It is that time of year again… time to think about gifts. One thing I am trying to encourage in my family is to give fewer things and focus more on experiences. How many of you have random things stuffed into closets and on shelves that were gifts that you will probably never use? Not only is this a bit annoying for the person who has to try to find a place to put the stuff, but I always wind up feeling really bad that the gift giver has spent money, sometimes a lot, on something that is not useful to me. An experience is something that you do, like tickets to an event, a membership at a museum or zoo, treating them to a meal, or gifting them with a service. For those who worry about finding gifts for people, this is a great option because once you find an experience they like, you can give them that experience every year. You can make a recurring gift of renewing a membership or getting them a gift card for a service. While there are some who have been doing this sort of thing for a long time, it is becoming more popular, and more people are beginning to share in this practice. That brings me to the topic of this post; how to navigate gifting a massage. After being in the massage industry for more than 10 years, I have picked up on some of the things that just don’t work well. Good intentions that didn’t play out as well as you thought they might. So here are my 5 tips for giving the gift of massage.
*Note: This post is not intended to shame anyone who may have done any of the things listed. I understand that these situations honestly come with the best of intentions, but the best of intentions does not always lead to the best execution of an idea. If you have fallen into some of these traps before, this post is intended to help you do better next time.
1. Make sure they want a massage
Believe it or not, not everyone wants a massage. I know… for those who love it, it is hard to imagine someone who doesn’t, but I have certainly come across people who would rather be anywhere else. In the first couple months of my career I worked with a woman who mentioned that the massage was a gift from her daughter and that she was incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of getting a massage. She had rescheduled repeatedly because she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. It was one of the most awkward massages I have ever done. I am glad that she confided in me before hand, as it gave insight to her obvious tension and allowed me to alter the way that I worked to try to make her as comfortable as possible in an uncomfortable situation. In my own practice, I would probably try to work with her to find an alternative like Reiki that she might be more comfortable with, or suggest regifting the gift certificate to someone who would enjoy it. Since I was working at a spa at the time, I didn’t feel as though I could have that conversation with her. I had another client who came into my practice who made it very clear before her session that she was not interested in massage but that her friend spent money on this for her so she was going to do it even though she felt that it had been a waste of money. While harsh, I am once again glad that she mentioned this to me because it informed me of her feelings before hand. These individuals just shouldn't have been given massages as gifts.
On another hand, some people already have a massage therapist that they prefer. They may not want to go to someone new because they have already built up a rapport with their own therapist, and know that they enjoy their style of work.
So how do you navigate finding out if a gift of massage is appropriate? Try bringing it up casually… “I had an amazing massage the other day. Do you go for massages?” This opens the conversation to find out if someone has ever had a massage and whether or not they are interested. If they do receive massage, you can then ask “Do you have someone that you like to see?” If they do, see if you can get them a gift certificate for the establishment that they already go to, which also means that they are pretty much guaranteed to love their gift. If they say that they don’t go in for massages and aren’t really interested, perhaps it isn’t the best gift idea for them.
2. Don't surprise them the day of (especially if they are a new client)
I have had several people try to do this and it never quite works out the way they want. There are issues trying to coordinate their day so that the giftee doesn't know what is happening, and often I find that people are running late from their day of surprises. Once they arrive, new clients will have to fill out an intake form before they can get on the table. In my practice, intake can take about 10-15 minutes, and although I encourage people to come in early to do intake, it doesn't always work out that way, especially if they are not getting my communications. In my practice, I email intake forms to new clients to fill out before they come in to save time, but if it is a surprise, they cannot do that. Some people also love to wear comfy clothes to and from a massage, and if they are going nice somewhere afterward, they want to have their hair and makeup look nice. Being on a massage table with their face in a face cradle doesn't really allow for nice makeup, and if they wear makeup to the massage it can often rub off, stain my sheets, and get smudged on their face.
So, what if you want to plan out a day of surprises for your loved one? Perhaps surprise them the day before. That way they are able to plan. They can fill out their intake form online beforehand (if the practice allows for it), bring a change of clothes, and some makeup and a hairbrush to freshen up afterward if they are going to a nice meal or show afterward. It can still be a fun surprise even if they know the day before. If you feel like you absolutely must surprise them the day of, make sure to bring them in early for intake and bring along anything they may need to feel ready for the next stop.
3. Let them schedule for themselves
Chances are that the person you are gifting the massage to knows their schedule best. While it can be a nice gesture to schedule an appointment for someone on their birthday, anniversary, or other occasion, it may not actually be the day or time they would have chosen for themselves. There can be conflicts in their schedule that they will need to deal with, or they may prefer to schedule their massage around other events (after a big race or before a stressful meeting at work). I have had numerous occasions where someone has scheduled a massage for their partner, only to inform them of it that morning and find out that they can't make it. In my practice, I have a 24 hour cancellation policy that states that if you cancel with less than 24 hours notice, you are still responsible for payment of the session. I know other practitioners who have similar policies. The thing is, if you reserve a slot, no one else can take it. If you cancel without enough notice for someone else to schedule that time, you are literally taking income away from the practitioner. For those of us running our own small practices, too much of this can be devastating.
Instead, try purchasing a gift card for them so that they can use it whenever they like. In the state of Illinois, gift certificates can never expire (state law). If you feel like you must schedule an appointment for them, make sure that you are absolutely certain of their schedule, or check with them to see what day or time they would prefer.
4. If you do schedule for them, do it under their name, not yours
I'll admit, this may just be a pet peeve of mine, but it makes a bit more work for me when people schedule an appointment for someone else and don't provide their name. I have had instances where someone is running late, or misses their appointment, and I need to call them to check in, but I don't even know who to ask for and may not even have the individuals contact information. I am also not able to greet them by name when they come in. When they arrive, I have to edit their name and contact information before I can even have them fill out their intake form because the client file was created under the wrong name. It is just easier and less time consuming to have that information already in their client file. Taking the extra time to have to deal with administrative messes also reduces the amount of time the giftee has on the table.
I know that when scheduling things, it is second nature for most of us to put in our own information, but if you are scheduling for someone else, make sure to do it under their name. If you want to put in your phone number and email so that they don't get notifications, that is fine, but in many practices, checking in will be easier if theirs is the name in the appointment book.
5. Pay for the massage
One of the most awkward situations that I have encountered, and I have encountered it multiple times, is when someone is gifted with a massage that they have to pay for at the end. What usually happens is that someone schedules the massage for them and then tells them when and where it is. When they arrive, they are happy that their loved one has gotten this great "gift" for them. After the massage, when I tell them that it will be $90 for the session, it almost never fails… their face falls and they say "It wasn't already paid for?" or "I have to pay for my own gift?". Nothing makes people go from feeling special to feeling not so special than finding out that they are on the hook for payment of their own gift.
If you want to give someone a massage as a gift, try getting a gift card/certificate. It is usually pretty easy to do either online, or to call the establishment first to arrange it. I have also had people come in with a check or cash that has been given to them to cover the cost of their session, or had the giver contact me before the appointment to give me their credit card information to pay for the session. Any of those options work well and allow your loved one to feel special and taken care of.
Have you ever given or received a massage as a gift? What worked well for you? What do you wish had been different? Let us know in the comments below!
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Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.