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Does tipping $10 for a haircut make you a cheapskate?

Salon and Barbershop owners say they’re struggling to bounce back from the pandemic as inflation cuts deep.
Sharon Grover gets a haircut from stylist Carol Rivera at the hair salon, A Touch of Heaven, in San Francisco on May 19, 2023.| Garrett Leahy/The Standard

A $5 tip for a haircut was good just a few years ago, but San Francisco barber Kevin Tanksley says nowadays anything less than $10 isn’t really generous. 

The folks who look after our locks say the pandemic and rising inflation have made the act of tipping more crucial to helping them make ends meet as costs for basic barbering supplies jump.

“I’d say it’s appreciated now more than ever,” said Tanksley, a barber at Shear’s Beauty and Barber Shop in Bayview.

“It definitely helps a lot,” Tanksley said. “But it’s up to the client.”

Salon and Barbershop owners say they’re struggling to bounce back from the pandemic as inflation cuts deep.
Kevin Tanksley is a barber at Shear's Beauty and Barber Shop in Bayview. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Barbershops and hair salons were some of the first businesses to shutter during the pandemic. When they reopened, new restrictions hit their bottom lines hard as social distancing made the job difficult.

Carol Rivera owns A Touch of Heaven beauty salon and said a dollar amount tip, rather than a percentage tip, is preferred at her Ingleside business.

“$10 to $20 is generous,” Rivera said. “Most people will do $5.”

Others said people should leave a similar tip to what they would leave at a restaurant.

“I would say around 20% is fine,” said Adam Quintero, owner of Up Hair in the Castro.

Stong Guo, the owner of Russian Hill’s Tulip Salon, gave similar advice for what amounts to a good tip.

“At least 15% to 18% is helpful for the business,” Guo said.

Salon and Barbershop owners say they’re struggling to bounce back from the pandemic as inflation cuts deep.
Sharon Grover gets a haircut from stylist Carol Rivera. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

READ MORE: Uber, DoorDash Drivers Spell Out the New Rules of Tipping

But for customers getting more time-intensive services, such as hair coloring or extensions, they should consider leaving a larger tip, according to Reddy.

“If you’re sitting in a chair for three or four hours, you have to take into account compensating them for their time,” said Reddy, whose work involves crafting legislation around tipping in the beauty industry.

The U.S. beauty industry, which includes hair salons and barbershops as well as skin- and nail-care salons, is the second-highest grossing industry in tips, behind only restaurants, according to Reddy.

“Everybody’s coming back to in-person meetings, weddings, and tips are coming in more and more,” Reddy said.

Haircut Costs Rising With Inflation

The pressure of inflation hit Rivera especially hard. As supplies became more costly, she says her rent was hiked from $2,000 to $2,200. 

Then she was hit with a $2,700 repair bill for a broken water heater. In the end, she couldn’t afford to stay in her shop at 828 Holloway Ave. and closed it down on Jan 31.

Rivera now rents a booth inside Grace and Mercy salon on Ingleside’s stretch of Ocean Avenue, but she still runs it as her own business.

RELATED: Hotel Workers Share the New Rules of Tipping

“I’m doing OK,” Rivera said. “I’m not expecting a tip, but if [clients] can, that’s great.”

And it’s not just rents and repairs that are forcing businesses to make tough decisions.

The cost of paper neck straps, used for catching loose hair, have jumped from $12 to $19, Tanksley said. And the disinfectant spray he uses is now $3 more expensive.

“I talk to barbers all around the city, and they’ve all bumped their prices up,” Tanksley said.

Salon and Barbershop owners say they’re struggling to bounce back from the pandemic as inflation cuts deep.
Adam Quintero said replacement blades for clippers and other supplies have become 20% more expensive since 2019. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

And Quintero increased haircut prices by $5 and colorings by almost $10 in 2023 to cover rising costs of tools and hair products.

Replacement blades for clippers, shampoo, conditioner and other hairstyling products have become 20% more expensive since 2019, Quintero said. 

Other products have spiked in cost even more, as the prices of disposable gloves and cleaning products have jumped 50% since Covid. And bottles of hair-coloring products have nearly doubled in price since 2019, Quintero said.

READ MORE: Nightlife Pros Agree: Tipping $1 for a Cocktail Makes You a Cheapskate

For others, it’s business as usual.

Guo said customers have recognized the increased cost of doing business and are building it into their tips.

“Tipping culture has always been there, but with inflation, tips have increased,” Guo said.

Some services, such as highlights and spot trimmings, have gone up in price at Guo’s business, while the cost of a basic haircut has remained at roughly the same price since 2019.

Jessica Yeung lives in San Francisco but gets her hair cut in Palo Alto because she’s been using the same hairstylist for five years and it’s slightly cheaper than in the city. 

“I always tip about 10 to 15%,” said 24-year-old Yeung. “I like supporting him. My cut is like $225, so I usually tip like $30.” Yeung added that because she knows “he’s gonna do a good job,” she gives the stylist an extra 15 to 20%.

But Yeung admits she hasn’t always tipped for a haircut. 

“I remember not tipping or tipping very low when someone fucked up my hair,” she said. “That has happened before when I go to hairstylists for the first time.”

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com