Ladyguide: Welcome to the Spa

These days, deals can be found almost anywhere if you look hard enough. Coupons abound, special prices apply, and businesses are looking to get you in the door without parting you from too much of your money. One awesome side effect of our new coupon economy is that day spas are offering all sorts of deals, making massages and facials more accessible to those of us without piles of disposable income to throw on a bed and roll around in. I spoke to a whole bunch (that’s a scientific number) of employees at my local day spa to get the inside scoop on what to expect during your spa visit.

1. How much do I take off? Depends on the service, really. Massage therapists can work better if you’re totally undressed (including underwear). You’ll be covered (or “draped”) with a sheet, towel, or blanket during the service. The therapist will uncover the part(s) they’re working on, while still keeping your private bits private. If you aren’t comfortable being totally naked, you can leave your underwear (but not bra) on, but it’ll make the therapist’s job a little more difficult, since they’ll have to try to avoid getting oil on your underthings. For a facial, generally you’ll be given a gown or wrap to wear, so you can leave your underwear on (but take off your bra), and wrap the gown around you, under your underarms, like you would a towel after the shower. A good technician will explain all of this to you before you leave the room. If they don’t, feel free to ask questions, like: “Should I get on the table face up or face down?” or “Do I get under the blanket, or just the sheet?” or whatever else is stressing you out.

2. I really hate when they ______. Don’t like your feet massaged? Hate extractions? Tell your technician before the service starts. If you discover you don’t like something that they’re doing during the service, speak up. All of the service providers I spoke to said they would much rather have a client tell them if they’re not enjoying part of the service than stay silent and leave having had a bad experience.

3. The room is too cold/I’m uncomfortable/The music is too loud. Once again, speak up. You’re paying for the service, and you should be comfortable. Not one single service provider I spoke to said they minded one bit if a client asked for another blanket or for the music to be turned down.Your therapist is not a mind reader, so communicate if something is interfering with your enjoyment of the service.

4. Do I tip? How? How much? This varies from spa to spa. Almost all spa service providers accept tips, but how it works is different from place to place. Most places, the easiest way to tip is at the end of your service, hand the technician the tip, saying something like, “Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.” You don’t have to try to palm the bill or be secretive about it. They’re used to accepting tips graciously. If your technician is, for some reason, not around at the end of your service, or if you’re having multiple services with more than one provider, or you aren’t comfortable handing the tip directly to them, the front desk will usually have tip envelopes that you can leave for your technician. Restaurant etiquette usually applies; 15-20% for good service. The exception to this would be if the spa is a non-tipping spa, but either the service menu, the website, the technician, or the front desk will let you know that. Some spas will let you tip on your credit card, but some don’t. Cash is always the easiest way to go. If you have questions regarding tip etiquette, ask the front desk. That’s one of the most common questions that they get asked, and no one will think less of you for asking.

5. I was unhappy with my service. With any luck, you’ve avoided this by speaking up during your service if there’s something you didn’t enjoy. It’s good form to let the service provider try to fix whatever problem it is rather than you sitting there in silence and then going home and writing a scathing review on Yelp. In the case that you’re still unhappy with your service, let the front desk know while you’re checking out, and, if necessary, ask to speak to a manager. The usual rules for complaining effectively apply here.

6. I hate the sales part at the end. Most spas will show you retail products after your service. It’s generally the products they used during your service. If you genuinely aren’t interested, you can simply say something like, “I think I’ll wait until I’m out of the products I have at home,” or “I’m saving my money so I can come back for another service with you.” Be nice about it. It’s part of their job, and they can usually read when you’re not into it. I personally use spa skin care, so I love to hear about what’s new. Not everyone does. Don’t worry about it.

Some other pointers:

Leave your jewelry at home. It’ll probably get in the way of your service, and you don’t want to run the risk of losing it. If you do bring it with you, tuck it somewhere in your purse that it’ll be safe and you’ll remember it. Apparently, jewelry is the most popular item in the lost and found.

Turn off your cell phone. No one wants to hear your Lady Gaga ringtone piercing through the quiet peace of the spa, and you’re there to relax. The world can survive without you for an hour.

The absolutely most important thing is to ask questions and speak up. Whatever you’re asking about, many, many people before you have already asked. No one will judge you for it, and if they do, you should keep shopping for a new spa.

Any questions I haven’t answered? Is there anything about going to the spa that still intimidates you? Ask in the comments.

9 replies on “Ladyguide: Welcome to the Spa”

A lot of women (and most men) aren’t comfortable with male MTs. It’s tough to be a male massage therapist, but they go through all of the same training and certifications, which includes a lot of coursework on ethics and how to deal with inappropriate behavior (on the part of clients). Honestly, it seems like the whole thing is so clinical from the therapist’s standpoint that I really don’t think it would matter to the them if it doesn’t matter to you. As long as they’re a licensed MT, I’d be OK with a male therapist.

Its worth trying unless you’ll be too uncomfortable to enjoy the experience. All the men I’ve had leave the room and give plenty of time to get undressed and arranged on the table under a blanket. And have this magic draping method that keeps everything warm and covered except the part they’re working on.

I’ve gotten so used to it that I ask them to do my abdomen, butt (sciatic nerve), and under my arms, but they usually stay away from all those areas unless you ask.

Also: check out massage institutes. You can get good massages for a significantly smaller amount of money. I went to one and got a student massage for $37. In D.C. They also had graduate massages for $54. Both me and my boyfriend went and we both had really great massages for less than forty bucks. Worth it.

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