45

My haircuts - here in Manhattan - are expensive; if you care to have a hairstyle at all, and not just a quick shave with clippers at the barber shop, then the minimum cost is about $55 dollars, which is what I currently pay.

(Other stylists in my neighborhood charge $60, $80, and even $100 for a haircut.)

Recently, while blowdrying my hair and catching up with my roommate, Michael, he told me that he pays $55 for his haircuts but doesn't leave a tip for his stylist. His reasoning was simply that the haircut was already so expensive that he couldn't justify giving them any more money. Surprisingly, they have never demanded a tip from him, even though here in New York it is customary to tip 15 - 20 percent of your bill.

I would like to stop tipping my stylist the 20 percent, too -- maybe not as drastic as giving no tip, but more like ... reduce the tip to about five dollars, at most.

My question is:

How can I communicate to my stylist that I am reducing her tip from 20ish percent (15 dollars, typically) to five dollars, without upsetting her?

I have been going to this stylist for many years now; she's very familiar with my hair and always gives great recommendations, but I have always thought that I was overpaying for my haircuts - and now I wish to save some cash.

  • 1
    How friendly are you with the stylist? Are you on a first-name basis or does she just do your hair? – Connor Feb 13 '18 at 10:59
  • 3
    Do you and Michael go to the same hairdresser or different ones? – Tinkeringbell Feb 13 '18 at 16:57
  • 3
    @D.Hutchinson Given your strong emphasis on inexpensive, can you confirm that you are unwilling to change stylists to a cheaper (after tip) option? In other words, if the choice is a similar stylist that can do your hair as well as this one but is cheaper, and keeping this stylist but continuing to pay the same tip you've been paying, you'd stick with this one due to the personal or professional relationship you've developed? – Adam Davis Feb 13 '18 at 21:34
  • 13
    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – Arwen Undómiel Feb 14 '18 at 12:19
  • 7
    Comments are for requesting clarification to the question, not for discussing the tipping culture in the US. – David Richerby Feb 14 '18 at 16:11
185

Just don't

If you're paying $15 as a tip on a $55 hair cut, that's a total of $70 per haircut. You've flat out said other hairstylists are charging more than that for the same basic work. Except this girl knows you, what you like, what looks good on you.

You're looking at risking this mutually beneficial relationship over 10 bucks a haircut. In Manhattan.

If you have to, stretch it out

If you really want to save money on it without hurting any business relationships here, just stretch out how long you go between visits. If you're currently going once every four weeks (for an average of $18 a week) stretching it to every five weeks would get you more bang for your buck ($14 a week.) Compare this to keeping the same frequency with a smaller tip ($60 every 4 weeks is $15 a week) and you'll see you save even more money, don't have to risk a new stylist, and don't have to hurt anyone's feelings.

  • 45
    +1 for stretching it out. The stylist is probably not having any difficulty finding customers. Stretching it out allows her to serve other customers, thus not lowering her revenue. And since you tip well, she'll still appreciate your business. – Jeffrey Feb 13 '18 at 17:12
  • 4
    From a practical/financial standpoint, this is absolutely the correct answer. The only thing it's missing to be perfect is an explanation of why it is or isn't a good idea to reduce the tip instead, from an interpersonal perspective as opposed to a practical one. I'm going to write up that part as an answer (too long for a comment) but feel free to basically copy and paste it in here to round out yours. – thanby Feb 14 '18 at 14:17
  • 9
    Also if you're worried about saving $10/month then $55 haircuts just aren't for you. Go to the Cheapocuts for a $20 haircut. – coinbird Feb 15 '18 at 15:14
104

You are going to upset them.

For years you have been visiting this person, paying the same amount for the same service. Now you are wanting to cut their tip in half because you found out your friend stiffs their hairdresser. There is no way to present this to your hairdresser that isn't upsetting.

Moralizing aside you can't randomly start paying someone less for the same work and expect them not to be upset about it.

  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Feb 13 '18 at 15:34
36

There are two basic models for the hair business. Either your stylist works for the salon/shop directly and makes roughly minimum wage plus tips, or they rent a booth and are an independent contractor. In both cases, here in the US, hairdressers rely heavily on tips.

Also worth noting that the tools they're using on the job are really very expensive and that they have to buy all of their tools out of pocket, regardless on whether they work for the salon directly, or rent a booth/chair. They may just look like scissors to you, but there's a very good chance that those scissors cost them several hundred dollars.

Also worth noting that hairdressers are one of the few skilled trades that require schooling, and regular licensing, yet still rely on tips.

For hairdressers that work directly for a salon/shop, and receive a minimum wage, their check pretty much covers their income taxes and if they're lucky a little extra to "take home" (more realistically, to cover the cost of tools, license, etc)

For hairdressers that rent a booth/chair and work as an independent contractor, they're usually paying an awful lot for that space. They're effectively running a small business, they have to rent the space, pay for all tools and products, put money away for their own taxes, cover all their own insurance costs, and so on and so on.

I mention all of this because people seem to think that all tipped jobs are created equal. They're simply not. For example wait staff don't have to pay for education, tools, and licenses.

Keep all of that in mind, it may help you rationalize tipping a bit more. Also your slightly larger tip helps to cushion the blow of all the people, like your friend, who stiff their hairdresser.

If you haven't put it together yet, I'm saying that you shouldn't reduce your tip. This has been a frame challenge intended to address some common misconceptions about how the industry works.

  • 12
    Supporting this answer, regardless of the business model or the working arrangements, a lot of the business costs of operating a salon (or a restaurant, for that matter) are in the building, especially in a high-value area like Manhattan. A difference in tip from 20% to 10% isn't going to be just a 10% reduction in their take-home pay, it could be much much more. They aren't taking home that $55 base. This is why they will notice. – Bryan Krause Feb 13 '18 at 17:51
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Feb 17 '18 at 14:11
  • 1
    I had no idea there were hairdressers that were schooled in the trade and licensed! I thought that one gained the experience naturally from cutting the hair of family and significant others, maybe taught by a more experienced family member, and then simply looked for work in a salon. – JoL Feb 17 '18 at 16:51
  • +1 for the background information. I'm often baffled by how much American busisesses seem to rely on taking advantage of their employees/contractors/partners. And how intransparent pricing is. Why not just tell people what amoint you'll need to cover the cost, including wages, taxes, insurances, etc. and don't rely on tips, at all? But that's probably very deeply ingrained in the culture and this "honesty" would probably be a disadvantage, at least at first... – Alexander Kosubek Feb 19 '18 at 10:06
  • @AlexanderKosubek in case 1 (working as a staff member on minimal wage) the price may be set by the salon. Even in case 2, they may have an obligation in their contract with the salon to use their pricing. – TimSparrow Feb 19 '18 at 16:12
29

Reducing your tip will be noticed by the hairdresser, and you can't prevent upsetting or offending them. You've given them more for quite a while (as your question seems to suggest) and reducing this amount will be noticed, and might be seen as an indication that their services are less appreciated or have become worse.


If you want to go through with it, don't 'communicate' this at all up front. Just leave the 5 dollar tip next time.

Not being familiar with tipping culture, I did some googling. Here's an exellent article on tipping barbers in the USA: it says that for a regular, scheduled appointment, 5 dollars is more than enough of a tip:

Preval says offering a $5 tip is appropriate for a regularly scheduled appointment, but you might increase the tip to $20 or 20 percent of your particular service during the holiday season.

Also, trip advisor states that a tip of around 10 percent is normal for hairdressers. Given what you're paying without tips, I think to leave a 5 dollar tip next time if you were having a regular scheduled appointment would fall in the range of tipping enough.

That said, apparently New York is more expensive, since you mention a minimum of 15 percent tip. You should be aware that 5 dollars will be too little of a tip if that number is correct (for which I could find no credible sources). If that is the case, I would lower your tip to be no less than the bare acceptable minimum over there, were you to proceed with this, to avoid further offense.


Counting heavily on the professionalism of the hairdresser, the worst thing I can imagine is that they might give you a weird look at the decrease in their tip. The best way to handle that is to just shrug it off. Leave the store, and don't waste words on it. Don't try to excuse the lower tip, don't mention your feeling that you're already overpaying by paying 66 dollars for a haircut. Just leave the tip and leave the store.

If the hairdresser really is rude enough to bring it up, I'd go with a one-liner like:

'Sorry, money's become tighter lately, I still appreciate the service a lot, but that's all I can spare'.

This will let them know that you still value their services like before, that the decrease in tip money isn't meant to be taken as a personal offense. It hopefully also shuts down the conversation because asking more would be prying and even more rude.

  • I think that last line (“money’s become tighter lately”) is a really good way of putting it. I personally would have trouble saying it if it weren’t true, but the questioner says they want to save some cash, so it probably is. – Obie 2.0 Feb 15 '18 at 8:42
10

You cannot reduce their tip without it being a direct insult, and why wouldn't they be insulted? You are literally saying "You are not worth what I have been paying".

What you're friend is doing is essentially theft of services, albeit a legal theft. Any industry that relies on tips, relies on tips. Your hairdresser is getting nothing NEAR that $55 dollars per haircut and is probably making somewhere close to minimum wage plus tip.

You don't go to an expensive steakhouse, get upset about how expensive it is, then stiff the waiter because you don't like the prices. You go to a restaurant you can afford, then tip appropriately. The same thing applies for a hairdresser. You don't go to a 100 dollar hairdresser and stiff them, you go to the 50 dollar one and give them a good tip.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Feb 17 '18 at 14:09
8

If you do not mind telling a white lie, use one to proactively address the issue and cushion the blow.

A few years ago I was going through a divorce and bankruptcy, and I had to stop tipping my stylist completely for a year or so. We always talked when I was there so she knew what was going on in my life, and when I first paid without a tip I apologized with the explanation "money is really tight for me right now." She didn't bat an eye at that, and why would she? Financial situations change for people all the time, sometimes tragically, and a tip is an optional bonus.

Your situation is different in that you are choosing to pay less, but depending on how intimately your stylist knows your life, paying your bill along with:

I'm sorry. Due to a recent [job change]/[home reno]/[business I'm starting]/[financial troubles] money is really tight right now. I still think you're a fantastic stylist, but I just can't afford to tip much for the foreseeable future.

Alter the tone to match your personality and your relationship with your stylist.

In my eyes this can be justified as the purpose of a tip is to incentivize and reward good work and let the service provider know how they are doing. Tips are an integral and valuable part of our service industry and help improve performance and service. A smaller tip for good work without explaination would be counterproductive in the larger scheme of things. This white lie communicates the relevant truth (quality of their performance) more clearly and helps avoid confusion for your stylist.

I try to avoid being dishonest, especially considering the upkeep it requires for future interactions; it's generally not nearly worth it. However, as other answers noted, I'm not sure that there is any other way to achieve the goal you have presented of both decreasing the tip and avoiding upsetting her. So in terms of what this means for you, you'll need to decide if the cost of lying is outweighed by the value of the tip.

  • 11
    The purpose of a tip is ostensibly to reward good service, but in practice (in the U.S.), the owner assumes the employees will be getting reasonable tips and cuts their hourly pay accordingly. To someone working in the service industry, a tip isn't a compliment: it's an integral part of their pay. – Ray Feb 13 '18 at 21:01
  • 1
    @Ray That is unfortunately true, and I try to tip well myself as I can. Though that pay reduction is a separate serious issue that really needs addressed on its own. The OP has already made the decision whether to tip or not and is just asking for the best way to do it without interpersonal conflict, hence I answered the question at hand. Morally I agree that continuing to tip is a good interim solution, but not a long term one: we need to force the economy back to a wage based pay system with tips acting as bonus income. – Nicholas Feb 14 '18 at 14:54
7

One way you can try to approach this is to imagine that your boss found out that someone does a similar job to you, but for less money and now wants to discontinue Christmas/Retention bonuses (or demands more work if the position is exempt from overtime pay etc) as the result, while still expecting the same quality from you. Now just try to imagine what sort of phrasing would placate you in such situation and say the similar thing to your hairdresser

If you see yourself in place of person receiving the bad news it is a lot easier to figure what might be considered "offensive" and what would be seen as more "proper" reason

4

@corsiKa has an excellent, succinct answer to the practical side of the matter, I just want to throw this in as an addendum that's a fair bit too long for a comment.

Simply put, you've been paying as much as you have for years with no obvious complaints, so changing that suddenly will potentially ruin what is an otherwise stable arrangement. When considering altering an arrangement like this, picture yourself explaining the reasoning to the other party, just as you have here. How would you feel being on the receiving end of that explanation? I won't speculate too much, but I'm willing to guess it wouldn't be a great feeling regardless of whether it makes sense.

Here are two perspectives that would cause me, personally, to avoid altering the arrangement. After that I'll provide one scenario where it might be understandable.

  1. Without any comments from you, your stylist has no idea that you feel you've been paying too much. Suddenly reducing that amount would likely be noticed, and probably cause her to wonder why, but she will also probably avoid asking because financial details like this are rarely discussed openly in the US. Either way it would create an awkward situation with a lot left unspoken on both sides.
  2. Just because your friend doesn't tip, doesn't mean the stylist is okay with that. Having a background in the service industry myself, I can confidently say that most workers in that position will treat you politely and professionally regardless of whether you tip well, as long as you are polite and professional yourself. They recognize everyone has different opinions on the subject and different financial means at their disposal, so naturally tips are going to vary quite a lot. They are also usually smart/courteous enough to keep it to themselves when they think someone is being a jerk. For all you know, your stylist could be seething whenever they see your friend on the books, but she's professional enough not to let that impact her work.

Now here's one of the only examples I can think of where it might be okay to reduce the tip with no hard feelings. If your financial means are suddenly reduced, but you value your stylist's work so much that you'd be willing to beg forgiveness for not being able to keep up. This would be a somewhat extraordinary situation, because it would require some very specific circumstances to be acceptable to most people:

  1. There simply aren't cheaper options, OR
  2. Taking a cheaper option would cause serious risk (maybe your job depends on your specific look?), OR
  3. You've garnered a heck of a lot of good will with her and this wouldn't be an enormous imposition on her to accommodate (it would fall under a similar category as a "friends and family discount")

If somehow you meet those criteria, then it might be okay to discuss it with your stylist. But you absolutely have to discuss it openly, and be prepared to find a new one in case she doesn't share your views. Weigh the value of her services against the potential savings and figure out which means more to you.

Long story short, I'd advise not doing it, unless you're ready to find a new stylist either way. It doesn't sound like the benefits would outweigh the risks, and @corsiKa already suggested far better ways to handle the situation.

  • 1
    "changing that suddenly will potentially ruin what is an otherwise stable arrangement." Yup. By the way, I'd like to add that if you aren't (literally) married to this person, you should count on the idea that the person might make a personal choice to change employment, and just up-and-leave you without explanation (and that's an okay thing, because no explanation is necessarily owed to you). So "stable" is relative, but not absolute. We're talking about you initiating a change, but do keep in mind that the origin of such a stability disruption could come from either side. – TOOGAM Feb 15 '18 at 8:55
  • @TOOGAM Absolutely correct, it takes two to tango, as they say – thanby Feb 19 '18 at 17:47
2

Your post boils down to this...

I would like to stop tipping my stylist 20%... [reducing her tip to] five dollars, at most.
How can I [do this] without upsetting her?
It is now okay, because $5 is more than my roommate tips.

Answer:
You can tell her that money is tight right now, and pay the tip in cash.

Better answer:
Go to your roommate Michael's stylist and see if you get a good cut for $55 without a tip.
If not you can return to your regular stylist without explanation. (Unless they're collocated)

My advice?
Cut the budget elsewhere - don't risk a long term relationship over $10/month.
If you need to save money, find something else to cut (pun intended).

Also

  1. (mentioned elsewhere with different math)
    If you get haircuts every 5th week (presuming 4 now) that's 2-3 fewer haircuts per 52 week year.
    Which means you can add $5 to the tip and still save about $125/year.

  2. Don't forget that finding a new stylist can mean (a) enduring some bad haircuts, and (b) dealing with a person you don't like.
    (Or perhaps, unlike here, Manhattan has only good stylists ;-)

protected by Community Feb 15 '18 at 9:29

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.