Thursday, May 19, 2011


My forehead is starting to peel from being sunburned last week in Carlsbad and playing softball. So annoying. I've been using extra facial scrub and lotion on it today so hopefully I won't look like a leper tomorrow.

I'm still feeling the effects of the softball game in my back, shoulder and neck. I really played hard, dammit! I even got a hot stone massage at the Hand and Stone spa near my office on Friday, which felt wonderful but didn't really help my injuries. I also got a facial, which was equally as good.

So yesterday I visited Times Square Metro Massage which is right across the street from my apartment building because my neck and shoulders were really hurting. This spa is not nearly as nice as Hand and Stone, which is also not nearly as nice as Spa Merge, where Puck and I visited earlier this year ("Ski, sauna, spa and shibari" - Jan. 13, 2011). But the therapist at Metro really knows what she's doing, and she massages with her whole body, like really good sex :) The fact that it's super-convenient and has late hours are both big pluses.

The downside is that they don't really have their service very fine-tuned. Their credit card machine didn't work, so that forced me to pay in cash - fortunately I barely had enough. They also did something that I consider a big no-no, it's one of my pet peeves actually - they asked for a bigger tip than I wanted to give them. This is a capital offense in most cases for me. A nail salon that I'd been going to for a year did that to me once and I never went back there. Spa Merge did that too, which is why I don't plan on going back. I might make an exception with Metro because it's so convenient, but I'm probably only going to tip 15% next time, instead of my customary 20-22%.

To me, a gratuity in most cases has to be earned. The rule of thumb is that acceptable service gets 15%, good service gets 20% and exceptional service gets 25%. Also, first-time visits usually get 20% as a default, because I have no baseline yet to measure what exceptional service is for that establishment. If the service is unacceptable, it's best to speak to the management and then leave 10 or 15%. I've hardly ever had unacceptable service in my life (although there was one time at a Holiday Inn on family vacation that I remember well because we wrote a long complaint on a comment card), but there are different standards of service.

For example, I once went to Brennan's with some friends, a world-class Creole restaurant in downtown Houston. We went late on Mother's Day, when the waitstaff I'm sure was tired after a long and busy day. The food was excellent, but there were several service gaffes: a steak had to be sent back because it was not cooked well-done as ordered, courses were brought out overlapping each other, and a few other things. Nothing that would completely spoil the meal, but sub-par for a five-star restaurant.

So upon leaving, we spoke to the maitre d' about the problems, and he offered us an after-dinner cordial by way of apology, but by that time it was very late and we were ready to go. Without hesitation, he took back the check for the entire table, which amounted to almost $300. And believe you me, this is not the first time or place that I've told that story - it remains one of my gold standards for how world-class establishments should treat their customers.

Anyway, as you might guess by now, my standards for good service are pretty high, especially at finer establishments. I was greatly disappointed with the experience at Spa Merge, for example, because it was otherwise a very fine (and quite pricey) experience but they fumbled several things, possibly because of the disorganization from the blizzard the day before.

In fact, when I think of great service, the only place in New York so far that comes to mind is the Palm Restaurant and it's no coincidence that I've taken Puck there three times this year. Not that they don't slip up now and then, but they are consistently of a high quality and display the right attitude in making the customer feel not just welcome, but valued. And perhaps, for the average price of a meal there, you might say it's expected, but I've come to find that's not always the case.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention my regular hair stylist of renown, Edison, who has been doing my hair for going on three years (although I've recently been trying a new stylist my co-worker Jennifer introduced me to). Even though Edison doesn't always do exactly what he's supposed to (he did butcher Bonnie's hair once and Puck's bright colors have not always turned out exactly how they expected) he never fails to be gracious, attentive and cheerful. The right attitude goes a long way, and I've always been incredibly loyal to businesses that treat their customers the right way.