by Jamison Stoike

Pulse spoke with two spa industry veterans and menu gurus—Jill Carlen, global director spa concepts for Hilton Worldwide, and Kate Mearns, principal of 5 Spa Consulting LLC—for their insights into what you should keep in mind while revamping your menu in the time of coronavirus.


It’s tempting to view the COVID-19 pandemic as a time to throw out the rulebook and go with your gut. Mearns cautions against this, though: “Even during uncertain times, the process of evaluating your menu for updates and changes is the same as any other time.” For Mearns, that means a simple and math-based approach that involves calculating how many services have been performed during a time interval and the financial contribution per service (found by subtracting product and soft goods costs from the total price) of each menu item. Then, rate each menu item’s popularity and profitability as either low or high.

Services that are high-demand and highly profitable are “STAR” services and should be kept, while those with low demand and less profitably are “DOG” services that should be jettisoned, says Mearns. Treatments with low popularity but a high margin should be more heavily promoted, and evaluate ways to increase the profitability of those services with high popularity but a low margin.

If you plan to initially reopen your spa with a limited menu, Carlen recommends focusing on services with a low cost of goods and which provide immediate, noticeable benefits to guests. “Cut those services that require a high cost per treatment (as in a lot of products) and are providerheavy, such as four-handed massage, perhaps,” comments Carlen. It may also make sense to delay the return of services that require extra equipment or tools, which require more time, effort and cost to sanitize thoroughly.


There are a number of factors which will likely lead to demand changes when spas reopen. First and foremost, while the high economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect consumers’ pocketbooks, it is less clear how reduced financial security will affect consumer demand for spa services. “The ‘lipstick’ effect will certainly play a big role,” Carlen says, referring to the phenomenon of increased spending on small indulgences when large indulgences are unaffordable. “Consumers may not be able to afford a fancy new car or a vacation, but they may be able to afford a manicure or service that helps them feel good during a time of uncertainty.” With this in mind, consider that economic pressure and pent-up demand might actually increase your business upon reopening.

When consumers do return, they might be more likely to book low-touch services—like cryotherapy—or find more value in no-touch spaces—such as salt rooms—that they perceive as easier to sanitize than wet spaces like steam rooms, according to Carlen.


Both Carlen and Mearns agreed that the mass shutdowns of gyms, wellness centers, spas and more will lead to a long-term increase in consumer demand for online content. As a spa, it may simply be expected that you provide more ways to continue treatment at home than before, and that you interact with your spa’s customers digitally on a daily basis.

“I’ve personally started following so many wellness apps, podcasts and people, so I can only believe future consumers will expect this,” notes Carlen. Go online and make your customer base “a community…share daily selfcare tips, little snippets of wellness, jokes—whatever suits your business.” Build digitally-delivered resources into the benefits offered by a treatment—for example, providing a PDF of at-home breathing exercises to every spa goer, or stretching tips for a guest who just received a massage.

Mearns suggests thinking beyond the services on your menu to realize that “we have a lot more to offer consumers than simply the services. Our industry has a huge base of knowledge for wellness practices, stress-management programs…this is our time, as an industry, to actually become the go-to source for wellness.”

During this prolonged shutdown, many spas have already begun offering online meditation, yoga and more via Zoom, Facebook Live and Instagram. Making such programming on ongoing part of your online presence going forward—and tying them in to in-person treatments—will enhance the value of the spa-going experience and attract customers back to your spa.


It’s no surprise that hygiene is expected to be on the minds of consumers when the world returns to normal, and both Mearns and Carlen note that making hygiene part of the menu-browsing and service-selection experience will soon be essential.

“Scripting for services and process will need to be updated to ensure your patrons of the added precautions you are taking,” says Mearns. The physical menus themselves will need to be easily sanitized, and spas should consider adding a disclosure or reassurance of sanitation practices on the menu itself. “A huge focus should be to make it clear and obvious,” Carlen adds, “what the hygiene, disinfecting and sanitization processes are.”

Furthermore, says Carlen, “I would recommend reopening with a more limited menu to show guests that you have taken steps to eliminate unsafe or perceived unsafe environments.” The word perceived is key. Although most spas already use hospital-grade disinfectant and follow stringent sanitation guidelines, consumers will likely perceive some spaces—saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms and shared equipment—as more unhygienic than a simple treatment table. A spa director who is designing a reopening menu with the intent to ease spa-goers back into their previous comfort level with spa should keep these perceptions in mind.