After deciding on a lacquer color, one of the most stressful aspects of getting your nails done is figuring out how to retrieve your wallet without ruining your new mani – and then calculating how much to tip.
But if you’re stumped about tipping, know that you’re not alone. Tati Dantzler, a licensed nail technician and the owner of Tati’s Nails XoXo, didn’t understand she was expected to tip a nail technician until she started working in the field. “I really thought they included the tip in the price,” she said, but they don’t.
A nail industry veteran and etiquette expert weighs in on how much to tip at the manicure shop ahead. You’ll also learn what the average nail technician takes home before tips (hint: not enough).
1. How Much Do Nail Technicians Earn?
Before we get into the specifics of how much to tip for nails, it’s crucial to understand how much nail technicians make without tips. According to Salary.com, the average hourly income for a nail technician in the United States is $10 as of April 2022, with most techs earning between $9 and $12 per hour.
Education, licensure, and years on the job all play a role in calculating that figure and how much a manicurist earns. While some nail technicians are paid hourly, others, such as Dantzler, are paid on a commission basis. As a result, when you pay your final cost, the nail technician only receives the agreed-upon percentage of the total.
This is especially crucial to understand before tipping, because full-time nail salon employees earn much less than the average full-time worker in the United States. According to a 2018 UCLA Labor Center survey of the nail salon business, the average hourly wage for all US workers is $20.18. However, the average nail technician earns around $9.06 per hour, which is less than half of the average hourly pay. (Remember, that’s just the average; many nail technicians make significantly less than $9 per hour.)
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2. So, how much should I tip?
Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about the manicure industry and what your manicurist actually takes home after you’ve been prepped, polished, and gone on your way, it’s time to talk about the main event: tipping.
The standard rule of thumb for tipping is 15 to 20% of the service cost, according to Jodi RR Smith, an etiquette consultant and founder of Mannersmith.
“Then, if you are extremely pleased, you can tip more, or if you are dissatisfied, you can tip less,” she explains, adding that this rule of thumb applies whether you are tipping on a manicure or a pedicure. (Or any other service you receive while at the nail salon, such as a massage or waxing.)
Dantzler agrees, adding that she advocates tipping at 20% of the overall cost of your service, taking time spent, design complexity (if applicable), and performance into account when determining a final gratuity.
“Don’t get me wrong — you don’t have to tip if you aren’t satisfied with the service,” Dantzler explains. “However, if you like your nails and the nail technician performed a terrific job.
And, if you are dissatisfied with your service, Smith recommends taking a moment to speak with a management. Do not simply flee without explaining why.
3. Is it important if I tip in cash?
If you intend to tip, one thing to keep in mind is to bring cash. Even if your salon lets you to add a gratuity to your total and charge it to a card, Dantzler recommends paying in cash whenever possible.
“Cash tips are better for nail technicians because we can keep it right when we get it,” she adds, adding that when tips are deposited to a credit card, a manicurist won’t see the money until payday.
But there’s another element of the equation that’s less obvious: “It’s also beneficial to salon owners because there’s less paperwork and fewer taxes they’re responsible for.”
Whatever method you use to tip, Smith warns against one fundamental misconception: assuming tips are shared. If you had numerous individuals assist you with your services (for example, one person buffing your calloused feet while another applied nail polish), make sure to divide the tips amongst everyone. (Another reason to prefer cash versus a single lump sum tip on your credit card.)
What’s the bottom line? “Tipping should be considered basic nail etiquette,” argues Dantzler. “It helps so much, even if it’s not a lot — everything adds up.”