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Nail salon etiquette: How much should you tip?

A mani and pedi should be a relaxing experience, but it can feel stressful when it comes to navigating salon protocol: How much do you tip? What should you do if you hate your filing job? Are you supposed to give your technician a gift if you’re a regular? We’ve got you covered, and have consulted leading salon pros about the how and why of what you should do.

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How much should you tip?

What customers do: The standard tip is anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of the cost of services, before taxes. Some customers tip more than 20 percent if it’s a low-cost service where the tip would otherwise be less than $2, or if they’re especially thrilled with the service, say our experts.

What salon staff wants you to do: That price range is fair, our experts say, but the issue is often about how you tip. And cash is always king, says Taylor Daniel, the namesake of Morgan Taylor Lacquer. The truth is, when you tip on a credit card, you can’t always be positive that the technician who worked on you will receive it. Our experts stress that this is a wrong, dishonest business practice — but the reality is, it exists.

Also, many technicians quietly take note when someone is a “bad tipper” and can even offer subpar service or refuse a client who is notorious for being cheap, says Donna Perillo, founder of New York City’s Sweet Lily Natural Nail Spa. Though she adds that at her salon, she’s adamant that clients are only expected to pay for the treatment, and tips are offered based on exceptional experience rather than obligation.

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Do you tip the owner?

What customers do: Conventional wisdom is that owners don’t need to be tipped. Some clients still do, though it's often less the the technician — about 10 percent, says Perillo.

What salon staff wants you to do: Our experts were split 50-50 on whether you should automatically tip a salon owner, but we found a savvy compromise: Always offer a tip as a gesture for the owner’s hard work and time by discreetly handing it to him or her directly. If the owner doesn’t really want you to tip, there will be a gracious refusal; but if she or he honestly does want you to tip, it will be happily accepted, says Morgan Haile, the other half of Morgan Taylor Lacquer.

What if you’re unhappy with your service?

What customers do: When unhappy, customers usually tip less or skip the tip entirely, even taking to social media sites like Yelp to complain.

What salon staff wants you to do: “A tip is a way to thank your nail tech for the time spent on you, it’s not meant to be a teaching mechanism. If you have specific feedback, give it verbally, don’t let your tip reflect it,” says Daniel. Often times, a client is distracted by a digital device and doesn’t notice something that isn’t to their liking until after the service is done. Technicians want you to pay attention during the service and to speak up if you don’t like the way something looks, so that it can be fixed and you leave happy. When voicing your opinion, keep it kind with a simple statement instead of getting angry — it’s far more effective and keeps the rest of the service enjoyable for both parties, says Haile.

What do people do that nail salons hate?

What customers do: Taking too long to select a polish color can throw off an entire schedule and force technicians to work at break-neck speed to make up the time, says Perillo. “We always suggest customers arrive early if they want time to play with colors and still enjoy a full treatment time,” she adds. Complaining about a service after it’s over (as outlined above) or rushing to put your digits in a purse or pair of shoes, resulting in ruined nails, are annoying issues that happen constantly. “It’s always a good idea to ask a tech if they think your nails or toes are dry,” suggests Haile.

What salon staff wants you to do: Arrive on time for appointments! Put your phone down, don’t keep reaching into your bag, just sit still and relax, Daniel says. Less wiggling around will ensure that you leave with the prettiest manicure or pedicure possible. And communicate preferences, like if you’re ticklish, sensitive or prefer a heavier-handed massage. A good technician will be happy to adjust the service to meet your needs so that you’re pleased, says Perillo.

What about gifts?

What customers do: When a client has a regular relationship with a technician and typically sees the same person every visit, it’s common to give a gift card or personalized gift around the holidays — like specialty tea or bath products. Many clients simply give an extra or larger tip that time of year. However, it’s never expected.

What salon staff wants you to do: Sweet treats for the staff are always a hit, and can go a long way without spending much money, says Haile. Think home-baked goods, a crate of fruit or a box of doughnuts. “Generosity always puts our staff in really good spirits!” adds Perillo. Just remember: If you give a gift, don’t expect extra services or discounts — it’s not a tradeoff, says Haile.

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