ISPA Members Share Their Menu Journeys in 2020 and 2021
Member Perspectives
by Jamison Stoike

WHEN SPAS AROUND THE WORLD first began reopening in the summer of 2020, the menus they offered were often quite different than just a few months earlier. Bound by regulations and limited staffing, many spas streamlined their menus in an effort to boost profitability. As restrictions eased, however, and spas began to build their menus back up for the holiday season and 2021, many kept their menus lean, mean and effective, finding a streamlined slate of services to be an unexpected silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This month, Pulse spoke with three of its members—La Rive Spa at Northern Quest Resort & Casino, The Remedy Day Spa and Scottsdale Camelback Resort—to discuss the trajectory of spa menus both this year and last.

The Initial Changes
No matter when one’s spa first reopened after shutting its doors due to the pandemic, it likely did so with a sized-down menu; La Rive Spa at Northern Quest Resort & Casino was no different. Due to its location outside Spokane, Washington, on Kalispel Tribe sovereign land, it was able to reopen on May 5, likely making it one of the first in the country to do so. Yvonne Smith, senior director of resort experience, used the brief closure as an opportunity to pare back and reevaluate. “We did an analysis on which services were scheduled the most,” says Smith; profit margin and cost-per-treatment were also factored in. This evaluation led to La Rive cutting its express treatments, spa packages (due to a lack of food service) and hot stone massage (due to the extended cleanup). Smith says that the simplified menu had benefits beyond the obvious, too: “The other side to this is that when somebody calls to book and doesn’t know what service they want, the more services that are on the menu, the more time it can take to book.” Simplifying the menu sped up the booking process and allowed Smith to cope with elevated demand despite having a smaller front-desk staff.

Mandy Warr, owner of The Remedy Day Spa in Al-buquerque, New Mexico, followed a similar logic as she ap-proached her spa’s menu upon reopening last summer. “Our first consideration was, ‘What are we allowed to provide?’” Warr says, which meant eliminating the obvious, such as Vichy treatments. But following other guidelines had knock-on effects for The Remedy’s menu—for example, social dis-tancing and capacity regulations led to the streamlining of services to only 60-minute time increments. This allowed The Remedy to “stagger staff schedules, stagger guests and make sure that guests and staff encountered each other as infrequently as possible in common areas,” adds Warr.

In contrast, when Scottsdale Camelback Resort’s spa re-opened in June, it did so with a full menu, albeit with a lim-ited staff. “Since so many other spas were not reopening,” says Spa & Leisure Services Manager Angela Battaglia, “we saw a need in the market.”

Holiday Overhauls
When La Rive Spa initially scaled back its menu, says Smith, “I think originally we thought that we would go back to where we were, because at that point we thought we would be fully open in July or August.” However, as the year drew to a close and operations in the pandemic approached an equilibrium—a “new normal”—many spas, including The Remedy Day Spa and La Rive, considered treating their menus as blank slates, just as they would during a normal menu overhaul. La Rive Spa changed its treatment lengths from express, 60-minute and 90-minute to just 60-, 75- and 100-minute options, with the new, pre-mium-priced 100-minute massages now comprising a growing portion of its overall bookings.

Embracing a simplified menu has also allowed La Rive to streamline its backbar and increase profitability even further. To Smith, this meant “digging in deeper with our long-term partners” and streamlining out products with one-off partners. She gives an example of the benefits her spa has seen: “We had a facial that used a $295 serum, and it was the only facial we offered with that serum. It wasn’t one of our top performers, but we wanted to keep that facial on the menu, and we wanted to do that without having something that’s going to sit in my backbar for three or four months, especially at that kind of price point. So, we went to our vendor and asked them, “How can we continue to offer this facial without this serum?” After working with its vendor, La Rive has been able to replace that single serum with one that’s used in a wider variety of treatments, lowering costs across the board and simplifying inventory.

Simplifying backbar products has also been an ongoing project at The Remedy Day Spa, which viewed the pan-demic as an opportunity to rethink every aspect of its busi-ness. “How often do businesses get that opportunity to clean the slate?” asks Warr, adding that its reevaluated treatments and protocols have been “very well-received both internally and externally.” To streamline its backbar, The Remedy eliminated most of its seasonal treatments, which used products (such as a pumpkin enzyme mask in autumn) that had limited shelf-lives—in other words, a pumpkin mask that sells well in October isn’t as appealing to clients in January. “The original thought was that it was a great way to sell retail, but what really ended up happening was that it was a lot of backbar to buy, a lot of retail to stock, and then if you didn’t use it all or sell it all, you have product in your retail or backbar that is obsolete,” Warr explains.

The Remedy Day Spa undertook a larger reworking of its menu late in 2020 by moving towards a “custom treatment” framework. Previously, their menu featured many different treatment options, each employing its own product lines: “We used three facial product lines,” says Warr, “and within each of those lines we did three different facials, so our menu had nine facials. Now we just offer a Custom Facial.” Most of those nine facials are still available, but rather than forcing the client to choose one at the time of booking, the new framework allows them to consult with their service provider at the time of the service, letting the provider de-cide what is best for their skincare needs—which, according to Warr, was what often happened anyway. Part of what al-lows for this customized framework is the spa’s pricing structure: rather than charging more for a deep tissue mas-sage than a Swedish, for example, The Remedy has always charged a flat fee.

Plans for 2021
As 2021 continues, these menu changes and overhauls will continue to develop. Back at Scottsdale Camelback Resort, the spa launched an entirely new menu in February, a decision which was inspired by the challenging year behind us. “2020 was a difficult year and people needed to be re-minded of the importance of self-care,” says Battaglia, “so my focus for the creation of this menu was balance and wellness.” Battaglia also rethought her spa’s enhancements menu, adding high-profit (and high-demand) products like CBD and anti-aging treatments. Much like Scottsdale Camel-back Resort, The Remedy Day Spa has emphasized making the add-on menu, rather than the treatment menu itself, the space where premium-priced services and products can be found—while a “Custom Massage” may cost the same whether you receive a deep tissue or Swedish massage, adding on popular enhancements like CBD oil will add to the price.

Going forward further into 2021, Warr is eager to add back in those services and amenities which she was unable to reopen last year. Says Warr, “The biggest thing people are asking for right now are couples’ massages…I think that will be the first thing that we add back in when we can.” While she’d like to reintroduce Vichy treatments this year, Warr is uncertain whether the demand will be there due to spa-goers’ lingering hesitancy over certain treatments.

Throughout the year, Warr’s primary criteria for evaluat-ing her menu will remain unchanged: are customers asking for it? What does it cost? Does it make sense with our cur-rent staffing? In general, though, Warr is looking to keep her spa’s menu streamlined in order to increase profitability: “I’m definitely in the ‘scale back’ party. I have found so much [by scaling back] and taking those simplified, modular pieces of our menu. We still have a robust slate of services, but scaling back the variables has reduced our overhead.”

La Rive Spa will likewise undertake a continual process of menu evaluation in 2021, listening for customer input, an-alyzing performance metrics and considering the backbar and training requirements. Telling a story is also important to the spa’s menu choices in 2021, adds Smith: “We have a special focal point, and that’s telling the story of the Kalispel Tribe. I think when you are made responsible to tell that story, it’s a great challenge because you’re always finding ways to tell that story through new products and technology.” Accordingly, the spa is incorporating monthly specials—special treatments, not discounts—as a supplement to its scaled-back menu. Smith partly credits its monthly special facial for January with driving a record month in which La Rive’s esthetics revenue was 25 percent higher than typical. Later this year, La Rive Spa will supplement its spa menu with a menu of a different kind: it’s opening its own food and beverage service, offering a half-dozen items—plus quarterly wine selections—that are in align-ment with the spa’s vision.

The Pandemic’s Legacy
When asked how the pandemic has permanently shifted how she would construct her spa’s menu, Smith noted that, though wellness has always been important, the pandemic has inspired “a renewed passion for exploring ways that we can bring health and wellness to our guests.” For La Rive, this could mean a menu which con-tinues to have streamlined core services while also includ-ing wellness-centric auxiliary services like yoga. At Scottsdale Camelback Resort, Battaglia says that the pan-demic has proven the importance of conceptually “going big” on the menu, while remaining flexible enough to
“pivot to the times”; the spa’s small size and independence allows Battaglia to “adjust our schedule based on appointment requests.”

For Warr, the pandemic’s legacy has been a shift towards a new mindset of constant menu evaluation: “There’s generally a lot of fear around just eliminating things, but this experience has taken away that fear. The biggest takeaway for me has been knowing that I can pause and take a look at what’s working and what’s not.” It’s likely that all spa leaders would agree with this last point: more than ever, it’s essential to reconsider every aspect of the spa, including the menu, and move fearlessly into the future.