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Salon Tipping Anxiety

The Etiquette of Free

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

You answered my questions a few times in the past, and I am forever grateful for that. However, I have another question, and it’s one I can’t find an answer to, and I’m wracked with guilt and overly-long bangs because of it. The salons I’ve gone to in recent years all offer free bang trims between hair cuts. Great, right?

Advice Smackdown ArchivesWell, I’m overwhelmed with the murky etiquette for these. First: do I tip? If yes, how much? When I’ve gone without cash and mentioned that I’ll just add more tip to the next time I’m in, the stylist is always dismissive, “Oh, it’s a free trim! You don’t need to tip!” Which, should answer my question, I know, but I don’t know if I should believe her! When I’ve tipped, I’ve gotten something along the same lines, but with a thanks thrown in. It just feels so wrong, but hey, I’m on a tight budget, and if I truly do not need to tip, great! Like with going out to eat, if we’re going to spend the money, we’re definitely going to tip really, super well, even if that means getting a less pricey entree. I figure that part of getting hair cuts is tipping the stylist, and I’m more than willing to do so… when it’s called for. I hate the act of tipping anyway when I have to do it without the shield of a credit card receipt, so maybe I’m just wussing out and it’s totally obvious to everyone else that I should tip the poor stylist for bang trims?

Secondly, it seems like I need a trim every two weeks or so, but I tend to go months between cuts. I know the endless free trims thing is based upon most people’s more frequent salon visits, so I feel bad going in after, say 7-8 weeks or so. And, honestly, I usually only go in once between each cut because I’m worried about tipping, leading to my stylist reminding me during those every 3-5 month cuts that I can come in and save myself from the horror of terrible side bangs, and FOR FREE. So, I guess the question is, how long can I keep coming in for those cuts without scheduling another paid appointment? Scheduling more frequent appointments isn’t really an option for me right now, as I just can’t afford $35 haircuts every 2 months, but I tend to do everything in the world that I can to avoid being scolded, and I’m currently being scolded for not taking advantage of free bang trims more often. We just cancelled our GYM membership (my beloved, treasured, adored gym membership) so that we can afford the loan payments from my Master’s degree, and I’ve vowed to refrain from getting highlights again until we’ve gotten our credit card down to a certain point. Like I said, I can’t just correct this by going in all the time to keep my (longish) hair trimmed. Irrelevant information? Yes, sorry. Anyway, perhaps you could just talk at length allllll about those complimentary salon services and help me feel more secure in my life. I want to do the right thing!

Huh. I thought this was going to be a quick question. Sorry about that.

Thanks for taking care of us, the Internet, with your wisdom and knowledge of proper form in these situations.


Your stylist did indeed answer your question. There is no obligation to tip for free bang trims, particularly at a salon that offers them as an across-the-board standard service to customers. (As opposed to say, a stylist offering them as a personal extra service to regulars, taking up even just a few minutes of time that would otherwise be booked by paying, tipping clients.) For most loyal clients, a simple “thank you, and I’ll see you at my next appointment!” is all the stylist really expects. Because that’s the whole point of the free bang trim — to foster stylist loyalty, and encourage you to come in and book your next appointment or maybe buy some shampoo or styling product. A couple bucks in tip is not going to make or break anyone’s day here.

It sounds to me like your stylist is mostly just wondering why in the world you’re not taking advantage of this great free service that takes all of five minutes — a great free service that is indeed DESIGNED to extend the life of your haircut between appointments. So…I’d say the next time you get “scolded” about your overgrown side bangs, just mention the fact that you realize you go an awfully long time between appointments, and you aren’t sure if the salon frowns on customers coming in for multiple free trims for every one haircut purchased. If your stylist adamantly insists that it’s not a problem, well, it’s not a problem. Lay off yourself and scratch the Great Bang Trim Dilemma off your poor budget-strapped list of worries. It’s okay.

If she/he says something like, “Oh, well, FOR YOU…” or gives some indication that the Powers That Be at the salon might not be particularly thrilled, but she/he doesn’t personally care and wants to offer you multiple free trims anyway, bring $5 to each “extra” bang trim appointment for a tip. Since haircuts with your stylist are $35, 20% of that would $7, so I personally wouldn’t want to undercut that amount too much if I know I’m using a free refresher service to put off the Real Thing. Or just bump up the tip to an even $10 on haircut day. But I really think your stylist mostly just cares that you DO eventually come in for that haircut, and probably isn’t going to bat an eyelash over two or even three five-minute trims in between, tip or no tip.

My salon offers free bang trims. (Though I no longer have bangs, because I simply could not even get my butt in there for the free bang trims no matter how many times I was scolded/reminded, and it wasn’t because of Imaginary Tipping Drama, I WAS JUST LAZY.) They also have dedicated shampoo assistants and there’s a makeup guy on hand who is sometimes willing to do a quick free makeup refresher while you’re waiting for your color to set. AND my stylist almost always has an intern or apprentice shadowing her who will occasionally handle at least part of my blow-dry or some of my color. And the salon doesn’t allow tips on credit cards OMG AEEEIIIII.

So. I always make sure I bring enough cash to cover at least a full 20% for my stylist, $2-3 for the shampoo person, or an even $5 if it’s an apprentice handling the full shampoo and comb-out and rough dry process. I usually skip the makeup offers because 1) I don’t like the salon’s house-brand make-up line it includes, and 2) I’d honestly rather just read or play Angry Birds and be left alone under the color-heater thing. Combined with cut and color? That’s a dang pricey day, and I even don’t go to a salon that’s considered expensive around here. I regularly try to stretch the time between appointments as long as possible too. So you’re not the only one dragging your feet three months or more between cuts.

Take the free bang trims, take your stylist at his/her word and leave the dollar bills in your bank account.

Published March 25, 2011. Last updated July 19, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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