Customer Service

The Tipping Dilemma

Can nail technicians accept tips without affecting their professional image?

With nail technicians’ struggle to be taken seriously as professionals, where does the practice of tipping fit in? On one hand, there are technicians who eschew tips, putting themselves in the class of such untipped service professionals as doctors and lawyers. There are an equal number of technicians who rely on tip income to make ends meet and consider it insulting not to receive a tip. Then there are the vast majority of technicians somewhere in between, who feel at times awkward and grateful about the practice.


Sharon Csiszer of Nail Passions in Palmdale, California, reports that 99% of her clients tip after every service. “I don’t have real high prices. I do just nail art, and most of the time I’m creating something new for them so I think they feel I deserve more.”

Csiszer is confident that most of her clients tip because they want to. Her average service ticket is $25, and clients usually leave a generous 20% tip. If clients don’t tip, she doesn’t feel slighted. “I just feel like they don’t have it to give. I enjoy my work so much, I wish I could give it for free.”

Carshonn Shimer, owner of Fingerprints in Deerfield, Florida, says most of her clients tip, and she doesn’t think it affects her professional image in the slightest.

Says Shimer, “There are no clients who don’t tip the technicians in my shop. I think a tip is an incentive to make sure that the customer is absolutely satisfied. It encourages you to go the extra mile. A tip makes an unreasonable request seem less unreasonable.”

Shimer acknowledges that other service providers, such as doctors and lawyers, are also providing a service and are never tipped – but with good reason. “I think that when you pay $150 for a service, that’s high enough. And I think doing nails is a personal service; there’s warmth and friendliness. You don’t see the doctor and lawyer every week so you don’t build that same type of rapport.”

Shimer cautions nail technicians not to depend on tip income as regular income, especially during a recession. “If you need tip income to pay your living expenses, you may find your budget slipping into the red if clients tighten their belts and cut back on tips.”

Though you shouldn’t depend on tips as regular income, Shimer feels there are times a client should tip. “When you give extra special service, they might leave a token of appreciation for a job above and beyond the manicure.” A client who arrives 20 minutes late for her appointment, Shimer says, should show her appreciation to the technician who is put behind schedule.

While Shimer feels tips do not affect professionalism, she has one strict rule. “Tipping is never to be discussed. You don’t make it an issue,” she stresses. “Let them tip you because they want to, not because you’ve dropped subtle hints.”

Bobbi Hoole of Golden Nails in Fountain Valley, California, accepts tips, but strongly believes that leaving a gratuity is the client’s decision.

“Tipping is acceptable, but I don’t expect it,” says Hoole. “Each person is important, and you need to show gratitude for a tip. I have some clients who have come to me for five years and have never tipped. I don’t think less of them.”

Hoole says attitudes about tipping are more than money-related.

“Some technicians expect it because they feel it’s a compliment to their work. For myself, I think that it’s my job to do the best I can. I feel my client is doing a service for me by coming, as well as the service I do for her. She could go to the guy down the street.”

However, Hoole agrees with Shimer that there are times a client should tip. Says Hoole, “You basically get paid by the hour. If it takes a lot of extra time, then clients should show their gratitude. If you spend an extra half hour working on a client the $5 she gives you won’t pay for your time, but it does show she appreciates it.”

Brenda Baker of Fingertips and Finery in Calabasas, California, has mixed feelings about the practice. “I feel it’s fine, but at the same time I wish there wouldn’t be tipping. It really does make clients feel like you’re their servant. I think it would be more professional if there was just a flat fee, even if you bolstered it to account for no tips.

“Manicuring has changed so much in the last few years. Acrylics came along and all the specialties entered; it became more professional,” Baker continues. “It’s come up another level and it’s right in between whether or not we should accept tips. I think sometimes that if nail technicians were more professional and a flat service fee was implemented, the riffraff type gossip could be eliminated.”

Baker accepts tips from clients, but she feels that many technicians expect them from clients, an attitude she disagrees with. “There are lots of ways clients can show appreciation – being on time, referring new clients, birthday cards, and Christmas cards – and those are very important ways.

“The tip doesn’t necessarily reflect what the client feels about you. Don’t feel hurt if she doesn’t leave a tip, but pay attention to whether or not she enjoys the service,” adds Baker.

Paula Gilmore of tips Nail Salon in Foster City, California, is most emphatic – she declines tips from clients altogether. “I give up accepting tips years ago because I don’t do any better or worse a job if they tip me. They feel they’re getting a better value, and I would just as soon add the tip into the service charge.”

Why do clients tip? Responds Gilmore, “Because it’s a service business. I guess it has to do with society’s outlook.

“I would like to go without it and just get those service prices up where they belong. You’ll always be safe with the IRS, and the client will see it as a greater value. I also think it would be hard for clients to impose.”

Tipping is how clients show appreciation. While doing nails is a profession, some technicians say that doing nails is also an artistic talent, and tips are a token of a client’s recognition of skill and appreciation.

It is unlikely that the professional nail care business will see the demise of the tipping system, even as the industry struggles to improve public perceptions. However, the desire of some technicians to see tipping abolished is a powerful statement about the need to be treated as a professional.

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