When I was younger, my parents used to frequent an establishment where everyone knew our family. My parents knew every person on staff by name, from the manager to the janitor. They always hugged the dining room manager with two arms, and the bartender was a trusted friend who had all of their favorite cocktails committed to memory.
I wasn’t allowed to be seated at the bar, because I was obviously not of drinking age. But it wasn’t uncommon for me to be left alone at a high-top table on the outskirts of the bar with a good book while my parents caught up with old friends or attended to business. I was a very private person and did not mind at all being left to myself. In fact, in many cases, I much preferred it. The staff always knew I wouldn’t be any trouble, and often let me stay in my little corner, oblivious to the world.
On one excruciatingly slow day, I was busy being delightfully oblivious when the bartender came over with a Shirley Temple. A Shirley Temple is a virgin mix of Sprite and grenadine (cherry syrup) usually garnished with maraschino cherries. It was my favorite! After all, who isn’t jazzed about sugar, mixed with sugar, garnished with fruity sugar? Isn’t that why bars exist in the first place?
I looked up, particularly perplexed because there was no one about who could have possibly ordered it for me. But the staff there was like that. Sometimes they just did things because I was familiar, I was around, and everyone sort of looked after me.
“Thank you,” I said. It was almost a question.
“Of course!” The bartender said in reply, as he strolled the length of the room unhurriedly to make his way back behind the bar.
As I poked my straw around in my glass, as I always did, to find the cherries before they sunk to the bottom, I realized he had put five cherries, instead of the usual one or two. I was touched that he knew that was my favorite part of my favorite drink.
“This is AMAZING!” I shouted over to him, several yards away (this habit of shouting across rooms would be broken of me years later, under equally fulfilling circumstances). My voice echoed strangely in the acoustics of the empty, massive room. The bartender chuckled at my excitement. Nearsighted though I was, I could see the shine of his smile from thirty feet away.
I never forgot that feeling, the immense satisfaction of receiving service, freely given, providing exactly what you want, precisely to your specifications, without those specifications ever being voiced. Later, sometime in my twenties, I would learn that this behavior that I cherished, but never had a name for, is called “anticipatory service”. There is a delightful read about it in the early pages of Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny’s book, Real Service.
This seemingly insignificant and otherwise quite forgettable moment would eventually become the standard by which I gauged my service. Did my service produce (in the person being served) the same feeling I experienced? Did it produce in them the feeling that they were truly known, understood, and seen? Did it evoke excitement, joy, and satisfaction in the person I was serving?
These questions were important to me. They would come to drive my service-oriented thoughts, words, and actions. This moment—laughably—the transference of a mocktail made by a thoughtful, gentle, man motivated me in bizarre and unfathomable ways to become, or strive to become, a servant of equal caliber.
I was so moved by his action, I became inspired by a need to make every person I served feel as loved and as noticed, on a personal level, as I felt in that moment. Anticipatory service became vastly fascinating to me. When someone goes above and beyond for you—when they do something you didn’t ask for, that you don’t expect, that you don’t even know what you want, but that you nonetheless do desire—there is such an intrinsic sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.
It is so meaningful—so personal. It is intimate in a way we don’t ordinarily associate with intimacy. Platonic service can be boldly intimate, in a beautiful and profound way.
To be able to serve on that level, you need to know someone incredibly well. You must be observant. You must be motivated by a desire to understand the way they think, the way they work, and their objects (or actions) of desire.
Especially when honing your skills towards anticipatory service, it is not enough to simply know _what _a person desires—you must know _why _they desire it, when they desire it, where they desire it, in what way they desire it. What are the specifications of their desire? Because, as Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny wrote in Real Service, “If the master doesn’t want it, it isn’t service.” To understand another’s wants, you must delve, as far as you are permitted, into that one individual’s psychology of desire. That is how you eventually learn to ascertain what it is they will desire next.
Of course, utilizing anticipatory service in a consenting relationship requires a period of familiarity with the person who is receptive of your service. Naturally, the more time you spend with or around that person, the more of an impression they leave on you, the more you come to know them. Knowing them, in this sense, involves developing a feel for their routine or schedule and the way they move through it. It also requires an understanding of, and appreciation for, their preferences. But what makes a servant truly excellent at anticipatory service is their attention to detail.
This is where observation comes in. A servant cutting their teeth in consensual anticipatory service must spend a significant amount of time observing the person they serve, but observing, specifically, the environment and manner in which the service is most needed or enjoyed. That is a key detail. That detail has the power to make or break your anticipatory service.
Let’s say, I notice that my significant other likes coffee with milk and sugar. I then decide that coffee is going to be the focus of my foray into anticipatory service. I prepare it with milk and sugar, as preferred, however, I serve it at quarter to midnight when my partner is going to bed. Many would consider this to be an anticipatory service failure. This is due to the lack of attention to the key detail.
Does my significant other enjoy coffee? Yes. But that is not the key detail. The key detail is the environment and manner in which the coffee is most needed or most enjoyed.
Does my significant other take coffee with milk and sugar? Yes. But that is only the manner in which the service is enjoyed.
What about the environment? The environment refers to the time, place, and surrounding circumstances of the potential service. Does my significant other enjoy coffee most before bed? No. So, if I’m asked to pour the coffee out and come to bed, should I be surprised? No.
Attention to detail is the quality which makes anticipatory service so strikingly personal. It is the component of anticipatory service which makes the service delightfully surprising and makes the person receiving it feel so seen and special. Attention to detail is what makes the served person say, “Oh, gosh, now is the perfect time for this!” or “This is just the way I wanted it!” or even “This is AMAZING!”
It’s strange to think, a mocktail, of all things, made a world of difference in my life. It’s even stranger to think that sugar, mixed with sugar, garnished with fruity sugar would have completely changed my approach to relationships, fulfillment, and life purpose. But it did. All that sugar must have done something to sweeten my outlook and inspiration in life. Well, maybe it wasn’t so much the sugar as the way in which it was served.
This has been Part 1 of the Anticipatory Service series, if you'd like to continue the series, part two is The Challenge of Learning Anticipatory Service: Making Mistakes