Here’s a Tip

Dear Susan,

I have a style emergency.

I don’t understand the tipping rules for salon owners anymore.

Growing up in Oklahoma, I was always told, both by women who knew what they were talking about and by salon owners themselves, that you never, ever tip the salon owner. One salon owner told me that it was actually an insult to offer the salon owner a tip, like you’re not acknowledging his status as Head Stylist or something.

Then 20 years went by, and I moved 800 miles northeast, and these days, at least where I live, I’ve heard that salon owners expect to be tipped. At one very trendy place where I got the WORST haircut of my life from the salon owner, the snotty purple-haired receptionist even asked me how much of a tip I wanted to leave!

So now I really, really need a haircut, and I want to go to a stylist who did a great job the last time he cut my hair (a couple of years ago), but I haven’t gone back because I don’t know whether I’m supposed to tip him or not, and I don’t want to either a) offend him;
or b) look like a rube–either by tipping or NOT tipping.


Befuddled in Buffalo

Dear Befuddled:

Good question! Actually, several good questions. Let’s start with the basic rules of tipping.

In general, if you are happy with your cut and the treatment you recieved at the salon, you should tip your stylist twenty percent (slightly more in large urban areas, slightly less in a small town). Same rule applies to colorists.

The shampoo girl (or boy! whatever!) should get a small tip (between three and five dollars, ususally), as should whoever blowdries your hair (if it’s someone other than your stylist).

What if the service is NOT up to par? What if you have to wait more than, say ten minutes or the cut or color is NOT what you wanted? Let’s start with subpar service: as with subpar restaurant service, you can reflect your displeasure in the tip, but don’t go below ten percent. If you had to wait for your stylist, mention it to her in a friendly way (“Hey, you must be busy today!”); if you find yourself waiting for her EVERY time you come to the salon, mention it to the management. Or think about finding a new stylist.

What about a cut that is exactly NOT what you asked for? You have two choices: walk away and DO NOT GO BACK, or calmly and clearly tell the stylist what is wrong with the cut. If you can see a way to fix the problem, then suggest it. If the damage is done (you asked for an inch off and now you have a pixie cut), remind the stylist what you wanted and as calmly as you can, show her what is NOT right about the cut she gave you. If you really feel like she wasn’t listening to you, you should feel free not to tip her. If you are really ballsy and the cut is really horrible, you can refuse to pay for the service.

I am entirely serious.

So, an aside: how DO you find a great stylist? Ask other women for recommendations. For years, I have made fun of my mother for constantly asking random women–at the grocery, the gym, her church–who cuts their hair. But then I moved to Oklahoma City, and I could NOT find anyone who would cut my hair the way I wanted it, and suddenly I turned into my mother. After three separate women, all with TOTALLY cute short hair, named the same stylist, I was sold.

Three years later, she still cuts my hair. And I love her.

Ask women with hair like yours–if your hair is curly, don’t ask the girl with the long straight locks who cuts her hair. Want a great short cut? Talk to other women with short hair. Most of the time, women are happy to recommend a stylist; some stylists even offer a discount for recommendations. Ditto for colorists.

Okay, so let’s assume that the stylist everyone LOVES is also the owner of the salon. Tip or not tip? That is the question. And I have the answer! Actually, I have two answers. Sorry.

The general rule is still that you don’t tip the salon owner. In a lot of places, the owner will charge more for a cut or color than the other stylists in the salon (sometimes substantially more, in fact). In theory, this price difference negates the need for a tip.

You can do a couple of things if you want to get a better read on the culture in one particular salon. When you book you appointment, you can ask what the salon’s policy for tipping is; sometimes, the receptionist will know if the owner expects a tip (although sometimes the receptionist will barely know how to answer the phone, so this won’t always work). Still not sure? Offer the stylist a cash tip; if she (or he!) doesn’t want to be tipped, he (or she!) can refuse it then.

Having said that, I also need to say this: the woman who cuts my hair owns the salon, and I tip her. She charges essentially the same as the other stylists in the salon, and MY GOD she does a great job. Also, she’s young and owns her own business, and I respect that, so I tip her. Because dude, when I was in my twenties, no way could I have started a successful salon. I also want to say that I do NOT tip the woman who cuts the boys’ hair, because she has asked me not to (she owns her own business). HOWEVER, on a few occaisons, when someone has cried or been otherwise uncooperative during a haircut (damn kids) I have left her a generous tip for her kindness and patience.

Bottom line: a tip is an acknowledgement of good service, no matter who is providing that service. Offer to tip the salon owner if the service is good. If he or she declines the tip, respect that. If the stylist goes the extra mile for you for a special occasion, insist on tipping. Be nice to your stylist; your hair is in her hands.


2 responses to “Here’s a Tip

  1. Thanks, Susan! I knew you’d come through. :-) I’ll go make my appointment now.

  2. Good to know. I always wondered what the correct tip amount for these services should be… my hubby thinks I tip too little and my friends think I tip too much. Come to find out I am a little over 20% so I think I am right on!

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