Beauty Etiquette 101: All The Advice You Need To Know For Your Salon Visits

Kristin Booker

beauty etiquette 101

We live in a world without rules, for better or worse. We’re hyper-connected, super busy and we can’t be fenced in by such things, especially when we need to book a salon appointment or a beauty service. Nope, we need to get in, get it done, and get out, thank you very much. We’re paying for a service, we expect the best and they’re there to provide it. Right?

Well, not exactly. Even though the customer is always right (and, you know, maybe sometimes a little wrong) there are some rules — stated and unstated — to make sure you have your own best experience ever. Exactly what should you know about booking appointments, bringing your own food, chatting on your cell phone, and other such things when it comes to beauty treatments? While you are paying for the treatment and should be treated well, there are circumstances when you could be offended others in the salon next to you, or let’s face it – the person giving you the treatment. We reached out to some of the top salons and spas across the country and asked them exactly what the rules are. Is it okay to show up last minute? Can I pack a lunch or bring outside beverages to a hair service? When’s the best time to complain? It’s all here. Ladies, we bring you Beauty Etiquette 101.

nail salons

The Experts: Jin Soon Choi, Founder, JINSOON Nail Spas and Polishes, New York, NY and Adair Ilyinsky, Co-Founder, tenoverten Nail Salons and Polishes, New York, NY

How late is too late to make an appointment? How late is too late to cancel one, and what consequences should I expect?
“Making an appointment at a nail salon is kind of different from making other beauty appointments because people always tend to make them last minute.  We accept walk-in clients all the time. If you did make an appointment in advance, canceling less than 24 hours before is bad practice and results in a charge of 50% of your service.” – Jin Soon Choi

“It’s never too late to make an appointment!  The schedule is always fluid since people cancel and move their appointments at the last minute, so it’s worth checking back in if nothing was available initially. At tenoverten we ask that you give us a call as soon as you know that your plans have changed so that we can fill the spot and the technician doesn’t lose out, but we don’t charge a cancellation fee. Be warned that a lot of other salons do, though.” – Adair Ilyinsky

How much should you tip your nail technician? How about the nail salon owner?
“People tip around 20-30% in general; the price of a manicure isn’t that high, and it’s a personal service. Some clients give a bigger tip to the nail salon owner and some don’t tip the owner at all, but I think it’s good to tip the salon owner and the technicians equally since you get a service either way.” – Jin Soon Choi

“We recommend 20% but there are some clients who generously tip more when they feel their services were spectacular.  Cash tips are always appreciated by manicurists and there is no need to tip the salon owner.  Tipping the housekeeper is a lovely gesture though, since they are instrumental in keeping the salon tidy and maintaining the level of hygiene.” – Adair Ilyinsky

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What’s your policy for food and beverage brought into a nail salon?
“We allow people to bring some finger food or beverages when they have a group appointment to celebrate a special occasion. We also allow individual clients to bring their own drinks and sandwiches. Anything that doesn’t produce a strong smell that would offend other clients is fine.” – Jin Soon Choi

“We’re completely fine with bringing food and drinks into the salon. In fact, we encourage corporate lunch groups to order in lunch when they get their pedicures. That said, we hope customers are respectful of other clients by not bringing in anything that smells too strongly.” – Adair Ilyinsky

What’s your policy for cell phone usage?
“We don’t allow people to use them, but it still happens from time to time.  With the popularity of texting, cell phone conversations are not as common as they used to be.  We’d prefer cell phone conversations to be limited to emergencies only.” – Jin Soon Choi

“We don’t have a cell phone policy at tenoverten because we understand as busy men and women that we all need to multitask. We hope that customers are respectful by keeping their voices low when talking on the phone. If you need to be on a conference call or anticipate a lengthy phone conversation, it’s nice to request to be seated in the corner so as not to disturb the relaxing vibe.” – Adair Ilyinsky

MORE: How to Fix Every Nail Problem in the Book

nail salons

Are there any hygiene dos and don’ts for getting your nails done? Anything we should know before we come in?
“When you make an appointment, make sure to ask the salon if they use a hospital grade sterilization system such as an auto-clave sterilizer. It’s the best way to prevent nail infections. You can bring your own manicure tools if you feel uncomfortable using the salon’s tools. Also, make sure the salon cleans the pedicure bowl with antiseptic soap or spray and that the manicure table is clean with no nail dust or any residue from the previous client. If a nail file or nail instrument is dropped on the floor, don’t allow the technician to continue using it, and don’t allow a nail tech to re-use a buffing pad on you: it should be disbarred after each use. Nail techs must wash their hands after providing each manicure or pedicure. Also, some salons use certain tools repeatedly without sterilizing them, so when you see a nail file that’s not stainless steel and/or not capable of being sterilized, don’t let your tech use it on you.” – Jin Soon Choi

“We recommend that clients shower before getting their nails done, but not because we only accept squeaky-clean customers (ha!). Hot water prevents nail polish from fully drying so it’s best to shower before coming to the salon or wait until the following day. Clients should also resist the urge to cut their own nails right before an overdue appointment because nails are frequently cut too short and then cannot be shaped.” – Adair Ilyinsky

About how long should we expect to be in the nail salon for a standard manicure, pedicure, or combination of both services?
“A manicure only service should be 30 minutes excluding drying time, and a mani/pedi should be at least one hour.” – Jin Soon Choi

“Our manicure is 25 minutes, and the pedicure is 35 minutes. We advise clients they’ll be in the salon for about an hour and 15 minutes total, including polish selection and drying time. That’s enough time to relax and decompress while not feeling your entire afternoon has been spent at the nail salon.” – Adair Ilyinsky

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What’s the best procedure to express discomfort and/or dissatisfaction with a service and when should we tell you?
“Remain calm and try to explain your preferences to your technician. If they give you attitude (which she shouldn’t!) ask to speak to a manager or an owner without making a scene.” – Jin Soon Choi

“We’d like for a customer to tell us right away rather than wait until the end of the service. If something is uncomfortable or the service isn’t going as expected, please tell the technician as it’s happening so that she can make the necessary adjustments (provide an extra pillow, make the water hotter, use a gentler touch, etc.). If the technician just isn’t a good match for the customer, she should tell the front desk; we’re happy to swap in a different manicurist with no awkwardness or judgements. Everyone has different preferences — we get it!” – Adair Ilyinsky

Should we bring our own manicure tools or would you prefer us to use yours? What’s your policy for outside tools brought to a service?
“It depends on what makes you more comfortable. Either way works but make sure the tools are clean whether they are your own or the salon’s. I see a lot of instances where people bring their own and they have not been cleaned after each use.” – Jin Soon Choi

“We’re happy to use your tools, but we’d prefer to use our own. Most clients are under the misimpression that their personal tools are cleaner, but often those tools have not been properly sanitized since they were last used.  All of our metal tools go through an auto-clave (a sterilization device found in dental or medical offices) so they’re likely much cleaner than tools that have only been scrubbed with soap, hot water, and/or Barbicide.  Also, a client’s tools may be dull, which can result in your cuticles being pulled. Ouch!” – Adair Ilyinsky

spa services

The Experts: Susan Grey, Bliss Regional Vice President, Spa Operations and Melissa Shea, Spa Director, Kiehl’s Spa 1851

How late is too late to make an appointment? How late is too late to cancel one, and what consequences should I expect?
“For the best shot at snagging a last-minute cancellation, calling first thing in the morning is best (for us, that’s between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.) That’s when booking lines open up and the voicemails, which usually contain a bunch of cancellations, have been cleared. The more flexible you are on appointment time, the more likely we’ll be able to fit you in. You have until 24 hours prior to your appointment to cancel, or you’ll be charged in full for your appointment.” – Susan Grey

“It’s never too late to get yourself in for a spa treatment! Most spas have options for later appointment times to accommodate customers with 9-5 jobs who probably don’t leave the office until well after 6:00 p.m. Late weekday appointments can be available as late as 9:00 p.m. However, these appointment times fill up fastest, so if you’re lucky enough to get one, be sure to rebook your next appointment before you leave the spa. Most spas ask you to provide a valid credit card to hold your reservation, much like a hotel does when you reserve a room, and their cancellation policy should be posted on their service menu and on their website. A typical cancellation policy, such as the one at Spa 1851, is ‘Cancellation 24 hours prior to service time will avoid 100% charge of service.'” – Melissa Shea

What the policy to follow if I’m not at all satisfied with the service I’ve received? When should I let you know?
“Although we always try to be sensitive to our guest’s specific needs, only a small percentage of our staff has thus far been blessed with ESP. We ask that you communicate your specific expectations openly with your assigned technician, both before and during the treatment (if necessary) so that he or she can target and customize your treatment to meet your expectations. Whether it be more extensive extractions, lighter or more intense massage pressure, square or round nail shaping, bikini waxing shape, etc. We want to make sure to rub you the right way, but there’s a time for talking and a time for relaxing.” – Susan Grey

“If you’re feeling any discomfort, in any way, immediately alert your therapist. They may not realize you are uncomfortable, or that you might be having an adverse reaction to one of the products. If the discomfort doesn’t go away, don’t be afraid to end the service yourself. Then, before you leave, make sure to ask to speak to the spa director to convey your experience. Speaking as a spa director, we want our guests to have the best, most relaxing experience possible, and if that doesn’t happen, we want to fix whatever needs to be fixed to make that happen.” – Melissa Shea

What can you do after the fact? In the case of a massage, where the only consequence is a bad massage, is there anything the salon/spa should do?
“Address your concerns with management. They’re always willing to help.” – Susan Grey

How much should you tip an esthetician or spa service provider? Should you tip the spa owner?
“You have to be careful: make sure that the tip hasn’t already been included in the price of the treatment. In certain circumstances (like some destination spas) it’s added automatically. In cases where tipping is optional, I think it’s important to keep in mind that it is, in fact, OPTIONAL. Yes, it’s standard practice to shell out another 20% on top for a great service, but if you’re broke, a smaller tip and a really nice note is always appreciated. Like I always say, I’d rather see my acne covered college students twice as often so they clear up twice as fast than have them tipping me amounts that they can’t afford.” – Susan Grey

“It is customary to tip an aesthetician, massage therapist or barber 15-20% of the pre-tax service value. It’s common for a spa owner to also be a service provider, so if they are providing a service for you, definitely tip them as well. But if they’re not providing a service, no tip is necessary.” – Melissa Shea

MORE: The 7 Best New Spa Treatments to Try

fuzzy pink

The big question: underwear or no underwear during spa services? What is the spa’s view on this?
“Whatever you want. While most spa-goers just wear their birthday suits, you can wait until you get into the treatment room to undress if you feel more comfortable. You can wear underwear during a massage if you prefer, but rest assured that whatever parts aren’t being worked on will be strategically draped with sheets or towels at all times. Remember: you’re not at Bliss to worry about this.” – Susan Grey

“Underwear vs. no underwear really only pertains to body treatments, massage treatments, and of course Brazilian Bikini waxing, and I have to say, commando is the way to go. Your therapist will have an easier time giving you the full service, and you’ll forget all about it a few minutes in!” – Melissa Shea

Are there practices you frown upon that women should avoid (i.e., shaving your legs in the spa, eating during a massage, etc.?)
“Cell phones are banned in the quiet zones of the spa. We would like to point out that you are in a spa, stop working!” – Susan Grey

“Excessive conversation during a spa treatment is something that both customers and therapists complain about most often. Clients should be the ones to initiate any conversation, while a therapist should only answer concerns or questions the client has during the treatment. Should further discussion be necessary, instead of interrupting the treatment, the therapist can also encourage the client to have a post-service consultation to speak further. To each his own, though, because some clients relax by chatting it up the whole duration of the treatment! Also, NEVER have food in a treatment room — it’s inconsiderate for the next patron.” – Melissa Shea

How late is too late to show up for an appointment? What’s the customer procedure we should expect?
“Please arrive 15-20 minutes early for your appointment to allow for a stress-free check-in, changing clothes, a shower or sauna and/or a little pre-treatment decompression time. Lateness causes a chain reaction and we want you to the get most bliss for your buck, so be prompt and ready to be pampered.” – Susan Grey

“Most spas do give a 10-15 minute grace period due to the unpredictability of traffic, weather, and life. If you arrive later than that, you ARE affecting the flow of services for the therapists and their other clients that day. At Spa 1851, we’ll offer you a modified treatment if you arrive much past the appointment time for a spa or facial. However, some spas will charge you 100% and turn you away, so definitely ask about the late policy when you book the appointment, so you can leave plenty of time to arrive. Just keep in mind you don’t want to arrive for a relaxing treatment in a stressed, rushed state, so try to leave as much time as you can to arrive at the spa, relax, and prepare for your treatment.” – Melissa Shea

Are there any big pet peeves from service providers? Are there things customers really shouldn’t do?
“We know you love our robes and Havaianas — we do, too – but these items are simply ‘on-loan’ to your during your visit to Bliss. Please return your robe and your slippers when you are finished with them. We thank you for not thinking we’ve somehow included them in the price of your treatments.” – Susan Grey

“The biggest pet peeve we have in the industry is when customers express dissatisfaction or issues publicly rather than communicating directly with us and allowing us the opportunity to fix the problem. We WANT to hear from you! If you’ve had an issue, please discuss it with your service provider; we might not know there’s an issue, and we’d like to fix it! We’d also like to make it up to you in some way, to make amends and insure that your next experience will be better. We want you to leave happy and 100% satisfied, so please don’t be afraid to tell us. The only way we can fix an issue is to learn about it directly so we can get to the bottom of things.” – Melissa Shea

hair salons

The Experts: Rachel Bodt and Heather Packer of Cutler Salon, New York, NY and Nicole Pascual of Sally Hershberger Salon, Los Angeles, CA

How late is too late to make an appointment? How late is too late to cancel one, and what consequences should I expect?
“It’s never too late to make an appointment if the person is available; however, as soon as you realize you cannot make the appointment, call the salon. Every salon has a different cancellation policy, and you want to be respectful of your service provider and their time.” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“I always get so frustrated when people cancel the day of. It’s a common courtesy to cancel an appointment at least 24 hours in advance, especially on a busy Saturday. As far as last minute appointments, people have called and said, ‘I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,’ and if I’m open, I’ll take them. I think it’s nice to give us at least an hour to fit you in. Late cancellations will receive a 30% charge on Saturdays, which is our busiest day.” – Nicole Pascual

MORE: Questions You Should Be Asking Your Hairstylist

Should I bring in photos or talk you through what I want?
“Always bring references so you and the stylist are on the same page. Remember, people’s perception and description of color and shape can vary, but a picture speaks a thousand words.” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“Yes, I think images are the best way to get on the same page with your stylist. Sometimes, people say things and they’re not sure how to communicate their expectations, so if they bring pictures in it helps bridge the gap between desire and technical language. It’s a great way to make sure you get what you want.” – Nicole Pascual

When does feedback about what I want out of my hairstyle go from “getting what I want” to “high maintenance?”
“It doesn’t – You deserve to get exactly what you want.” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“It gets a little high maintenance if you keep repeating yourself. Make sure we’ve heard you, then trust that we understand and can get the job done.” – Nicole Pascual

What’s the good word about bringing outside food and beverage to a hair appointment? Where does it cross the line?
“Bringing in your own food and (non-alcoholic) drink is absolutely fine, especially if you’ll be there for a long chemical service. But stay away from bringing in fish or anything with a strong odor as a courtesy to your stylist and fellow guests.” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“Food and beverage is fine, just keep things that have a strong smell (like fish or strong balsamic dressing) out since it can affect the experience of your fellow guests.” – Nicole Pascual

What are your thoughts on cell phone usage in the salon?
“Use your discretion regarding cell phones. Some salons are more tranquil and spa-like than others that are more urbane and transient. We don’t have a cell phone policy, but while getting shampooed we ask you not to be on your phone to prevent any water damage.” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“It’s fine, but it can disrupt your service, especially at times when we need to adjust your head to complete your service. We need to put your head into a specific position, so we’ll communicate if we need you to move. We understand sometimes you need to get work done, but we can work together if you need to take a call.” – Nicole Pascual

textured background

How many complimentary beverages from the salon is too many?
“As many as the client wants. You are in the salon to be pampered. Don’t be afraid to ask!” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“As many as you want. We want you to be happy!” – Nicole Pascual

How much should I tip the assistant that shampoos me? How about you? How about the salon owner? In general, is cash better than credit tipping?
“A great rule of thumb for tipping is 20% of the service charge for the actual colorist/stylist. The shampoo assistant should receive about $5 – $7. If the assistant performs the blowout and/or helps apply the glaze, a more appropriate tip would be $10 – $20 depending on the level of service you received. Most salons only allow cash gratuity, so ask ahead!” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“I would say if they’re really involved in a color process, I’d say $10. For a stylist, it should be 20% at least. It’s not customary to tip the salon owner, and cash is always better. Cash or check works great. I’d prefer it.” – Nicole Pascual

How long should I expect to be in the salon for an appointment? How much time should I budget?
“You never want to feel rushed when you’re in the salon, so be on the safe side and allow an hour to an hour and half for haircuts and around 3-4 hours for color services. Remember, color is an art AND a science. Your colorist needs ample time to give you the best results!” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“For a haircut, I’d say around an hour to 90 minutes. Color varies from 1-3 hours depending on the complexity of the process. Throw in a haircut and that adds another hour.” – Nicole Pascual

What’s your policy for “cheating on you” by making appointments with other stylists? When does that become problematic?
“There’s no specific policy, especially if your colorist or stylist isn’t available. Feel free to ask who they would recommend in your absence. We don’t call it cheating, rather it’s your preference as to who you are best suited with.” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“We’d prefer if you don’t. Working in a salon, you expect clients to sort of make their way to other providers. As a stylist, you try not to sell your service to other clients. It happens.” – Nicole Pascual

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How often should I make follow up appointments for different services?
” Communicate with your stylist for future bookings and ask what they recommend for you on an individual basis. It’s always best to pre-book before you leave the salon to guarantee you get the time and date that works best for you. Remember, last minute appointments and squeeze-ins can negatively impact your stylist’s schedule and the experience of your fellow guests.” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“6-8 weeks between haircuts, 2-3 weeks for hair color. We always encourage clients to make a follow-up appointment before they leave their appointment.” – Nicole Pascual

What constitutes a “hair emergency” in your book, and what’s the procedure? Do you give your number out to clients? How soon can we book you if something has gone horribly wrong?
“We think a ‘hair emergency’ would be anything you have done yourself at home (including box color touchups or trimming your own bangs). These situations usually don’t turn out very well. Most colorists/stylists will give you their email address or Facebook contact so you have a way of getting in touch with them. Giving out personal numbers is rare, and you should refrain from asking. Depending on how major the correction is, your colorist may ask you to come in for a consultation to best use their judgement on a time frame and price point.” – Heather Packer and Rachel Bodt

“If you can’t stand looking at your hair and/or you have a big event (like your sister’s wedding) you should book an appointment ASAP. We’ll do our best to work you in. I think you sort of pick and choose which clients should have your number, but if we have that kind of relationship, I’ll always do my best for you.” – Nicole Pascual