News & Politics

Why Do Spas Require Cash Tips?

Many spas won’t let you put a gratuity on your credit card. Here’s why. Plus—advice on how much to tip.

Illustration by Ryan Snook.

You’ve just had a terrific massage. At the front desk, you pay
for the treatment with a credit card but are surprised that the tip must
be in cash.

If there’s a frequent complaint among spa-goers, the policy of
not being able to put tips on a credit card is it.

Spa owners who prefer cash gratuities say it’s because they pay
a transaction fee based on the total amount charged—and folding in a tip
eats into the spa’s bottom line. Another reason: When tips are put on
credit cards, employees are taxed on that income.

Some salons have installed ATMs to make it easier for clients
to tip in cash. But some customers see that as extra effort—plus
restaurants have the same issues but don’t insist on cash.

Says Calvert Thompson, owner of Calvert Rejuvenations in
Herndon, a spa that does allow tips on charge slips: “We do tips on credit
cards because it’s a matter of convenience—people don’t carry cash
anymore. It does mean a few extra steps for us when it comes to doing
payroll, but it’s such a mild inconvenience, we’re happy to do

What to Tip

As at restaurants, a 20-percent tip is the norm, says Thompson.
The exception? When the therapist is the owner, either in a solo practice
or in a spa. In those cases, tipping isn’t expected.

“If the service price is higher to be with the owner, you don’t
have to worry about gratuity,” Thompson says. If the owner charges the
same as the spa’s other practitioners, a tip would be in order, she

Some spas, such as Tulsi Holistic Living in Georgetown, have
found one solution to the tipping quagmire—a no-tipping

“There’s no awkwardness,” says Tulsi director Mayuri Sobti.
“It’s a more relaxed place.”

Day Spas 2013 ››

Editor in chief

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, and worked her way to the top of the masthead when she was named editor-in-chief in 2022. She oversees the magazine’s editorial staff, and guides the magazine’s stories and direction. She lives in DC.