Oh dear, Maureen Lipman's dodgy manicure ended in disaster when she refused to pay for the handiwork at her local salon this week. The British actress reported that her £45, three hour nail booking was so bad that she didn't think she should pay for it. Fast-forward to a fracas with the salon manager who tugged at her handbag so defiantly that the strap snapped, not before the police were called and by the way, all her polish had smudged.
While both accounts conflict - from Lipman who told The Spectator that she was treated badly, but not as badly as her nails, and by the West London salon manager who ensures that she gave Lipman £40-50 to repair the bag, and that the actress had tried to nab a nail polish - one argument does present itself quite clearly. Spa and salon etiquette is blurry, as Lipman says, "I knew I had broken some kind of cultural law."
It's true, she had. You might like to think of a salon and spa as a place for pampering not protocol, a place where you can kick back and relax, but Lipman is right, she had challenged those beauty rules, which although unclear, do in fact exist.
There is an unwritten code of practice, a secret spa and salon rulebook if you will - and actually, its unspoken nature can make your post-treatment Zen just a little bit awkward: Should we tip? If so, who and how? How long should we wait in the relaxation room? And do we have to wear those paper pants?
Well we’ve decided to spell it out in order to clear things up and hopefully make your spa and salon experience a little more orthodox (and hopefully a lot more relaxed). From stripping and tipping, mobile phones and timings, here is the definitive unspoken code of pampering practice in spas and salons.
We believe that if you're not satisfied with a beauty service, you should get your money back, but unfortunately it is not the norm. So, the responsibility lies with you to find out if a money back guarantee exists before you sit down in the salon chair. If it doesn't, be prepared.
Bear in mind that not all salons and spas will offer a money back guarantee - as controversial as it sounds. While most hair salons are likely to repair a bad cut or colour booking, it's unlikely that they will reimburse you, however much you complain. Spas and nail salons similarly are not in the business of refunding, so be sure to curb your expectations. Botchy nail treatments should however be reworked at your own leisure, so do ask.
The message is, check the company's money-back guarantee first to avoid double disappointment.
It’s one rule for hair and nail salons, and another entirely in spas.
In the nail salon you could (not should) tip your technician an extra 10 per cent – in cash. At the hair salon the general rule is to tip your stylist or colourist - anywhere between 10 and 25 per cent of the total price is about right. Beauty brand Aveda carried out a poll which revealed that most women opt for a 20 per cent tip.
If you arrived late, or had a wonderful head and shoulder massage at the back wash as part of the treatment, aim towards the higher end of the tipping scale.
The important thing to remember in the salon is that you are building a hopefully long-lasting rapport with your stylist, so careful tipping and gifting (yes, it happens) will work in your favour. NB: Tips are not shared out in a salon, so if you want to tip the hair-washer too, make sure you hand them a few pounds separately. And always tip both parties in cash as some salons can’t hand out payments from the till from your credit card payment. Tip your stylist as he walks you over to the reception area.
At the spa, unless you feel particularly inclined, all treatments (facials, massages, waxing, brows and wraps) are inclusive, so no need to tip here. Just collect yourself - and your coat - and go.
When it comes to what to wear for a lie-down treatment, unless you’ve been specifically told to keep your trousers or bra firmly on (as you will for some express treatments, facials and all Thai massages) strip down to your pants before getting under the towel. Some treatments will provide paper pants (particularly if a mid-way scrub or shower is part of the ritual) but if you prefer to keep your own on, then do so.
Be sure to remove all jewellery before you begin – even earrings need to be removed as some treatments tend to your earlobes too. Tip: If you’re sentimental about keeping some jewels on, then do – but advise your therapist first so that they can adjust the treatment.
Leave your hair loose too – having a tight band snagging your hair ahead of a surprise head massage can jar the experience.
When it comes to tanning, take all your clothes off and replace them with the paper knickers and shower cap which will be provided – more than anything, you've saving your own underwear from any tanning guns here. Some people tan naked to avoid tell-tale lines, but check with your tanning professional first.
Always arrive 15 to 20 minutes before a spa treatment (to fill out any forms and get changed), five minutes before a hair appointment and bang on time for a manicure.
Often the relaxation before a spa treatment includes extras to get you in the mood (mind soothing tea, welcoming rituals, relaxation room slots for example) so getting there early will avoid short-changing yourself.
While you can happily keep your phone on at a nail or hair salon (though remember that rapport buildling), you should switch it off in a spa. The idea of a wellbeing spa is literally to 'switch off,' so whether it’s a distant chime of a phone in your changing room locker, or a vibrating handset during your treatment, keeping your mobile on will ruin the vibe.
Good stylists, therapists and technicians are trained to follow your conversational lead. If you want to chat, they will join in, but if you want to sit, or lie, back in complete silence, you are not obliged to make polite small talk.
If however, you want to tweak the technique, temperature, pressure or music, during a treatment, then be brave and speak up. Therapists want you to get the most out of the experience too.
After a treatment, when your massage or facial is over, and your therapist tells you not to rush up of the bed and out of the room – that bit when he or she will wait outside for you – be conscious that while you don’t need to rush, that the room will more than likely be booked for another spa-goer. Spend a few minutes composing your balance, energy and focus and make your way out in around five minutes.
In the relaxation room, your chill-out time is less limited. Have a soothing drink, grab any snacks if you’re hungry, shut your eyes and bide your time until the space starts getting full. Your body will tell you when it’s time to get up.
A hair stylist hates to be rushed, so bear in mind that haircuts will take anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes, while colour can veer between two and five hours depending. Spa and nail treatments should of course be listed in the spa/salon menu, but if you're not sure, do ask so you schedule accordingly.