DEAR JILL: I have a question on proper tipping. I belong to a massage service that has locations around town and the U.S. My credit card is automatically deducted for $65 each month for my membership, which comes with one massage for this price. This is not considered a discount, but the price of a monthly membership. I have been tipping $15, which is 20% plus a $2 roundup tip.
Recently, when checking out, I was presented with a screen for adding a tip. They listed $23 as a 20% tip, along with even higher 25% and 30% options. I’m fine with tipping 20%. I asked the girl how they get these tipping amounts, as my math tells me 20% is $13.
She responded that non-members pay $115 for a massage, and tipping is based on that amount. I responded that I only tip on what I pay, not what someone else pays. Am I wrong in my reasoning? It rubbed me wrong that it seemed they intimidate members to tip much higher than the actual percentage of what we are charged.
By comparison, we sometimes go to a restaurant that has the Monday menu feature of spaghetti and meatballs at a price $5 per person lower than the rest of the week. We’ve never even thought to tip based on the price people pay Tuesday through Saturday. And if we eat and drink at happy hour, we tip based on cost, not what the food and drink cost outside of happy hour. We tip based on our purchase price and assumed this would be common sense and proper, since that is their standard price at those times.
To be clear, when we have a gift card or discount coupon, we always tip on the original full price. I know this is the proper way in that circumstance.
So, am I undertipping my masseuse? Or is the masseuse using fuzzy math? — Cheryl D.
This reader has raised many issues regarding the practice of tipping. Typically, for a service such as a massage, haircut or similar service, I agree that 20% is acceptable. That said, I tip for these kinds of services based on the price I am paying.
As you joined the massage service based on a $65-per-month fee, I believe that you are correct to tip based on the price advertised when you signed up. You would have had no way of knowing that the walk-in price for a massage is significantly more, and I do feel that they’re indeed tweaking the math in their favor, hoping that customers simply press the 20% button without questioning it.
An aside: I, too, always do the math when I am presented with a button that automatically calculates a 20%, 25% and 30% tip — I have seen these numbers calculated with additional “padding” that should not be present if it was truly calculating at the advertised percentage.
Concerning bars and restaurants, promotional pricing, such as dinner specials or happy hour specials, are just that — lower prices designed to bring in more business. You’re correct to tip on the value of what you have paid. Consider this, too: Many restaurants offer the same dishes at a lower price during the lunch hour.
Would you be expected to tip on the dinner prices for the same entrees being purchased earlier in the day? No — you’re tipping on the price you paid.
It should go without saying that if the service is fantastic, you can (and should) tip as much as you’d like. When I finally went back to my hairdresser for my first post-pandemic haircut, I made sure to tip her much more heavily than in the past — not only was she backlogged with clients, but at that time, she was only able to see one client in her salon at a time. I genuinely appreciated everything she was doing to stay open, and I wanted to help make sure her business continued to thrive.