Mind Your Manners At The Nail Salon

Illustrated by Louisa Canell.
The mani-pedi experience is supposed to be an enjoyable one. Whether you're flying solo or rolling deep, your only goal is to be taken care of and emerge just a bit more put-together and relaxed. But, because the whole thing involves the action of handing over money in exchange for being touched by a virtual stranger, it can be fraught with uncomfortable moments — both for you and your technician.
Of course, you expect a certain level of professionalism and respect from nail technicians, which you should obviously return because you're not a ruthless dictator. Few people would want to be known as difficult (or some other, less polite descriptive term). But understanding what's polite when it comes to tipping, requesting post-pedi smudge interventions, and conducting in-chair phone chats is murky territory.
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To quell those feelings of panic that may be bubbling up as you walk through the salon doors, we went ahead and asked those awkward questions for you. Assuming you’re satisfied with the level of service you receive, simply follow this advice from top nail-salon technicians and avoid being an (accidental) asshole when you go for your next nail treatment.
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Is it rude to be on your cell phone?
In a word, yes. Jin Soon Choi, owner of Jin Soon Natural Hand & Foot Spas in NYC, says that she prefers you limit conversations to emergencies only. “Getting your nails done is about relaxing, and it's very disruptive to hear other people's conversations on the phone, especially for extended periods of time,” she says. “I've even seen some of our clients get into arguments with other clients when they talk on the phone with a loud voice.”

Remember that the manicurist will need to ask you questions during the treatment, so if you’re not paying attention you might not end up with what you think is the ideal mani, says Tenoverten co-owner Nadine Abramcyk. She adds that if you need to take a call, politely explain this to the technician and hang up before polish application. “It’s one thing to smudge a nail by accident, but if you’re being careless with wet nails and handling a phone, then the manicurist might not be as happy to fix them up.”
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
If my manicure chips within the first day, is it okay to go back and ask for a touch up?
"I think a one day chip clause is pretty much implied with the service," says manicurist Whitney Gibson. "Obviously this doesn't mean you should head from the salon to a long day of gardening, but the average nail tech is going to understand if you come back [a few] hours later." According to Gibson, some salons have a price for touch ups, but if they don't, it's polite to tip your manicurist a couple of dollars for their time.
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Should you tip when getting gel removed?
"I think you should tip for most services you receive," says Gibson. Like waiters, many nail technicians rely on tips as an important supplement to their wages. "It doesn't have to be a lot, but it's more than just a thoughtful gesture; to me, it's mandatory," she adds.
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If you end up not liking the color you chose, can you ask for a do-over, and when is the proper time to chime in?
This isn’t an unusual situation, but be sure to speak up ASAP so the technician won’t have to redo the entire thing, which can eat into the next appointment. Patricia DePina, a nail tech at Bliss Spa, says to evaluate and make your feelings known after the tech applies the first coat to the first nail or two; if you’re on the fence, you can even ask to have the second coat applied to one nail to be absolutely sure. Don’t stress about it, but do acknowledge it. Choi adds that it’d be a nice gesture to give a little extra tip if you decide to switch colors mid-mani.
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How do you deal with getting a mani-pedi when you have a cold?
Things are happening at close quarters in a nail salon, so behave the way you’d want others to. Start by washing your hands — duh — and inform your manicurist that you have a cold, so they can behave accordingly. Abramcyk says to keep supplies, like tissues for a runny nose, on your lap so you can reach them easily. Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow, not hands, to avoid spreading germs.
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Should you tip extra if you were late to your appointment?
If it helps you feel better, go ahead, but it’s not strictly necessary. However, a phone call in advance is helpful, so the salon can best accommodate you and other clients. Abramcyk adds that it’s also nice if you offer to be flexible (go with another technician instead of your usual, for example). As with every relationship, communication is key, so if yours is good, the salon will fit you in and make sure you’re happy.
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Should you still tip 20 to 25% if you get a buff mani instead of polish?
Tipping is about customer satisfaction; if you’re happy, let it be known. If 20% is your standard, you’d give that whether you were going out for a plain old diner meal or an elaborate, tasting-menu extravaganza — and the same principle applies to nails. DePina says it’s all about quality. “If you’re satisfied with the service you received, you should tip accordingly,” she says. “Also, note that it may take the same amount of effort to buff the nails as it does to polish them.”
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What's the best way to make sure your preferred nail place follows the proper rules and regulations?
Now that we know all about the wretched conditions of some salons — thanks to The New York Times' solid investigative work — it's evident that cheap manis aren't good, and good manis aren't cheap. Abramcyk encourages everyone to pay better attention to what's going on as we get our mani-pedis. Look around to notice if the salon looks clean and if the employees look happy, and don't feel awkward about speaking up.

"Ask the salon owner or manicurist how they disinfect tools and if all manicurists are licensed," Abramcyk suggests. "Since there are few regulations in place for salons [in NYC] at the moment, the only official check a consumer can make is by asking to see the manicurists' licenses, which are legally supposed to be on the premises."
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Are there any other nail-salon-specific etiquette situations that come up often?
DePina says it’s important to know what’s currently going on with your nails, since there are different removal processes for each polish type (think gel, Gelish, Shellac, acrylic, etc.), and not all nail salons are equipped to deal with all these different types of nail enhancements.

Finally, it should go without saying, but the gist is: Don’t be a jerk. “I occasionally see some clients treat their technicians disrespectfully because they think they are entitled to do so,” says Choi. “This really saddens me and is demoralizing to the technician.” Basically, stay away from any behavior that would make you cringe if you saw it on a reality show.
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