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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
it.”

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
says.

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

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

Day Spas 2013 ››

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Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Bikes and Hikes, Fairs and Festivals, Great Small Towns, and the Washington Bucket List. She lives in Arlington.