Tipping Etiquette

Tipping etiquette in the massage industry is based on factors like comfort in the room, what the therapist discusses to ease your fears, how relaxing the massage was, freshness of the table sheets, and the choice of music.

Tipping based on Client Comfort

Comfort is extremely important in a massage session.

It is not just based on the massage, but on the overall experience, from the time you walk in the door to the time the therapist leaves the room after the massage.

Consider these things:

  • Feel of the table sheets - they should feel comfortable, smell fresh and clean, and not be too warm for your body
  • Temperature - room temperature as well as the warmer on the massage table should be comfortable
  • Greeting - how the therapist made you feel when you arrived
  • Information - how the therapist explained what would happen in the session, draping procedures, where to put your clothes, etc.
  • Music - was the music calm and relaxing or did it evoke emotion and make you think about stressful life situations
  • Aromatherapy - candles and essential oils are sometimes used in massage, but should not be so over-powering that it distracts you from the massage itself
  • Oil or Lotion - did the oil or lotion make you feel greasy, where you didn't want to re-dress because it was so heavy on your body
  • The Massage - Was the therapy relaxing? Did the therapist address your pain issues appropriately? Did you feel comfort in the therapist's touch? Did he/she talk during the massage, without you asking questions?
  • After the session - were you pushed into buying products or to re-schedule

In addition to tipping etiquette in massage, you may be interested in reading more about massage etiquette, what industry standards are, common social manners in massage, and what to expect in different massage therapy settings.

Tipping Etiquette based on Location

When you are considering what to leave as a tip, consider these things:

  • Was the massage in a spa? If so, the therapist typically receives an hourly rate, usually 40-60% of what you paid. The rest of what he/she makes is based on what you tip. Often, a 15-20% tip (of the hourly rate) is appropriate.
  • Was the massage in a private practice home office? If so, the therapist makes all the money that you pay for services. A smaller tip, if any, is appropriate.
  • Was the massage in a doctors office? If so, the therapist's services may be billed to your insurance. If this is the case, you may want to ask a receptionist if tipping is customary.
  • With advanced types of massage therapy, like Fibromyalgia or Pregnancy, you may want to consider a higher tip, as these require specialized training and continuing education hours.
  • If your massage was done in a school student clinic, the massage student may not be allowed to accept tips. However, $5 or $10 massage tips are often left in the room for the student therapist.

Tipping Etiquette based on Professionalism

  • Did they have a body odor? Most are careful to bathe and use deodorant every day. Body odor is very distracting!
  • Did the therapist watch their breath? Most don't eat garlic or onions before a massage session, because bad breathe is distracting.
  • Did they chew gum or have a large mint in your mouth during the session? That's distracting too!
  • Did they wear professional clothing (scrubs or uniform) or very nice clothes that were without holes, wrinkles or stains?
  • Did he/she have long hair? It should have been pulled back either in a pony tail or pinned.
  • Did he/she have long nails? Were their hands soft and well-groomed?
  • Did the therapist wear distracting jewelry? Earrings are common, but when you are giving a massage, no long necklaces or rings should be worn.

This book, The Body Is Art: A Mentoring Guide for the Business of Massage & Bodywork teaches more about etiquette in the professional massage therapy practice, how to pay, tip, and questions that can be asked/discussed to make the session relaxing and comfortable for both therapist and client.

Tipping etiquette in the massage therapy industry is important to understand, and your massage therapist's overall hourly rate may greatly depend upon the tip you leave, so ask questions and find out what the proper amount is before heading to the session. 

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