of who should be tipped (and I never carry cash and so cannot tip of there isn’t some other transaction), so instead I wish and hope for our society to do away with tipping.
    It’s a long shot, but it’s the best hope I have in the situation.
    I feel like we’re all pretending to be Lords and Ladies, or the wildly rich and powerful, bestowing favors on those servants who have entertained us or caught our eye. I’ve come to really resent the entire idea of a tip.
    Personal problem, I suppose.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Chris: I can definitely see where you’re coming from, and it does end up feeling a little like Lords and Ladies!

  5. My thoughts on this are that until we have transparency about what we are actually paying for when we obtain a good or service. With goods the reason why the price can be so inflated for an electronic item or a piece of clothing versus what it actually costs to manufacture them is usually the marketing and the overhead for said company. As for a service, there is the overhead, which might or might not include substantial wages, but I think we are often overcharged by the business owner so they can protect themselves in the present economic climate. That means in many cases the tip is meant to improve the situation for the employees actually providing the service. No doubt that they are often underpaid for their time since the business owner knows that tipping is commonplace and in some cases is the main reason some people get into a service industry. A very good bartender or barmaid, even a waiter or waitress, can take home a very good salary on tips alone. The government, at least in my home province in Canada, introduced the wet blanket of taxing tips. I’m not sure of the situation in the US or around the world, but that is showing how broken the tipping system is. One employee can earn a lot on the great tips clients are giving them and then another employee can get the short end if they are not getting generous tips as they will be taxed by the government on whatever amount they earn in tips. If tipping is 15-20%, but certain clients don’t respect that concept and give less or nothing at all it can be tough if the employees are making less than minimum wage. All this makes me wonder if the tips are declared as income how much do they actually keep out of a $5 tip?

    • Just realized I had an incomplete sentence at the beginning of my comment. I meant to say that transparency on what we pay for a service would help a bunch in judging whether the tips we offer for a service are adequate or even necessary.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Brent: When I worked as a waiter, a lot of the tips were in cash (I’m guessing that has changed). The general sentiment I heard from the other servers was that they had no intention of reporting all of their tips to the government.

  6. vindeux says:

    Perhaps because i’m french, it’s very rare in France, but Tips usage surprise me all the time
    Because it’s like a hidden cost , It’s like show price without tax and without notice it

    In France, Tips is often applied to foreigner employees or students
    I think it’s just a way to wring people with short term objectives….

    If everybody was paid only with daily successfull action in their work and with an random remuneration for each succes, i think people go berserk

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      vindeux: You’re absolutely right! I definitely couldn’t make this my career if I were dependent on tips. 🙂

  7. Charles Dionne says:

    This is an interesting question and it’s funny that I would, too, feel compelled to tip my massage therapist but not my mechanic. I think Joe was right in saying that it’s much more personal than dropping off your car at the shop and not seeing it again until it is done being worked on. I don’t tip my doctor or dentist though… and that feels pretty personal too 🙂

    In the words of the wise Dwight Schrute:

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Ha ha…nice video. And the doctor/dentist is the perfect example! You pay for a very specific service (sometimes pay a premium), and because you’ve paid for the service, you don’t tip a doctor or dentist. I wonder why that doesn’t apply to massage therapists.

  8. Bob Tosa says:

    I’m confused. How was the massage a success if there were no farts or erections?

Leave a Reply