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Butchered For Lack of a Tip

I thought of this story when I read a piece about tipping, and this one still tweaks a bit with shame, even though it’s been well over 25 years since it happened.

I was probably 16 or 17, I can’t recall exactly, and I had made it a habit at some point to get my hair cut at a salon in a department store in our local mall. I’d like to note that while I was still living at home, our situation was such that I pretty much had to pay for all the things that I needed done on my own dime (with the exception of medical things, major purchases, etc., though I had even paid for my own car when I started driving). Though I was not a stupid girl, I had no mother or other women in my life to advise me of such things. I remember being told by someone that you could get your hair cut cheaply there, and as I kept my hair relatively short then, I went there every few months. It never took very long, as the fashion for me, at the time, was to have my hair “feathered.” I didn’t have a specific stylist, I just signed in at the front, and when your name was called, you go back to whomever is available.

While I knew how tipping worked at my age, I was ignorant enough to have the impression that it was just servers in restaurants who received them. I think you can see now where this is going. On my last visit at this salon, the stylist, who was a man, took approximately a minute and a half to butcher my hair, working very, very quickly, and then turned around without a word and walked across the salon to confer with two other stylists who had apparently watched the whole thing and then pretended not to see what was going on, murmuring quietly amongst themselves. I sat there stunned for several seconds, trying not to cry, before I figured out what had happened. Mortified, I quietly got up, paid my bill and departed, burning with shame. I had never seen a cup labeled for tips there, any of the times I visited, but it was too late now to remedy the situation. While I had gone there several times, I had not gone often enough to get to know any of the stylists, or know them by name. But I had apparently gone enough times that they recognized me, and this was their way of letting me know I was not welcome to come back, because I was unaware that people tip their stylist. I let my hair grow long after that, and had friends trim it for me. 0525-14

You can take comfort in the fact that this male stylist and his cohorts were unprofessional scum of the industry.  While stylists aren’t thrilled to not be tipped, they still get paid for the services they give.   To knowingly butcher a client’s hair is exceptionally unprofessional and career suicide as business is generated on the basis of good reviews and happy customers who tell other people.   A haircut is a walking advertisement and a deliberately bad haircut is going to elicit questions from friends and family which the butchered client has the deserved right to publicize where he/she got that abomination of a cut.

The way hair stylists deal with the rare but unwanted client (particularly the ones who repeatedly schedule a lengthy appointment such as a coloring and never show up/never call) is to simply decline to be available for any appointments.   “I’m sorry but I am not available on that date and time.”


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • A May 27, 2014, 7:38 pm

    Wow…people like that should consider that maybe the greatest tip could be a good referral.

    When I’ve been short on money I have previously gone to a local chain hair stylist place that offered wash, cut, and style for about $10. While I always tipped, I didn’t always leave satisfied. As it turned out, if you had hair past, say, your ears you didn’t really get styled, much less fully dried. The OP’s story reminds me of my “ah-ha” moment when I saw two stylist having a hushed conversation during my visit (and looking in my direction, so I knew I was being discussed). While I left that day clean and cut, my hair was noticeably wet. At $10 I couldn’t ask to leave with that million-dollar, just-left-the-salon feeling but I felt cheated. While I still tipped (probably not that particular stylist’s fault), I had caught on to their get-’em-in/get-’em-out game and have never returned.

  • Otterpop May 27, 2014, 8:46 pm

    I thought the guy screwed up her hair and was conferring with the others on how to fix it. When she left he didn’t have to. Not that he did it on purpose because she didn’t tip. Hopefully he WAS just a bad hairdresser and not malicious. (that’s the way I’d paint it anyway – to avoid the anger).

    OP you did nothing wrong (except pay for the cut – but at 17, I would have too).

  • Maggie May 28, 2014, 12:10 am

    If you pay for a service, why do you have to tip for it too? It makes no sense. If your doctor gives you a good pap smear, do you tip them for their good service? Do you tip a supermarket cashier for good checkout service? A tip is optional. When it’s mandatory, it’s not a tip – it’s a service charge.

    • LizaJane May 28, 2014, 7:54 am


    • Kimstu May 28, 2014, 6:17 pm

      A tip may be legally not required but that doesn’t mean it should be considered optional, etiquette-wise. Like it or not (and I don’t blame you for not liking it), in the US we have a rather patchwork system of tipping customs in different service industries. Just because the system is inconsistent and confusing doesn’t mean it’s proper to decide you just won’t bother with tipping.

      No, you don’t tip a cashier or a doctor, because it’s not customary. But it IS customary to tip for what a previous poster succinctly described as “body maintenance” that isn’t medical. Hair care, nail care, spa treatments, etc.: a tip is customary. Just like it’s customary to tip restaurant waitstaff and hotel bellhops.

      If you don’t like the tipping-custom patchwork and want to advocate for change, stiffing service personnel on tips is a lousy way to do it. What you should do instead is contact the establishment’s management BEFORE using their service, and tell them that you don’t patronize establishments that practice tipping. Tell them you are willing to pay a fair price for good service and you want the staff to get decent wages, but you want the full price of the service clearly stated upfront.

      Show your principles by not patronizing establishments whose business practices bother you. Not by giving those establishments your business while stiffing their service personnel (who aren’t responsible for the business’s policies anyway) on their customary tip.

      (And as for the rationalization that stylists don’t need to be tipped because they make better wages than restaurant waitstaff do: When you go out to a fancy restaurant with well-paid servers, do you stiff your server on the tip because “they’re making decent money anyway”? Somehow I doubt you do.)

  • Angelina May 28, 2014, 3:13 am

    I had an awful haircutting/coloring experience a few years back and at the time I was mortified that I left a light tip (as the service, poor as it was, turned out to be more expensive than I had anticipated). I tend to be nervous about having my hair cut and/or colored and discussed this at length with the stylist prior to the haircut. I brought a photo along with a written description of how to execute the look, and she barely glanced it over. She got hair color on my skin, which left me with chemical burns. The cut was entirely the wrong shape: the photo was of Rachel Bilson with long, blunt, ’60s-inspired bangs and I was given a feathery, Tina Yothers’ Family Ties look. The color was terrible as well, thick and zebra-stripey with the lighter tone being an obvious bleached blonde when it was meant to be caramel/toffee and very subtle against my dark hair. I cried, reshaped it at home and colored it back to my natural color. To top it off, the stylist was SO rude and snarky, even criticizing my reading material! I realize now that generous tips must be earned and have never, ever returned to that salon. I wrote a fitting review on Yelp, as well!

    • Lady Anne June 26, 2014, 9:15 pm

      Hoo boy. Been there and done that. I took a photo of a style I particularly liked to a new salon, and discussed it both with the manager and the “stylist”. “Sure thing; we can do that. No problem”. The description said the back length was 3 inches, and the top and sides were 4 inches. Well, the first thing the stylist did was part my hair across the back from ear to ear, pinned it up, and just about shaved the back of my head. I let out a screech that could have been heard on the street.

      The manager came running over, asking what was wrong, and I told her, in no uncertain terms. She asked the stylist if she had even read what was written, or listened to what we had discussed. The girl shrugged and said “this was how she started all of her cuts”. The manger took over at that point, but it was really too late to salvage the cut. She did what she could, and then didn’t charge me. I never went back.

  • just4kicks May 28, 2014, 8:27 am

    My mom was a hair stylist for over 20 years, and I couldn’t help mention this post to her yesterday when I talked to her. She said there were alot of people who didn’t tip, but the stylists were always told to do you job to the best of your abilities. Some people tip, some do not. She said there was a very nice young woman who was shy but friendly, always got just a basic trim, no frills every couple of months. She liked the way my mom cut her hair and always requested her. Once, my mom got this young lady into her chair and started “the usual” cut. Just then the lady who was before her in my mom’s chair came back and handed my mom a ten dollar tip and said “Oh dear! With all this wedding madness, I’ve seem to forgot my manners! I forgot to tip you! I’ll be sure to bring in photos of the wedding next week! Thanks again!” When my mom looked at the young girl in the chair, she had tears running down her face. My mom was shocked and said “Honey! What’s wrong?!?” The nice young lady said she was raising a young brother and two sisters all by herself, and she knows she is supposed to tip, but that she can barely afford the haircut every few months, and she was beyond embarrassed. My mom’s heart broke for her, and said she was just doing her job, she didn’t expect a tip, and please stop crying! This young lady continued to ask for my mom for the next few years, and sometimes brought my mom homemade treats, sometimes she gave my mom a dollar or two, which my mom always tried to give back. My mom said those cookies or that maybe one dollar meant so much to her. She knew this gal appreciated my mom’s time and talents, just not in a place to have extra money to spare.

    • Phitius May 28, 2014, 11:13 am

      This made me tear up. Your mother sounds like a lovely woman. Thank you for sharing.

      • just4kicks May 28, 2014, 1:28 pm

        I will tell her about your lovely comment, thank you!!!
        She is my rock and my role model, I’ll be lost without her and my Dad when they pass on, hopefully not for many, many years. 🙂

        • Michelle M. May 29, 2014, 1:13 pm

          Made me tear up, too! Your mother sounds like a wonderfully kind person–The world needs more like her. 🙂

          • just4kicks May 29, 2014, 9:10 pm

            Thank you so much! She is a truly wonderful woman, mom and “G’ ma” (what my kids call her!) The strength she has shown taking care of my (also terrific!) Dad since he was diagnosed with MS years ago is an inspiration to me and my kids. Don’t get me wrong, she has bad days like anyone else, but conducts herself with grace. I’m blessed.
            Funny story though, last summer, my kids went to their house swimming and to do the yard work for my folks, and when they came home, they were all very subdued. I said “what’s wrong with you guys?” “G’ ma and G’pa had a FIGHT!” Yeah…So??? “We never saw them argue before!” They have been married over 40 years….I’d be more worried if they DIDN’T argue once in awhile!

  • Roslyn May 28, 2014, 8:32 am

    The best tip I ever received as a cake decorator was from a 5 year old boy.

    I had just finished setting up the wedding cake and arranging the table and I was gathering a few extra things I had when he approached me. He was adorable in his little tux and had a serious look on his face when he said “Excuse me Miss?” I turned and he extended his hand to shake mine. I bent over and took his hand, he immediately grasped my hand with his other and as he very seriously shook my hand I realized that he had pressed a folded bill into my hand. He then looked me right in the eye and said, “The cake is beautiful and so are you. Have a great day!”

    It was all I could do to keep and straight and serious face, he was just too cute. I told him thank you and to enjoy the cake, he said “We will, but not until later.”

    Cutest thing ever!! And a $20 tip to boot.

    As for the OP, well, I’m agreeing with a few others. How do you know that he wasn’t a beginner who knew what a crap job he had just done and went to “confer” with the others because he was afraid he didn’t know how to proceed?

    And I agree, a tip isn’t mandatory, if it is then yes….it is a service charge.

    • just4kicks May 28, 2014, 9:04 am

      How cute! That’s one is gonna be a lady killer when he grows up, if he exudes that much charm at five!

  • Allie May 28, 2014, 9:10 am

    I don’t think you did anything wrong and you were treated very badly. Let go of this burning shame. I hope the stylist regretted his actions and has felt his share of shame since then, although somehow I doubt it.

  • Pam May 28, 2014, 9:57 am

    I always thought there was a difference in that you tipped a stylist who was an employee of the business but not if they are the owner. Is that not true??

    • Kimstu May 28, 2014, 6:21 pm

      That is indeed traditional tipping etiquette. The rationale is that the owner sets all the prices and gets all the profits, so tipping them is not appropriate.

      That said, very few business owners actually object to getting a tip, and nowadays many of them don’t even realize that the owner is customarily not tipped.

  • Aje May 28, 2014, 8:22 pm

    I came home from living overseas where tipping is only for exceptional service and not a requirement. I went and got my hair cut and forgot to tip. Literally I just paid my bill and left. It never occurred to me until months later, listening to my aunt remark about an expensive hair cut plus tip, etc., that I realized my blunder. Oops.

  • gb May 30, 2014, 3:06 pm

    I am a hair stylist, and most of us only get commission, or a very low hourly rate (if it is like a Supercuts.) I agree that this was a terrible way to treat a client, no matter if they tip or not. Yes, we know those that don’t, but most of us care about our reputation more than that. OP learned that you should tip a stylist the hard way, but I apologize for that rude stylist… Most of us are not like that. He probably is unprofessional in other areas on life as well.

  • gb May 30, 2014, 3:08 pm

    Yes, it is true you do not have to tip the owner, as they usually charge more than the employees, anyway.

  • abc123 May 31, 2014, 9:38 am

    In my country, I believe we have a better tipping custom at least in the food industry.

    Restaurants charge food prices and on top of them, add an automatic service charge. This service charge is divided between the employees and the owner. The owner gets 15% of the fund and this is to cover all breakages. The 85% is divided among all employees of the company equally. This includes the waitstaff, the cook, the dishwashers, the purchasers, the janitor the bookkeeper etc. Of course, this is on top of their wages. In a really busy restaurant, an employee will end up having more in service charges than wages. And this is before any tips.

    Although Americans, who feel obliged to tip, bring their practice here and it actually ruins the experience for the locals. In some restaurants, locals would not be served at all. If locals managed to sit themselves, no waitstaff will approach them but when Americans arrive, the waitstaff treat them like royalty this is because the absurd tipping practices of Americans. If it is the custom in America, don’t bring it somewhere else. Tipping should still be given only for exceptional service.

    • Bryguy June 2, 2014, 11:05 am

      The giving better service to tourists is the problem of the waitstaff, not the tourists. I have lived in tourist areas. Those places that were not polite to locals, quickly went out of business because there is always a down time to tourism and in those times local traffic is all that keeps the lights on.
      Insult locals and when the tourists go home, your business becomes very empty. One restaurant in my town changed hands many times until finally an owner learned the lesson that locals are not irritants but the very life blood of the business.

  • The OP June 1, 2014, 10:50 am

    Apologies for the late response and thank you to everyone for their kind comments! I submitted this a week or so ago on a whim, not really sure if it fit the standards for posts, but am glad that it made it. I am also very relieved that I am not the only one who was once ignorant of some social do’s and don’ts. I was a daddy’s girl and know all there is to know about car and tractor mechanics (and now motorcycle mechanics) and such things, but social things still sometimes elude me. I’m grateful for sites such as these to keep me on my toes!

    I was asked by posters a few times whether I was sure that it was because of lack of a tip that led to the butchery, and I can only say, as far as my memory goes, that at the time I was absolutely certain of it by the way the other not-busy stylists seemed to glance at me in the few seconds (that seemed to last a lifetime) that I sat there mortified. Those looks told me that what happened to me was my fault, they were adults and as young as I was, I didn’t feel I had any standing to argue. I figured I should get out of there post haste; the damage was done and it would be best that I never come back.

    I recall some odd things more clearly than others, like how you would have to sign your name on a clipboard to get in line, and how, once the department store doors were unlocked in the morning, some people would literally RUN to the salon entrance to be first so they could get out of there earlier, presumably.

    I am not the most observant person in the world, but to this day I cannot remember seeing any sign that tipping was the thing to do. I sure know better now, and have carefully learned all the places it is customary to tip here in the midwest.

  • Callalilly June 3, 2014, 7:55 am

    I had a slightly similar experience when I went for my first perm.

    I was in my 20s, and hadn’t had my hair cut since I’d been 8 or so — getting the requisite pixie cut that no female childhood should ever not include — and of course then my mother paid. I have a lousy head of hair, it’s thin and stringy and barely grows, and once I was out of college and had a job, I thought a perm might help.

    Like you, I thought only restaurant servers got tipped, so I couldn’t understand why I was getting the stink eye on my way out from the hairdresser who’d done the perm.