Tips and Accepting Them

There are many ways for a gift to be given: under a tree, at a party, in the driveway…but there is always some level of trepidation for receiving gifts, especially for me in my professional life.

I am a Licensed Massage Therapist.  There are several images that come to mind and situations where massage therapists are part of a personal health or mental regimen for a client/patient that make the MT a facilitator or procurer of better health.  There are also positions in which massage therapists are considered, for all technical purposes, healthcare providers, like in a rehabilitative or preventative sense.

Although I do not advertise that I either accept or don’t accept gratuities offered following a massage therapy session that I facilitate for my paying or non-paying client/patient, I am often confronted with what is to me, from a business standpoint, an awkward situation: receiving a tip.  To receive or not to receive?

If I accept, will it become a regular thing for this client to tip?  Well, I think I first have to ask – is this something that this client normally does (or doesn’t do, in the case this situation never happens with this client)?  I never assume that it is a habit, and much less a habit that I will strive to hope or see happen in the future – if I do, then I will be “working for tips,” which is not in my work ethic.  I charge a fair price for services rendered and only expect payment for the service as agreed upon with my client/patient.  So, what’s next?

Is this tip the result of a Pavlovian behavior pattern?  In other words: is the client/patient used to tipping massage therapists or any service professional?  Is this a behavior I want to encourage by setting a precedent of accepting the tip?

After I have decided on the nature of the tip and whether or not I should accept it without question or challenge, it may seem like the end of the story.  But let’s dive a little deeper…

Are massage therapists considered service professionals or healthcare professionals?  They are each to each clients’ needs.  If a massage therapist serves a “relaxation” purpose, or the clients’ expectations are for “relaxation” – usually resolve for a mentally-stressful situation – then I see a massage therapist as a service professional.  If the purpose is to rehabilitate, prevent, or maintain good health (like in a program), then I see a massage therapist as a healthcare professional.

Next question: is it appropriate to tip service professionals?  Yes, societal practice and situational results encourage a sense of gratitude that is often expressed in an economic transaction – the tip: that “extra” money/gift that is given to the provider for a job done “above and beyond” the regular price paid.

Is it appropriate to tip healthcare professionals? Not always – In my experience, other-than-massage-therapist healthcare professionals focus on the altruistic nature of their work and may not consider their service to be qualified to establish an “above and beyond” ability that “service-oriented” professions often make a goal and, thus, do not expect the same behavior from their patients.  I might even go out on a limb and say that Tipping may be perceived as a capitalistic behavior and that healthcare (from an individual healthcare professional’s viewpoint) is not as capitalistic in nature.

This classification massage therapists playing the role of service or healthcare provider is a complicated one, but to me, and for the purposes of this article, let’s agree that the classifications have made a distinction in the nature of the compensation given by the client/patient.  There are certainly different roles, like each of these, that indeed a single massage therapist can fulfill.

Tipping sends a message: I appreciate you, professionally: more than you’re charging me.  When these messages are not clear is when the tipping conversation/questions comes up: I don’t know if I should tip you or not, so I will to be safe (socially-speaking); I expect a tip because I “always” give extraordinary service (from the service provider’s viewpoint); or, I do not tip my doctor so why should I tip you (or expect a tip, from a healthcare provider’s viewpoint)?

My policy, no matter if I’m playing the role of service or healthcare provider, has always been “Tips are never expected, but always appreciated.”

Do you want to refuse a tip more than once? – you can be a staunch supporter of the work ethic that says: it’s too weird to accept more pay that I have already agreed to.  There are boundary issues that may be important to you to avoid with the implication that a client/patient may gain some “advantage” in the client-patient/therapist relationship.  I suspect that that is the main reason for healthcare providers’ “no tipping” policies, and definitely respect it.

Do you want to have a “no tipping” policy?  – do you make it clear, prior to the session, that “tips are not accepted”?  This may precipitate a rogue tipper or two (to actually tip, despite policy), but that would be the most-professional (and likely –effective) way to create the expectation of your client/patient.

In my practice, I do not speak of tipping – when asked, I state my policy “never expected, always appreciated”…so why do I “not talk about tipping”?  I believe it is a personal choice, and not one that I have or want control over.  When I am offered, I accept based on the role I am playing: service or healthcare provider, and often after I have refused.

Here are a couple of examples of my First Refusal:

  • “Thank you so much for the thought: I really appreciate it, but why don’t you use it for your next massage [or a massage package] – when do you want your next massage?”
  • “Thank you so much – tips are not necessary.  I appreciate your commitment to massage therapy – may we apply that to your next massage?”

Here a couple ways I practice humility when receiving a tip after refusing it once:

  • “Thank you so much for your tip – I will be donating this to [name of cause]__________ as part of my contribution to community/non-profit activities that I believe in.”
  • “Thank you so much for your tip – I will be investing in furthering my expertise in massage therapy for you and all of my clients/patients in ____________________ class I’m registering for [soon].”

I think to refuse a tip offered more than once would be insulting to the client/patient and would also be a form of self-sabotage: to not consider that I am good enough to be paid “more than” what I am charging.  Obviously, that client/patient thinks I should be charging more than I am for my service/healthcare.

If you don’t like accepting tips, why not consider increasing your pricing?  That may be the message you are hearing but not heeding.

If you like accepting tips, the excellent service you provide daily may go unnoticed by some (and already-expected by some) and greatly-noticed and appreciated by others – “Up” your game by trying new customer service techniques that not only set you apart from other practices, but also put you in a class of your own.

Where do you stand on tipping/gratuities?  “To Tip”, or “Not To Tip”?