It's a question I field almost daily, second only to, "what do I wear?" People ask me about tipping well before they ask about the kinds of massage techniques I use, how long I've been in practice, or where I received my education. While asking the questions about what I do and how I do it are more likely to ensure a better experience on the massage table, the popularity of the tipping questions speaks to exactly how anxious we are about it and how concerned folks are that they treat their LMT well.
It's understandable, too, considering how fluid the rules of service and gratuity are. Even in restaurants, where you'd expect to tip, the rules change as you travel. Waitstaff in the US are paid less than $4 an hour, and tips are an expected and necessary part of their income. Other countries may not tip, may not tip the 15-20% which is customary here, or may tip in other than their home currencies.
It's even more tricky when we talk about massage therapy, as the rules of tipping are dependent upon the setting in which you receive your massage. Based on the customs of each setting, whether it's a wellness or a service environment, your massage therapist may be depending on gratuity as part of their income.
Medical Settings: you don't tip in a clinical practice. Just as you don't tip a doctor or a chiropractor, you don't tip the massage therapist who practices with them.
Private Practice: the massage therapist sets their own rates and does not expect gratuity.
Spas, salons and health clubs: The massage therapists here only make a percentage of the hourly rate you are charged for your massage. Management expects that you will tip 15-20% for your services when they calculate the compensation formula for their staff.
I think it speaks well of people that they want to understand the rules and to tip appropriately. Clients want to say "thank you" and they want to make sure that I am fairly paid for the work that I do. Although it takes a little time to explain the rules of massage therapy and gratuity, really, there are worse problems to have.