Right after polish color indecision, one of the most stressful parts about getting your nails done is figuring out how to wrangle your wallet out of your purse without screwing up your fresh mani — and then calculating how much to tip.
But if tipping has you stumped, know this: You aren’t alone. Prior to working in the industry, Tati Dantzler, a licensed nail technician and owner of natural nail care company Tati’s Nails XoXo didn’t realize she was supposed to tip a nail technician. “I really thought they included the tip in the price,” she added. News flash: It isn't.
Ahead, a nail industry veteran and etiquette expert weigh in on the ins and outs of how much to tip at the nail salon. Plus, you’ll get the lowdown on what the average nail technician is taking home before tips (hint: not enough).
How Much Do Nail Techs Make?
Before getting into the specifics about how much to tip for nails, it’s important to first understand how much nail techs are making sans tips. As of the end of 2019, the average hourly wage for a nail technician in the United States is $10, with most techs raking in anywhere from $9 to $11 per hour, according to Salary.com. Education, licensure, and years spent on the job all play a part in determining that number, as well as how a manicurist is making a paycheck. While some nail technicians make an hourly wage while working at a salon, others take home commission-based pay, like Dantzler. And that means when you pay your final bill, the nail technician is only taking home the agreed-upon percentage of that total.
Bottom line? “The only thing that doesn’t get touched at all is tips,” Dantzler says.
This is especially important to know before tipping, especially given that full-time nail salon workers are making significantly less than the average full-time worker in the United States. According to a 2018 study of the nail salon industry conducted by the UCLA Labor Center, the average hourly rate for all United States workers is $20.18. But the average nail technician takes home about $9.06 per hour which, yes, is less than half of the average hourly rate. (And remember, that's just the average, meaning many nail techs take home far less than that $9 per hour.)
So, How Much Do I Need to Tip?
OK, so now that you know a bit more about the nail industry and what your manicurist actually takes home after you’ve been prepped, polished, and sent on your way, it’s time to discuss the main event — tipping.
Here’s the gist: The general guideline for tipping is 15 to 20 percent of the service cost, says Jodi RR Smith, an etiquette consultant and founder of Mannersmith.
“Then, if you are supremely pleased, you can tip more, or if you are disappointed, you may tip less,” she says, adding that you can apply that rule of thumb whether you are tipping on a mani or pedicure. (Or any other service you get during your visit to the nail salon, like a massage or waxing.)
Dantzler agrees, adding she recommends tipping based on 20 percent of the total cost of your service, taking time spent, design intricacy (if applicable), and performance into consideration when deciding on a final tip.
“Don’t get me wrong — you don’t have to tip if you aren’t satisfied with the service,” Dantzler says. “But if you are happy about your nails and the nail technician did a good job, you should tip.”
And if you are displeased with your service, make sure you take a minute to discuss the situation with a manager, Smith says. Don’t just flee without tipping and not explain why.
Does It Matter If I Tip in Cash?
If you do plan to tip then there's one thing you'll want to keep in mind: Bring cash. Even if your salon allows for a tip to be added to your total and charged to a card, Dantzler says you should opt for cash if you can.
"Cash tips are better for nail technicians because we can keep it right when we get it," she says, adding that when tips are added to a credit card, a manicurist won't see that money until payday. But there's another part of the equation that's less obvious: "It’s also beneficial to the salon owners because it's less paperwork and fewer taxes they’re responsible for."
No matter how you end up tipping, Smith says it's important to avoid one major misconception: Presuming tips are shared. If multiple people helped with your services (say one person buffed your callused feet, while another applied nail polish), make sure you take time to divvy up the tips amongst them. (Another reason why you should opt for cash ove one lump sum tip on your credit card.)
Bottom line? "Tipping should be basic nail etiquette," Dantzler says. "It helps so much, even if it’s not a lot — everything adds up."