Tattoo Parlor Etiquette
In a recent article, I explained how to go about getting a tattoo for the first time, discussed the decision-making process, and reviewed how to be assertive with your ideas. But I only touched briefly on tattoo shop etiquette, and it is certainly a topic that needs adequate discussion. I have had the honor of taking several people to get their first tattoos, and while most newbies were on their best behavior and we had a positive experience, there was one instance I wish I could forget. Names will be withheld to protect the guilty, but basically my girlfriend at the time and I took a friend of ours to get her first piece of ink—a small shooting star on her lower back. She was unprepared for the unexplainable (and in my opinion, not very excruciating) pain associated with a tattoo needle penetrating your flesh. Most people deal with this pain by gritting their teeth and bearing it, maybe whimpering a little; she dealt with it by belting out show tunes at the top of her lungs, medleys consisting of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Because we made the mistake of letting her get tattooed on an empty stomach, when a wave of nausea hit midway through the process, she had to make a run for the bathroom. But instead of running, she threw herself to the floor and crawled across the parlor floor. When she was done vomiting, she proceeded to crawl back and hoist herself up into the tattoo chair. I felt bad for her because some people are just not equipped to handle pain, but I was mortified as well. Like any other business establishment, tattoo parlors have rules of etiquette and unspoken codes of conduct that should be followed.
The tattoo artist will give you a price quote for the work you want done before he begins. You can either accept the price and begin the procedure, or disagree with the price and walk out. But do not try to bargain with the artist to lower the price. Tattoo prices are not set in stone; they vary from store to store and artist to artist. Some places charge by the hour whereas others charge by the size of the tattoo. Even if you are getting a single, small letter "A" on your wrist, keep in mind that all shops have a bare minimum that is usually set around $40. If you are in desperate need of a tattoo and cannot afford the quoted price, ask if the store offers payment plans or multi-session tattooing. However, because tattoo prices are generally up to the discretion of the artist (and not all artists are honorable) it is possible to be overcharged. If you feel you are being ripped off by a disreputable individual, walk away and find another shop.
Do not freak out when the pain starts. It might be hard, but try your best to bite your tongue and keep your emotions in check. Getting a tattoo involves a needle rapidly penetrating your skin at dozens of pinches per second. It is not a walk in the park, and it will serve you well to remember this before arriving at the parlor. If you already know you have a low tolerance for pain, a tattoo might not be for you. If you decide to get inked anyway and can't control yourself, you're going to end up looking like this girl, and the tattoo artist will end up hating your guts.
The Tattoo Artist Isn't Laughing
Do not leave without tipping. Tattooists do not get paid a set hourly wage. They earn a small percentage of the total cost of the tattoo but otherwise rely on tips to support themselves. Just like in a restaurant, 10% is the absolute minimum you should leave. 15% or even 20% is better and is usually the standard. Hand the tip to your artist at the end of the procedure after he is done bandaging the ink.
Do not enter the shop while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Not only will you probably end up making a fool out of yourself, but it will be a fruitless endeavor as tattoo shops reserve the right to refuse service to you if you're messed up. If for some reason they do not notice your inebriated state, you are still likely to make a bad decision and choose to get a tattoo you'll later regret. Besides, alcohol in the system will cause you to bleed profusely, which will affect the coloring of the ink.
Bad tattoos happen.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Do be polite. If you've brought along a friend with you, ask the tattoo artist if it's alright for her to come back to the chair with you, whether it's to hold your hand or take pictures. Not all shops will allow either. If it's the latter, ask permission to do this as well. Some places will not allow photography whereas others will as long as there is no flash, or if you notify the artist before the flash goes off. Snapping away wildly is distracting for the tattooist and can cause him to distort the tattoo. Bringing children with you is also highly distracting as tattooing is a precise art that requires total stillness and complete concentration.
Remember, even if you're being inked by a hairy 300-pound man named "Spider", you are still in a business atmosphere. Conduct yourself as a customer, have respect for the proprietor and your experience will be a pleasant one.