When people talk about spa etiquette they often mean what to wear, what to tip and suchlike. I mean something much more basic; spa manners.
What to wear varies between spas – in Europe it can be considered unhygienic to wear swimming costumes in steam rooms etc. but do not jump to conclusions, most spas in Europe will ask you to keep them on thank you very much. However some basic rules are often unread and so I thought I'd write down what I feel is good manners in any spa.
The key is to treat others as you would like to be treated. We've all got the giggles in the spa, or maybe hogged the facilities at times, but above all it's important to think about whether your actions are bothering others. I think when I went naked in The Sanctuary Covent Garden it bothered a few people, so I might think twice about doing it next time.
It's important to remember that whenever it's a steam room in your gym or an exclusive beach spa people come here to relax and let go, to get away from the day to day. So do not bother them with your annoying problems. If you are chatting to a friend (in hushed tones of course) consider whether it's appropriate to be dragging your problems at work or in a relationship into this supposedly restful space. Take your cue from other people, if their eyes are closed be very quiet. Many spas, especially hotel spas also have restaurants and bars if you want to break out and have a good old natter. Also be aware that you may be bothering people you can not see. Spa planning is not always perfect and your fun Jacuzzi may be right benefit a treatment room where someone is paying a lot of money for relaxation.
If you are in a relaxation room then absolute silence may be the thing. If you have to talk at all use your “spa voice”; you know, the one all the masseurs use.
To deal with a noisy person or group there are a few options. I tend to go for “Excuse me, would you mind keeping it down, I'm trying to relax.” Sadly it often makes me more stressed than just ignoring it or moving on. The other alternative is to ask spa personnel to deal with it, but unfortunately many seem a bit confused when asked to intervene (like my masseuse in Tuscany who was not prepared to shush a noisy group during my massage).
Of course another alternative is to bring your noise – you can always check whether spas are happy for you to bring in your own iPod or sound system, use a good pair of noise cancelling headphones and you will not bother anyone else and may find the serenity you seek.
If you are using a music player double check it is not bothering anyone. Do I have to add that mobile phones, laptops and loudly rustling newspapers are also potential hazards? It's not just about the noise, if other people are trying to relax and you are trying to work then just take your work vibe somewhere else.
Recently I had a great massage in a spa / hair salon, unfortunately the salon staff were the main culprits in the noise department. Banging doors, chatting in the adjoining room and generally being inconsiderate (at one point there was even a barking dog, which just made me laugh). Most of all felt sorry for the masseuse who was working so hard to give me a relaxing treatment and I was sorry to leave her at the end looking sadly defeated.
Please respect hygiene rules, such as showering before getting into spa pools, and if you've had a massage and want to use the facilities again make sure you wash off any treatment oils (although it is a waste). Also, if you are in the habit of wearing perfume or aftershave, make sure you wash that off too before getting in the pool. If you've ever gotten into the pool when someone's perfume is lying on the top and you come out feeling drenched in it then you know what I'm talking about.
Do not save loungers. This is not something that I've experienced worldwide – just in England. For some reason people seem to think it's acceptable to save a space by dumping their towel or, still still, laying their damp towel on a lounger to save it and make it uncomfortable at the same time. The Sanctuary Covent Garden has a strict and well signposted policy of not allowing guests to save seats in the Koi Carp Lounge (or any lounge) because otherwise not everyone would get a go. Once you get your spot here you are welcome to lounge for an hour or as long as you want, but once you move, you move on.
If you are faced with a row of saved loungers, or even the odd free seat and you want to sit together there are a couple of ways to handle it. You can just move the towels yourself. I have no problem doing this and am quite happy to say “I think you forgot your towel” in the same way that I may approach someone who has intentionally littered and say “I think you dropped something”. Alternately you can ask a staff member if they would mind clearing up the towels – particularly if they belong to the spa, as sometimes people do leave towels on a lounger and then forget about them or leave the spa (very inconsiderate!) Loungers and chairs are for using, not for saving. Can you tell that I really can not stand this? Especially when I walk into a spa or pool area and every single lounger has a towel draped over it and not one person relaxing. Yes, you can leave your things where they are if you are visiting the toilet or getting a magazine, but not if you are going for a two hour lunch in the hotel restaurant.
Do not pinch anyone's towel … ever. (I'm only saying this because someone pinched mine once.) If you lose your towel or it gets really wet, ask for a new one. Even if your spa visit includes the use of one towel most establishments are relaxed about letting you have another one if you need it without charging extra.
Okay, one last thing, if you are a smoker then make sure that you are not offending other spa users. There may be outside spaces; gardens, parks in the spa or as part of the hotel, this does not mean it is necessarily okay to smoke there. Even if there are no actual rules or signs, if there are other people who may be bothered by your smoke take it elsewhere. You may feel that once you've finished your cigarette it does not bother anyone else, but anyone who has just paid for an aromatherapy massage may not agree. If you must smoke consider popping back into the shower to freshen up before you rejoin other spa goers.
Heaven, as they say, is the same as hell – it is “other people”. Kind and friendly people, even if they can be a little noisy at times, have made some of my spa visits, and I know that I should try harder to let go of my spa niggles. I know at times I've been the one one, or at least with the noisy group. So I suppose the golden rule of spa etiquette for all of us really should be relax and let go, whether it's of the day to day, losing your towel, the loungers, the bad habits, and to let go of the little annoyances when they do crop up.
Oh and as for tipping, if in doubt you can always ask what the standard is when you book, or even when you leave, most receptionists are happy to help.