Spotlight On...Tipping

Do you include gratuity in the price of spa services?

For most employees in customer-centric industries, tipping is typically optional—yet still expected. These days, spa gratuities run the gamut. And some argue that tipping causes undue consternation, as many guests are shaky on spa etiquette and anxious about how much and when to tip. (Don’t even get us started on the topic of how to properly tip if the service was a gift! And what about those online deal–redeemers who only tip on a percentage of the discounted service?)

Considering the economic instability of the past few years, some spa owners feel that eradicating tips, or lumping them into service prices, may be more appealing to guests. Many therapists also say they'd rather receive a straight percentage of the service fee as their gratuity; while others prefer to let guests decide how much to tip.

Like so many aspects of spa operations, tipping procedures don’t come in one-size-fits-all. Your tipping stance should suit your brand, your service protocols and your accounting preferences (for reporting income to the IRS). Your gratuity policy should also be clearly stated in all printed collateral and on your website.

Nixing the tipping? Do like Z Salon & Spa in Louisville, Kentucky. Its online policy reads: “Thank you, but we do not accept gratuities. If you liked the services you received, please refer your family and friends. That’s the best tip you could possibly give us.”

Here, spa professionals from across the country weigh in on their tipping do’s and don’t’s.

“We only include gratuity in package services—to make them simpler to give as a gift—and on really high-volume days and special occasions. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, we include a 20% gratuity with couples’ massages. But in general, we feel it should be up to the guest to determine how much to give. If we automatically set it at 18%, we might be limiting our therapists from some really great tips. I know some of our competitors actually mandate a gratuity of 20%. But what if you get a bad service? You still have to give them 20%? That doesn’t seem right.” —Christina Critchell, director of operations at the Oxford Club Spa & Salon in Denver

“When guests check out, we tell them that we typically add a 20% gratuity to their bill, but they’re welcome to adjust it. About 95% of guests seem to like this system—quite a few add more to the tip!” —Aishah Hammock, receptionist at Le Merigot Spa in Santa Monica, CA

“We had a no-tipping policy for the first three years we were in business; then, in 2009, we changed it due to client demand. We have such great guests, but our team still isn’t comfortable asking for tips. We don’t have receptionists mention it, nor do we put out signs, but most clients do tip.” —Deidre Moffat, educational director at Hue in Huntington Beach, CA

“Our guests leave in such a relaxed state that we do the math for them and add an 18% gratuity to the bill upon departure. If any issues are raised, however, then we adjust accordingly.” —Sharon Holtz, director of Spa at Mandarin Oriental in Boston

"We’ve only ever accepted tips in cash or checks, never on credit cards. Then the therapist doesn’t have to wait to receive the money. What’s made this work, though, is having a major bank about 100 yards from our Pittsburgh location, so a fee-free ATM is readily available. This policy posed problems at our new spa, located within a boutique hotel far from retail areas. Since hotel guests don’t usually carry anything with them into the spa, we decided to allow tips to be charged to guestroom accounts.” —Scott Kerschbaumer, co-owner, ESSpa Kozmetika Organic Skincare, in Pittsburgh, and ESSpa Kozmetika at The Carnegie Inn & Spa in State College, PA

“We were a no-tipping spa for years, until last September. We were just losing too many talented therapists, so we changed our policy and let clients know via emails and our website. Some were happy about it; some not at all. But I don’t think they’ve been able to find another place where they don’t have to tip! And business has remained steady.” —Deirdre Arr, receptionist at InSpa in Issaquah, WA

“We do not include gratuity in our services. It’s up to the guests to choose whether they’d like to extend gratuity, based on their individual experiences. We offer tip envelopes and include a section on credit card slips that allows guests to fill in a tip, if they so choose.” —Angela Cortright, owner of Spa Gregorie’s, with three locations in Orange County, CA

“For our first 20 years in business, we had a no-tipping policy—with an exception for holiday gifts—because we embrace a team concept, with hourly pay and no internal competition. But two years ago, we started to accept tips due to client demand. Many guests had been with us a long time and really wanted to show their appreciation. However, it’s still not your own tip; like Starbucks, we split tips among everyone working that day. It’s nice because a newer person who’s not yet getting many requests still has a chance
to make some extra money.” —Amy Dexa, front desk coordinator at Studio 904 in Seattle

“When clients check out we say, ‘Gratuity is not included. If you choose to leave one you may via credit cards or cash envelopes.’ Clients appreciatethat we clarify! I don’t include tips in service prices because they motivate my employees to work harder. If tips were included, they might slack off.” —Tamara Friedman, owner of Tamara Spa in Farmington Hills, MI

We'd love to know YOUR preferred tipping style. Please, answer our poll question!

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Related: POLL: Do you include gratuity in the price of spa services? | Client of the Future: Part 1
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Do you include gratuity in the price of spa services?