For the last year, Erica Purcell has enjoyed a monthly lunchtime spa escape to Spa Terme Di Aroma for a half-hour massage, facial, or reflexology. It costs less than a full-hour service, and with Uber, she can be back at her office within an hour, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
"After work gets kind of crazy, and at lunch I can do what I need to get myself focused, zone out, and forget about the day," said Purcell, 33, of South Philadelphia.
Options are plentiful: IPL (intense pulse light), manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, eyebrow shaping, beard trims, reiki, and reflexology can all be completed in a half-hour or less, without sacrificing the experience. Whether stealing away for much-needed stress relief, wanting to avoid the before- or after-work rush of appointments, or trying a version of a typically longer service for a reduced price, more spa-goers are using their lunch hours to buy food for the soul.
The trend comes from the advent of airport spas - managed with convenience and time-sensitivity in mind - which gained steam about five years ago, said Betsy Isroelit, senior director of global media for Spafinder Wellness, based in Miami.
Spa design is becoming more efficient, with locker rooms on the decline and easier check-ins. More customers embrace 24/7 online appointment booking, and mobile apps help them find and book spas on the fly. "It's all about letting spa-goers have it their way," Isroelit said.
For multitaskers, lunchtime treatments can combine work with pleasure. "Sometimes, a group of women will come in for a power lunch and get their manicures or pedicures while having a meeting while they're here," said Kim Zimmerman, e-commerce director and public relations manager at Rescue Spa in Center City. "It's a nice way to de-stress and bond." It's also one less thing you have to get done after work, she said.
Depending on the spa and the treatment, prices for shortened services - less than full-hour sessions - range from $25 to $150.
Rescue Spa offered only the classic mini facial as a half-hour service until three years ago, when growing demand forced it to add shortened versions of the mini biolift facial and mini microderm, as well as lunchtime IPL and French IPL treatments.
Chair massages for 10 or 15 minutes, half-hour body massages and facials, guided imagery, and reiki are especially popular lunch-hour treatments - "good to take the edge off" - said Jim Leemon, director at Spa Terme Di Aroma in Old City. "We're an increasingly stressful society, and we're so busy doing we don't have any time to just be. In an attempt to use their time judiciously, a half-hour service will help people nourish themselves or hit the reset button."
Recent stress generated by the news cycle has also been a factor, Leemon said. "There's information overload, and people sometimes have to get off the grid."
Two years ago, Spa Terme Di Aroma booked three or four lunchtime appointments each week. Now, it's nine or 10, with the lunch hour spilling into the afternoon as late as 3 p.m. to accommodate requests.
As a fitness trainer who starts her day at 5:30 a.m., Laura Frigeri, 47, finds that a lunchtime deep-tissue massage or facial helps put the spring back in her step. She doesn't opt for the express services but luxuriates for an hour. "It's a way to unwind and relax," said Frigeri, of Society Hill, who has noticed a bigger lunchtime crowd in the last couple of years. "I also don't like to go out when it's dark in the wintertime."
For the last year, the 10 treatment rooms and 10 salon chairs at the Rittenhouse Hotel Spa & Club have been full from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., said Najada Merdani, spa and salon director. "Everyone is so busy, and the lunchtime you get is precious," she said. "You try to utilize it toward centering and rejuvenating yourself."
Women, often accompanied by coworkers, mostly enjoy massages, facials, and nail services. Men show up solo for haircuts, beard trims, and eyebrow grooming.
James Fulton, 68, has a monthly manicure.
About three months ago, he moved his appointment to his lunch hour and has been a convert ever since. Sometimes, he expands his break and opts for a pedicure or back-waxing, as well. He can walk from his office to Rescue Spa, so he is generally back at his desk within an hour. But getting to tuck in these services during midday is about more than just convenience.
"It's a break in my day and offers stress release," said Fulton, of Center City. "I use the same manicurist each time, so they know me, and we can talk about things. And, as a man, I still feel just as welcome."