Not Today, Satan: How to Politely Refuse a Service


Access to our salon businesses and services is not a consumer right; we salon owners and service providers can choose our clients and should exercise our right to refuse service judiciously. As much as we try to accommodate client requests, there are many circumstances in which we might refuse service in the best interests of our businesses, like when a client:

  • wants a time already reserved or a time that you’re not scheduled to work
  • has unreasonable expectations, like expecting traditional polish on natural nails to last 2 weeks
  • asks for a service your salon doesn’t offer, or wants a particular product or brand you don’t use
  • cannot be responsible because of age or other limitations
  • tries to negotiate the service price or does not have the resources to maintain their nails regularly
  • has a lifestyle that would not be compatible with the requested service
  • has a medical condition that causes concern
  • gives you a bad vibe, whether it’s negativity, aggressiveness or creepiness
  • has a history of late cancellations or no shows at your salon
  • talks disparagingly about previous salon experiences.

Different circumstances call for different responses. You need to determine if your response should communicate not today, perhaps some time in the future or not ever.

Ask yourself, “Does this person have the potential to be a good client?”

If so, then you’ll want to be more encouraging in your response, perhaps offering a spot on your cancellation list or finding a solution that does not compromise your integrity. If not, then you’ll want to be discouraging, but in a professional way.

Saying “No” Without Saying “Sorry”
Turning away potential clients can be hard, especially for new technicians or salons that need more clients. You might even feel bad about it, and be tempted to respond with an apologetic statement that begins with “I’m sorry . . .” We recommend a more direct approach when refusing a service.

Identify Your Client
When interacting with the client and before providing any information about availability, it’s advisable to ask questions first:

  • Are you a new client?
  • What service interests you?
  • What product(s) do you currently have on your nails?

Make sure to capture contact information regardless of the circumstance, so that you or your coworkers (if you have any) might refer to it later. For example, you’ll want to recognize the name of someone who gave you attitude previously.

Scope of Practice: Refuse and Refer
As licensed beauty professionals, we’re not allowed to diagnose and/or treat medical conditions, or work beyond our limited scope of practice or compromise the client’s health. Some chronic conditions, like a fungal infection or ingrown toenails, may require medical intervention to remedy. In this situation, communicating to that client requires a more thoughtful response. You can’t force a client to seek medical help, but you have every right to refuse service when your professional judgment dictates.

Clients who clearly aren’t eligible for services in a salon will need to be referred to a physician tactfully.

Every technician should have references on hand for local podiatrists and dermatologists. Having other professionals to recommend might make you seem more helpful, even while you’re saying “no.”

Inadvisable, Irresponsible Requests: Refuse and Redirect
Periodically, clients will request a service that is downright inadvisable. For example, when an active teenager who has never had her nails done before requests extremely long nail enhancements. When a client arrives with a request that could compromise the health of their nails and your professional reputation, you’ll want to make it clear to that client that your salon will NOT provide that service, educate them as to why the service isn’t in their best interests and present alternative services for their consideration, explaining why those alternatives are preferable to the service they’re requesting.

General Incompatibility: Refuse and Refer
What about those clients who are temperamentally incompatible with you or your business? You know when you come across them. They call to book an appointment, but spend the entire call complaining about their past nail technicians, whining that “it’s impossible to find a good salon anymore,” or making demands like, “You’ll need to buy my preferred enhancement product, because nothing else works on my nails.” They’re the ones who argue with your cancellation policy, try to negotiate your rates, scoff at your practice of working by appointment only or attempt to bully you into working outside your scope of practice.

Disrespectful clients aren’t worth the grief they bring. If it is obvious that a client doesn’t respect me, my profession or my business, I’m very blunt. I tell them that if they take issue with our prices, practices, products or policies, then they’ll be happier at another salon more suited to their preferences. Because I know most of the salon owners in the area and what type of salons they own, it’s easy for me to send an incompatible client out the door with a recommendation for another salon that’s more affordable, more casual, open more hours, or is already performing services with whatever the client’s preferred product line is.

Clients who sound like trouble from the beginning (the complainers and the whiners) are simply told that we’re all booked up.

Diplomacy vs. Defensiveness
Speaking for Precision Nails, we preface the possibility of refusing service by including this statement in our salon brochure: “We reserve the right to refuse service, particularly when a condition exists that requires medical treatment.” When we refuse a service request, we do our best to keep our responses brief and to the point. Any information provided will be critical as it affects how well it’s received. Too much explaining may seem defensive.

There may be four different reasons that a client request should be denied, but verbalizing all four reasons probably would not be well received. We pick the most important reason and communicate that firmly to avoid misunderstandings. For example, “A detox foot soak? That’s not a service we offer or recommend. We offer only professional services with verifiable results.” If the client tries to dismiss our reasoning, we may need to be more insistent in our response: “We’re not able to help you; you’ll need to seek that service at another salon.” That’s being polite, when what we’d really like to say is that detox foot soaks are total nonsense and only disreputable salons would provide them to ignorant and foolish clients. That being said, or not, one of our favorite lines to refuse service: “No thanks, we’re not interested,” treating that person as if we were being polite to a telemarketer trying to sell us something we neither want nor need.

Earning Respect
Often, professionals complain that they’re not granted respect. Unfortunately, respect isn’t something that service providers are granted; it’s something we must earn through our behavior, appearance, skills and practices. You command respect from your clients by setting policies for how you conduct business, including boundaries outlining your expectations. Enforcing policies and exercising professional judgment distinguishes us from being merely order-takers, willing to do whatever a client demands. It’s not about the money; otherwise, we’d be willing to accept everyone and tolerate everything.

We know most salons prioritize offering good “customer service,” but not every person has the potential to be a good customer, no matter how talented or tolerant we are. We control our salon schedules and have the power to choose clients who have the most potential to benefit our businesses. Do yourself a favor and don’t compromise your professionalism when evaluating and responding to client requests.

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Tina Alberino
Salon Management Consultant at This Ugly Beauty Business
Licensed cosmetologist and beauty industry advocate, Tina Alberino is a trusted resource, providing a wealth of information and personalized advice. Tina’s extensive consulting experience informs her writing, available here and on her blog, This Ugly Beauty Business. Her first book, The Beauty Industry Survival Guide, delivers relevant content in the bold and brazen style that has become Tina’s trademark. Areas of expertise include employment law, tax law, ethical salon management practices and professional development.
Jaime Schrabeck on EmailJaime Schrabeck on FacebookJaime Schrabeck on InstagramJaime Schrabeck on PinterestJaime Schrabeck on TwitterJaime Schrabeck on Wordpress
Jaime Schrabeck
Salon Management Consultant at Precision Nails
Celebrating more than 25 years in the nail industry, Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D. works as a licensed manicurist and owner of Precision Nails, an exclusive nails-only salon in Carmel, California. Beyond the salon, she directs international competitions, teaches classes, organizes events, consults with manufacturers and other salon owners and advises California’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology as an expert witness.

Comments 4

  1. Thank You Ladies!!!!! Your information is priceless. The salon industry needs this wake-up call and beauty professionals need to not only ask for respect from our clients but also BE that professional that will gain clients, co-workers, and community respect.

  2. The art of saying “no” politely should be learned at school 🙂 Seriously, it’s easy to be rude or go with the flow but defending your right to refuse is not easy. Bad customers not only can make problems to you but also can drive away other customers. Why should you keep a customer who spreads negativity or even damaging your nail salon.

  3. Awesome material. I agree that we should teach this at school. In addition I would like you to consider one more suggestion we use at Aqua. It is the broken record method. We calmly repeat our message when the client gets upset that we are refusing service. It helps defuse angry clients. I am always grateful for the information you provide. 🙂

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