Jan. 1, 2013 at 12:57 PM ET
Not sure how much to tip your hairstylist? You're not alone. After all, The relationships you form in a salon can be the most intimate in your life. Who else but your hairdresser can examine your gray or damaged hair with such practical indifference? As for bikini waxing, she may not be your friend, but she is your ... bikini waxer. It doesn't get much closer than that. We asked Tahnee Seiler, student services coach at the Aveda Institute, and Elie Camoro, a top stylist at Frederic Fekkai, to tell us the right way to tip. They also share some customers' faux pas.
What customers do: In Aveda's informal poll, the lowest tip was 10 percent and the highest was 25 percent, but most women said they stick to 20. In and around big cities, the percentage was more generous, even though the services cost more. Women with super short hair, which they get cut and colored every four to six weeks, don't always give a huge tip because their annual beauty bill is so high to begin with. Stylists in some small-town beauty shops, however, report 15 percent as the norm. Those who work in mall or drop-in hair salons, and are less likely to have a loyal clientele, sometimes get tips of even less.
What salon staff wants you to do: Start from 20 percent to be fair. Young mothers up the ante if their preschoolers are in on the haircut. If you arrive late or have a toddler with you, you should increase your tip. Other reasons to tip more: if the salon squeezes you in at the last moment, your styling includes a shoulder massage, or your manicure includes a hand massage. The bottom line: If you like your hair stylist, tip at least 20 percent. It helps build relations with the salon and is especially helpful in procuring a last-minute appointment.
Says Camoro: "You want to get the best personal care, and build up a rapport. You don't want to fall into the other category at a big-scale salon, where every service is by appointment only. You want to be one of those clients who can call on a whim when you're flying out of town and ask if we can fit you in."
What customers do: It's confusing. Many give a 20 percent tip and figure that the stylist will share it with the shampoo washer. Several women compared it to eating out at a fancy restaurant with both a wine steward and a waiter, where they give just one tip and assume the restaurant divides it.
What salon staff wants you to do: Forget the restaurant idea. Tip everyone separately. In big salons, give at least $3 to $5 to the shampooer. The more the shampooer does (such as apply toner or other special products), the more you should give. But in smaller towns, like Brewer, Maine, a $5 tip for a shampoo would seem excessive, since the price for a shampoo, conditioning, cut and blow-dry at Defining Design is $21, and stylist Roxie Boudreau does it all herself.
What customers do: The commonly held belief is that you shouldn't tip the salon owner if she or he does your hair. But more and more customers do.
What salon staff wants you to do: That rule really doesn't apply anymore. Go ahead, tip the owner.
What customers do: In the age of cell phones, laptops and BlackBerrys, customers do too much in the stylist's chair. But they may not know how much it bothers the stylists.
What salon staff wants you to do: Be on time. Don't cancel within 24 hours of your appointment. Don't show up so sick that you are coughing throughout the haircut. And don't sit glued to your cell phones, laptops and BlackBerrys. Your body has to be in the right position for a good haircut. Sit up and face forward and no hunching over a keypad or magazine. What if you feel like just zoning out and not talking? No problem, stylists say. They understand that some people just want to chill and get pampered. And if you snooze during the hair-coloring process, so be it.
What customers do: When they're attached to a stylist, customers give both money and gifts at the holidays. Presents can be handmade items, like a craft or cookies. Store-bought items are acceptable, too.
What salon staff wants you to do: Stylists appreciate the thanks and recognition during the holidays. Even a card works. "Write a note on it, and don't forget to put your name. We always read them," says Camoro.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.