On Serving: Table to Table

I’ve had food on my mind a lot lately, and not just because it’s harvest. To me, the correlation between good massage therapy and good table service is plain, so I’ve been talking about it. I did serve four years at the renowned Chase’s Daily in Belfast, Maine, and while I understand that four years is really not much at all, it did leave an indelible impression on me, and the things I learned at that wonderful, stressful job I have carried forward into my own practice.

Dining table to massage table: how does one, could one, “serve”?

Service industry work should be required for everyone at least for a half year, because if you do this your capacity for patience, humility and understanding will increase, and I believe these qualities to be admirable, and hard to come by unless cultivated.

There are, I feel, poignant overlaps between waiting tables and the massage therapy biz. I especially noticed them when I was doing both. The biggest difference being, in one capacity we’re talking food. In the other, we’re talking healthcare. However, for many, eating good food is a form of healthcare, and also a top-notch massage therapy session is not unlike a prixe fix meal, where you pay a fixed price for what the chef does best.

Okay, yes, there is another big difference. That being, for one, you go into a public place, sit down and consume. For the other, you into a private place, lie down and relax. There. Now can I get on with the analogy, thin though it may be? Hang on! I think I got it.

Sunflowers. Courtey of Gary! Every September we get these. Right outside my office window.

Sunflowers. Courtey of Gary! Every September we get these. Right outside my office window.

For lack of a better way of putting it, “customer” is equally applied to table service and massage therapy clients. It’s not ideal. My apologies for any connotations it suggests. And for how confusing the references get – I seem to interchange between being an MT and a server.

Meeting them at the door:  Customer service is a necessity in both places, and if it doesn’t exist to your level of taste (or exist at all), don’t go there again. Wandering into a restaurant (or massage office)  and not having a clue where to go or what to do is disconcerting. I don’t know about you, but when this happens to me it makes me apprehensive,  and that’s not great emotional mirepoix for a massage or meal.  “I’ll be with you in just a few minutes”  is all any reasonable person really needs to hear, to know that they’ve been seen and will be taken care of shortly. Unless you’re an entitled, pushy sort who can’t wait for the hostess, in which case, we send you to McDonald’s.

Attention to detail: Give your customer pretty things to look at – educational, expansive, beautiful, inspiring – and if you can’t, err on the side of minimalism. A picture, a candle, a color.  I once shared an office with a woman who had a fine collection of teddy bears congregated in plushy array all over the windowsills and furniture. She is a fantastic MT but the teddy bears were a visual (and dare I say psychological?) obstacle to enjoying her work. Eliminate as many obstacles as possible to someone rebooking or making another reservation.

Another aspect: how you set up your office and the stations around your massage table, much like the mise en place of a professional kitchen, or the sidework every server must do. But that’s another blog.

Establishing rapport: We’ve all been there: the server who is overly friendly and chatty, the server who is using your meal as their personal punching bag, the server who either won’t leave you alone or forgets you’re there. Same is true for our first experience with a massage therapist: too emotional, or reserved: gushy, or brusque: hapless, or know-it-all.

The gamut of “ways to be” is legion. I think of it like baby bear’s porridge: just right. As the recipient, you feel heard, understood, even intuited on a deeper level, but you also feel respected…maybe even held at arm’s length, but with a smile, and with warmth. That’s, in my mind, being professional. It is kindness incarnate. It’s a healthy blend of affection and reserve.

Checking in, or: mouth shut: There is a real art in table service. There is the outright  inquiry, “So how is everything?” but often you’re being watched, too. A good server is keeping a bead on you: judging the liquid level of your water and wine glasses, seeing how quickly you eat or if you’re shoving the food around your plate, observes your body language a lot more than you could ever imagine. Your needs just…”magically” get met.

Okay, so, same goes for massage. Yes, as the MT you do ask: “how is the pressure I’m using” or “are you comfortable” – but what else can you do? Observe. A lot of what the client needs, or might like next, is plain to see (or hear) in their body (and its noises).

In my experience: mostly 35% asking, and 65% keeping mouth shut and seeing what’s going on…and making the necessary adjustments.

Finishing up: Of course, at the end of meal, and of a session, the server or massage therapist is quite keen to know 1) if you liked your experience 2) if they made a difference for you because 3) their livelihood depends on it. In both serving tables and working as a massage therapist, I’ve come up with a standard way of inquiring, and then been prepared for whatever I got. Rebooking – and a good tip – are sometimes the only thing you need, to know you did well.

It’s good to ask if the client is happy. It’s also good to leave them alone, and maybe check in with them in a few days after they’ve come out of their “massage coma” substantially enough to give you real feedback. I do a standard email inquiry 48 hrs or more after a first-time client, very brief, inquiring if/how the work I did was helpful. (Checking in is very educational and a nice touch. Might be a blog post all its own sometime.)

Asking a client too much about the work they just received, right after they received it, isn’t very nice to them, plus you won’t get the most helpful responses necessarily, plus it smacks of insecurity on your part, and that creates awkwardness. Even if you really do feel insecure: dig deep, and hold yourself well and carefully while asking. This is where being professional comes in!

So next time you’re in a restaurant and you feel you might be in the hands of a real pro — put on your Sherlock Holmes tweedy cap and pull out your pipe. Watch what your server does: their demeanor, their care for you, when they appear, when they are gone for a while. Sleuth it out. And take what you learn into your office.

What you just read is not my fault. It’s because my friend, colleague, co-conspirator and pants kicker Rowan Blaisdell talked me into it, and also, because I cannot resist a write-off: 31 Posts in 31 Days August Blog Challenge, Business Blogging School. Caution snuffed, perfectionism cast off like a smelly cloak: this is blog #20. (okay, I’ve missed a few.)

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3 thoughts on “On Serving: Table to Table

  1. Pingback: To market, To market | Of Our Hands, One Hand

  2. Pingback: Please No Pickle Waffles | Of Our Hands, One Hand

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