Beginner Spa-Goer Guide: Step-by-Step Guide Deciphering the Spa Code and Becoming a Savvy Spa Customer
Have you always wanted to try out a Spa, but never got to?
Have you been to a Spa but not sure what to expect? How to behave? What to do (or not do)?
Do you feel embarrassed asking ‘stupid’ questions?
My first spa experience was when I was 16. My mom brought me to Chiva Som International Health Resort in Hua Hin, Thailand for a ‘Mom & Daughter’ holiday after high school graduation. I didn’t know what to expect, and by the way I didn’t know that I was getting into the Spa industry then. My heart was broken at that time from my first ever breakup. I am so grateful of my mom who brought me there. Honestly I couldn’t even recall what my first spa experience was, I was just going with the flow, following my mom and the spa therapist, and little did I know at that time, my introduction to the world of Spas.
So here’s my own version of a Beginner Spa-Goer Guide to decipher the Spa Code –a step by step guide to let you become a savvy Spa-goer and enjoy your Spa bliss to the fullest.
Please note that every country’s custom and culture are different, so may the service protocol in various Spas. Predominantly my experience is from working at upscale hotel/resort and day spas in Thailand and being a spa-goer myself when I am traveling. I’ve been to spas mainly in Asia, and a couple times in the US. The below guide is intend for using spa services in upscale hotel/resort and day spas. If you go to a massage clinic, foot massage or Thai massage shop, the experience will be different.
So whenever you are unsure what to do, just ask – you ARE the Guest!
Here’s a sneak peek of what entails:
Book in Advance to avoid Disappointment
Booking a Spa treatment in advance is the same as booking a hotel room or making a restaurant reservation. If you don’t want to be disappointed, then book in advance. City Spas generally get busy in the weekends, or during after work hours on weekdays. If you are staying at a resort, the afternoon times from 4-6pm are the busiest, because that’s when guests return from their daily excursions or sightseeing tours and have some free time to relax a bit before dinner time.
Especially if you want to enjoy a Spa treatment for more than 1 hour, please do yourself a favor and book ahead!
If you walk into a spa that is free all the time, it’s like going into a restaurant with no one else. You understand what I mean, right?
For people like me who work in Spas, we would love to fit as many guests as we can. If you call ahead, we can suggest a time slot that can work for both of us.
Walk-in guests are also lovely, but in reality it takes therapists a minimum of 5 minutes to prepare the treatment room and the products for the treatment. If you are lucky and there are no bookings after you, then you can enjoy the entire 60 minutes (or however long you booked). If not, then the therapist will be in a hurry (but if they are professional then they won’t show it). It misses the point if you have to feel rushed through a supposedly relaxing and winding you down self-pampering time!
Female or Male Therapist?
Be sure to let the Spa know if you have a preference for female or male therapist. The Spa Receptionist, if they know what they are doing, should ask for your preference if they have both female and male therapist on staff.
If it’s the first time for you to get a massage, I’d recommend going for a same-sex therapist until you are more comfortable.
Me, I can do both. But I would also prefer female therapist for body scrub and body wrap treatments.
I would only go for male therapist if I am sure of the Spa’s standards. I had a most amazing male spa therapist on staff before, and I would tell my guests that they wouldn’t even notice that it was a man giving the treatment because his hands and energy were so gentle.
A lot of my female guests who were hesitant about a male therapist before definitely fell in love with his treatments afterwards. So worth the try!
If your treatment starts at 10.00am, please arrive at least 5 to 10 minutes earlier.
A lot of Spas (especially luxury Spas) need to “check-in” their guests. For example, asking you to fill out a consultation form, or choosing your aroma blend for the massage.
A consultation form is absolutely essential, as this is the time that you voice your need and expectation for the treatment (or else why would you be paying for a spa treatment at the first place). Most (not all) consultation forms ask which area you would like to concentrate or avoid, if you are having a full body massage. Make sure to fill this out, so the therapist knows where to work on (and you can get your money worth)!
No consultation form? Worry not! You can also inform the therapist before the treatment begins. After all, you are the guest and the therapist is here to help you feel better, not worse!
Arriving early also gives you time to get changed, and enjoy the facilities at the Spa.
Check if the Spa offers complimentary sauna or steam for their guests. If you want to enjoy these facilities, I definitely recommend enjoying them before the treatment. Steam or sauna is a great way to open up the skin pores before your treatment, so your skin can absorb all the good stuff from the spa products. And generally this will help you to wind down and get into the Spa mood. Oh, did I also mention the steam and sauna help your body gently detox too? Remember to rehydrate after the steam/sauna, and after your treatment.
Key Reminder: If you are allergic to nuts, certain essential oils, beeswax, honey, or have sensitive skin, please do let the Spa Receptionist or Therapist know.
Most base massage oils are nut-based, such as sweet almond oil. Ask the spa if they can change to Coconut oil or Jojoba oil if you are allergic to nuts.
If you have sensitive skin, avoid citrus type of oils or ingredients if you are having body scrub or facial.
Unsure of how sensitive you are? Ask the Receptionist before the treatment starts if you can test the product on the inside of your elbow, a very sensitive part of your skin. If you do get red within 5 minutes, make sure to ask for a change of treatment or a product substitute.
Some spas have a separate changing room area for their spa guests, and some spas will ask their guests to change inside the treatment room.
Either way, the Spa would provide a bathrobe or a towel for you to change into.
I have summarized below deciphering what stays on or off for which treatment:
Voice out Your Need
A lot of times when we get naked in front of a total stranger, somehow we feel vulnerable and also embarrassed, to some degree. Me too.
So many times I have endured meh massages, simply because I felt I was being rude and impolite if I did say something, even feeling guilty to the poor therapist who was doing her best. Whether the pressure was too soft and gentle like I felt nothing and even slightly annoyed, too strong and rough that I became too tense, the therapist actually fell asleep while doing the massage, the therapist was not focused in the treatment (yes I could feel that), or the room was too cold, too hot, or too noisy, I said nothing.
Only afterwards I’d vouch that I’d never return to this Spa. How ignorant of me!
You are doing yourself AND the therapist a favor when you voice out your need (just like any other relationship). You are not being a diva or rude. You have paid for the spa experience to treat yourself, and you deserve all the right to improve the experience for yourself. It is difficult for the therapist to guess what you are feeling or thinking if you stay silent.
Most hotel spas or luxury day spas have a set of standard questions for their therapists to check in with their guests before and during the treatment. For example, the therapist would ask if the room temperature is all right, or if the treatment pressure is too strong or too soft. This definitely helps the embarrassment of breaking the silence in the room.
If the therapist forgets to ask, or if you don’t speak the same language, do say something, or use body language when you experience discomfort. The therapist (and on behalf of the entire spa) is only there to serve you, and not to break your bones. Or nerves.
IMMERSE IN your Spa EXPERIENCE COMPLETELY
Remember when I said you deserve to enjoy your spa experience? I mean it.
So put away your phone (better lock in the locker), put it on silent so it doesn’t ring in the middle of the treatment. I have seen people talking on the phone while having a body massage (okay I can still accept that for a foot massage in a foot massage shop), but it’s really your quiet time to pamper yourself, isn’t it?
Stop thinking about work or worrying about what you need to do after the treatment finishes. Allow your mind to drift to sleep, or just to a deep relaxed state, and enjoy it. Be in the present moment, and feel every stroke of that massage on your muscles. It’s the perfect time to tune in and connect with your body.
Drink ENOUGH Water to rehydrate
After your amazing spa treatment finishes (oh how I wish It can last forever), you will be escorted out to the treatment room back to the changing room, or you will be asked to get changed inside the room.
Make sure to check your belongings before leaving the treatment room or the changing room.
Drink enough water to rehydrate. Most treatments on the body help to stimulate blood circulation and your lymphatic system (and more).
I have personally seen many people, including myself, getting sick or feeling feverish after a deep tissue type of treatment because they didn’t drink enough water afterwards to flush out toxins. Most spas offer a cup of tea afterwards which is also wonderful, but remember to gulp down some water too!
To Tip or Not to Tip?
After your lovely spa treatment, it’s time to pay for the services you have received. Or you may have paid up front already. A lot of people always ask me about tipping for the spa therapist.
In most countries, tipping is really up to you. There is no real standard way to tip. But if someone asks me, I’d recommend about 10 – 15% of the treatment price. If you really enjoy the treatment, then definitely you can even give up to 20%, or more.
Do you NEED to tip? No, not necessarily. Except if you are in the US, or countries where tipping is part of the custom.
Who should you tip? There are actually many ways you can do it, and it also depends on the policy of the spa.
If you give to the therapist directly in cash, pretty much the therapist will get all of it. You can also ask for an envelope at the Spa Reception and leave it there, and ask the Receptionist to give to the Therapist after. Some Spas also have a tipping box with each therapist’s name, or some Spas may only accept tips in one big tip box for the entire team.
If you are staying at a hotel/resort, and sign it to the room, the therapist may or may not get the full amount. In Thailand, for example, 7% VAT has to be paid from the tip, so if you write 100THB, the therapist will only get 93THB only. And depending on the Spa’s policy, some Spas share the tips with the other members of the Spa team – because yes, the Spa Receptionists, Spa Attendants and other staff help contribute to the Spa experience, and they too deserve some tip. In my previous Spa, we share 70% to the therapist and 30% to the rest of the spa team.
Not sure how or who to leave the tip to? Just ask! It’s best to ask the Spa Receptionist. I can assure you, that you are not the first one to ask about it. That is, unless, it’s the Spa Receptionist’s first day on the job.
Review the Spa
If you have enjoyed your spa experience tremendously, wouldn’t you want to share this positive experience with other people around the globe? Check if the Spa is listed on Tripadvisor, or other Spa listing websites such as SpaFinder or Wahanda.
You can even review the Spa at their facebook page. Some social-media savvy Spas will offer rewards for guests who like their facebook page or write a review for them.
Lastly, if the Spa does offer a feedback form or comment card (it’s already a bonus if they do, it means they care about improving their services and facilities), please do fill it out! Good or bad, we Spa people want to hear it all! That’s how the whole Spa industry can improve and better ourselves to help YOU.
So many times I have been to Spas where they did not even bother to ask for the feedback, and it’s such a pity I feel, because direct guest feedback is one way for us Spas to know if we are on the right track or not.
Not sure how to comment? Even one phrase – thank you it was wonderful, would make our day!
The Spa is definitely a place for us to pamper and treat ourselves. Most of the time when you enjoy a Spa service in an upscale hotel/resort spa or day spa, the Spa receptionist and therapist will be there to guide you and assist you.
But now that you know what to do and to expect from your spa experience, I hope that you can enjoy your spa experience as a savvy customer.
And if there is only one thing you should really remember, it’s to drink lots of water after the treatment.
So, what is your spa experience like? Please share and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your experience, and if any of the above spa tips are helpful.
P.S;: Feel free to share the Beginner Spa Goer Guide image with your friends, please link it back to this blog article. Thank you!