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Tips for Tipping Stylists: Take care of those who take care of you

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You have probably been going to hair salons since you can remember. But even veteran clients admit confusion about how much to tip and to whom. Gratuities in restaurants are relatively easy to calculate, and we do it automatically (unless there’s a bug in the soup or a bug up a server’s you-know-what). But after we’ve had our hair washed, cut, colored and styled, often by multiple people, what’s the etiquette? Are we supposed to tip the owner? The assistants? The shampooist? Their dog? We did some research for you and consulted stylists to help you understand how it works and to appreciate just how much your tip really means to them (a lot, in most cases).

The Business Models

To start, put yourself in hairdressers’ shoes (which they stand in all day long) and understand the various business models that they operate in, from traditional salons to various forms of self-employment. Those stylists who are employees of salons usually earn their living on commission and are paid for the services they performed, but only keep a somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of the price you pay.

The remaining percentage goes to the salon for overhead expenses like utilities, products used (color chemicals, shampoo, and conditioner, etc.), and amenities. Many stylists are also responsible for personal supplies and tools (such as shears, blow-dryers, and curling irons), and continuing education (if not provided by the salon owner). So even the busiest stylist may only make take home enough money to cover life’s essentials.

More and more stylists are choosing self-employment instead and renting chairs in salons or suites in co-working environments. This means paying a weekly or monthly fee ranging from $500-1000 per month, depending on the region. The advantage is keeping 100 percent of their service fees and tips. The downside is being responsible for the cost of everything else – from color bowls to coffee cups – and expenses such as liability insurance and credit card fees.

In other words, the “owner” distinction is less clear than it used to be, and traditional owners with no part in your service need not be tipped. If you’re not sure which business model your hairdresser operates under, just ask. They’ll be glad you did. Bring up the subject with something like, “I really want to take care of you, because you take care of me. Can we talk about tips?”

Those Helping Hands

Assistants are the unsung heroes of haircare – and the most undervalued. Their passion is the only thing that buoys them through months (sometimes years) of pouring coffee, sweeping floors, mixing the color and working the lather until their fledgling talent flowers and they become stylists in their own right. Assistants are usually paid a day rate by the salon owner, and a small portion of the day’s tips are usually shared with them. It’s fair to say they’re living on (and for) your tips.

According to asssistant Dustin Heath who is also building his own clientele, “My job is to to be there every step of the way and make the experience for the client more efficient and comfortable. While I am being helpful I’m also learning how a proper consultation is held, and how an appointment should ‘roll.’ So, tipping not only shows appreciation for attentiveness, but is also a reflection of my growth.”

To get down to dollars and cents, or as hairdresser Jason Devastation says, “brass tacks,” the general consensus is: Tip stylists in the neighborhood of 20 percent on a service performed to your satisfaction. “I do tip my assistant,” says Jason. “And I encourage my clients to tip him as well. People tend to give from $3 to $5 for a hair washing. I’ve seen some of my clients give $10, or $20 occasionally. It also depends on the work that the assistant is doing. If they are also blow drying your hair, helping to apply color, then I would expect the tip to be higher. But yeah, it’s vague,” he admits. “It’s always been vague.”

If you’re in for more than one service and one person does your color and another performs a cut and blow-dry, they both deserve 20 percent on top of their regular fees. If you’re lucky enough to get a complimentary bang-trim or touch-up, by all means tip about 10 percent of the original service.

If you find yourself in the position of being a hair model for a hairdresser or are friendly with one who refuses charge you full price, boost that tip to 30 percent or more of the actual value. And remember, cash is king.

Locks Gone Wrong

But what happens when you receive a service that leaves you unsatisfied? Should you still tip? Well, No, and yes. No at the time of the initial service, but yes after you’ve come back and given him or her a chance to redeem themselves and make you happy. If they do, 20 percent still applies, especially if they fix it for free (and they should).

But remember that you are in charge of your self-esteem. Don’t be that client who will never be satisfied no matter how attentive the service provider is. But if you don’t clearly express your displeasure nor give them a chance to make it right, skimping on the tip is simply passive-aggressive.

A Little Extra

Always consider adding a little extra if you're a new client, if your stylist is spending a significant amount of time on your consultation, if you're doing an extreme makeover, or if you showed up late (stylists hate that). Holiday time is another story. “I don't expect gifts from my friends, I don't expect gifts from family even,” says Jason. “It's a nice gesture of appreciation and purely optional. I have clients who religiously tip me at the end of the year. They may give me $100 or the price of a haircut, and it's my little holiday bonus. Tipping gives people the opportunity to feel generous. And we kind of count on it.”