One of my New Year’s resolutions was to do something nice for myself once a month. This was intended to keep me on target for regular haircuts and such, but my default has been to stop by a nail salon and get a manicure and pedicure.

If you’ve ever been to a nail salon, chances are it’s one in a strip mall with some kooky name. It’s typically run by Asian women, with pictures of glamorous nail art on the wall and about a dozen stations set up in the front with a few chairs in the back for pedicures. Most offer waxing services, a few do massages, but their bread and butter is the mani-pedi.

The service itself is quite enjoyable, foot soaks and light massage. Sometimes you have to breath when the trimming gets just a little too close to the quick or if you’re particularly ticklish. But you certainly can’t argue with the end product, which depending on quality can last a number of weeks.

Like a lot of women who try to keep up with these types services, once you start going, you pretty much have to keep going back. Unless, of course, you intend on doing it yourself. Frankly, I don’t have that kind of patience or precision. I’d rather pay the money to have it done by a professional.

But, the land of mani-pedis is fraught with challenges. Some salons are less than sanitary, so it’s important to see if they actually clean down the station before you enter or after your service is over. It’s a risk going to one that’s been cleaned before you get there, because you have to assume that it was done correctly. If you want to freak yourself out, go on Google and search for infections from nail salons. I don’t recommend it. I will say though, in the years that I’ve been having them done, I’ve never, ever had an issue.

Another problem is often the language barrier. A lot of the people who work in the salons don’t speak English very well and have limited understanding of what you’re saying. They often do get the key phrases, but if you’re looking for a meaningful conversation, go elsewhere. A higher end salon will offer similar services, but for much more, and will usually require an appointment. My decision to get a mani-pedi usually depends on two things, available funds and time. It’s usually a spur of the moment decision, as I imagine it is for a lot of patrons of these types of salons.

Coupled with the language issue, is that each salon’s regimen is different. Most will include a soak, removal of old polish, cut down and buffing, and application of new polish. However, many implement add on services, which can range from calf and foot massage to use of razor blade type devices to literally shave layers of skin off the bottom of your feel.

The latter is sort of a hold-your-breath type moment, as one expects some kind of pain or bleeding. However, in all the years I’ve been having these services, I’ve never had an issue, and the attendant always has a gentle and steady hand. Still, because of the language barrier, they never announce the next step, so once you see the blade out, it’s too late to say anything.

Another add-on that I wish they would do away with is the use of a brush or other abrasive device on the top of the foot. For me, the skin on the top of my foot is very thin and will tear easily. To approach it with the same vigor as the thick skin on my heel is unnecessary, and will actually cause light bruising with the more aggressive technicians.

Billing is always a bit inconsistent. Most places will charge $35-40 for a mani-pedi, but add on for things like French tips, which does take a few more minutes. Other salons have grades of pedicures, which read more like car wash menus, with add-ons making a regular pedicure seem like a waste of time. I usually go for the recommended service, as long as it’s within my budget.

I typically go in expecting to spend about $50 with tip. In the past, I’ve over-tipped for the services, simply because I feel like working on feet all day is a pretty gross job, and I feel bad for the person. But, now that I’ve gotten over some of my body-dysmorphia, I typically give about 20% gratuity.

The only time I’ll tip less is if the person doesn’t acknowledge me at all during my service or leaves me to wait a long time before beginning. I’ve also had services where the technician has been on her cell phone the entire time, which is a quick way to the minimum possible tip. 

The other pet peeve I have is when they engage in chit chat in their native language around me, which I understand is sometimes necessary, but it always feels like they’re talking about me. I used to worry they were saying something horrible, and that’s why they didn’t say it in English. I once saw what I was sure must have been a photoshopped sign saying that if the technician is talking in Korean, that your service would be free. I imagine I’m not the only person who gets annoyed by this.

Some salons allow you to use your credit card to give the tip, others don’t. Usually, you don’t see the sign until you’re already too far into the service to leave. So, it’s a good idea to have a few dollars on you as collateral. Because I don’t carry a lot of cash, a salon that allows for entire credit card transactions is a bonus for me. Still, it’s a good idea to check the door of the salon to see if they accept credit cards at all.

The better salons with ask you to cash out before beginning your manicure service, that way you’re not digging through your purse for cash and ruining your brand new nail polish. Some will actually retrieve your card (or ringing cell phone) for you, but that’s a huge risk on both parties. It encourages bad behavior, so I’d avoid it.

The last pitfall to navigate is the wait time to dry. After I’ve spent a good hour and a half getting the services, I am then placed under special fans for fingers and toes to help speed up drying. However, I’ve never been told exactly how long I have to wait before going. Often, the technician has moved on to their next customer, so begins the mental dialog of how long I need to remain under the fans, will the technician return to let me know I’m good to go, or must I make this determination on my own?

This hurdle is the most difficult because if you leave too soon, with the flimsy Styrofoam flip flops they have used for your service, you’re likely to trip up and ruin your likely still-wet nails. (This is, incidentally, why you should always bring your own flip flops.) Waiting for the technician to come back makes me feel like I’ve overstayed my welcome, and they’re all silently waiting for me to get out.

Still, there’s nothing like a good mani-pedi. I love the feeling of being groomed and put together. It is a decadent thing, but one that’s definitely achievable for most women, should they so desire it. Though there are a lot of variables that can make it less than enjoyable, I love the places that are good at it, and to spoil myself for those few minutes.