On Service Settings and Headspace

My service research brought me to Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service in April 2019, and parts of the book have stuck with me ever since.  Basically the manifesto of customer service at Disney, it has many points that can be applied elsewhere, and that was what I was hoping for as a service slave going into reading it.

One such point was this: setting changes expectations.

The manifestation of this belief at Disney resorts is obvious.  Almost anyone who’s ever just realized they stepped over the border between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland could tell you that a different set of things now seems appropriate or out of place.  Disney’s underground tunnels to keep cast members in costume from going through the lands where they don’t belong—no Buzz Lightyear in Frontierland—are somewhat legendary.

It’s about more than theme, though.  It can also mean convenience, organization, flow, cleanliness, formality.  Things placed without thought can mean they are inconvenient to find.  Lights on and doors open in certain rooms and halls can guide guests to where they should be.  A cluttered and slovenly front entry makes a certain impression.  A well set table can give an air of formality.  Even virtual spaces aren’t immune to the need for a good setting.

I think about this frequently when I’m serving brunch.  Here, brunch is supposed to be light and simple.  The big question almost every day is, “Toast or bagel?” and it’s usually served with something on the side along the lines of strawberries, homemade applesauce, or bacon.  Really nothing complicated.  Something that could easily be eaten at one’s whim on the couch, at the kitchen island, at a desk in front of a computer.

But that’s not where we eat brunch—we have brunch at the long dining table, covered in a clean tablecloth, bathed in morning sunlight from the windows, with fresh flowers perched in the middle.  Everything is served on real dishes, table set properly, with napkins I crocheted myself.  Every morning, at 9:30, excepting conflicting circumstances, with conversation as the main entertainment.

This makes some toast and bagels feel a lot more significant.

Even time can be a part of setting—the consistency of meal times can add a bit of ritual.

Recently someone mentioned being charmed by the fact that we always had a bouquet on the table, citing that it was something she did only for special occasions, and it felt like adding a special touch to the everyday.

All of these are pieces of setting and atmosphere.

To keep a good environment for service, I try to keep things clean, organized, intuitive, and err on the formal side.

To keep things convenient, we have clearly labeled stations.  In the kitchen, one for coffee, tea, cocoa, and general hot drinks, and one for soda, with straws and napkins.  A guest manual in the living room, with local recommendations and a guide to household features.  A box of first aid supplies and toiletries in the guest bathroom.  

Maintaining this environment means it sets the expectations for me, for Mistress, for guests.  Our friends, kinky and otherwise, know what to expect when they get here.  Mistress knows what the brunch table is going to look like.  I know what my standards are to maintain.  And with the expectations of environment change the expectations of service—lackluster service in a sparkling environment wouldn’t be the expectation and would be even more out of place.  

In a well maintained environment, it is easier to feel that need to maintain other standards as well.  

There’s also something to be said for the headspace of the actual tasks of maintaining that setting.  Cleanup from brunch sometimes includes changing the tablecloth and pruning the bouquet, and those tasks themselves are a reminder of the setting.

It feels different to kneel at the end of an unmade bed than it does to kneel at the end of one carefully made with hospital corners and fluffed pillows, and it feels different to know that you made it that way yourself.  It makes keeping your posture just so a little more intuitive.

I think Be Our Guest was right—setting does change service expectations—and it might be an underestimated headspace game changer. 

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