Why guys are throwing all-male spa parties instead of bachelor parties
Usually, his friends expect to receive a relaxing Swedish massage, but instead they'll usually get a sports massage, a treatment that targets muscles used in workouts to help speed recovery.
While the after-effects are rejuvenating, McNary says, in the moment it’s actually kind of painful, so he loves to see his friends' facial expressions as the massage therapists knead and prod away.
“Those are the most fun for me,” McNary says. “You know they’re getting fixed, but they think they’re in a torture chamber.”
McNary sees regular massages as part of his fitness regimen, the tune-up after the workout. Bringing friends into the mix is a way to pay the wellness forward and to help his friends realize the benefits of self-care, he says. And they aren't alone. Whether it’s for a bachelor party or just to catch up, men are increasingly booking group spa parties for massages, facials, or even the occasional pedicure, according to experts in the spa industry.
The trend likely stems in part from the growing cultural emphasis on self-care for men. According to the International Spa Association, 47 percent of spa clientele are men, compared to 31 percent just a decade ago. The number is even higher for on-demand massages: 53 percent of Zeel sessions are booked by men, according to Eva Carey, the director of massage therapy at Zeel.
“Traditionally, male clients used to seek massage therapy to relieve pain,” says Carey. “Now it’s definitely more toward pampering and relaxation and really becoming another way to destress.”
Although spa parties have typically been thought of as a female activity, as the norms surrounding masculinity shift and evolve, men are slowly turning to spa treatments as a way to bond and unwind after a rough week.
Over the last decade, Lana Bargraser, the owner of Allure Day Spa in New York City, has noticed a marked increase in male clients, especially in groups. Between out-of-towners who return year after year with the same crew or several men looking for a calm activity while their wives are shopping, once men notice the benefits after that first service, they’re more likely to return, she says.
Chandos Mahon, a weekly Zeel user, will invite a few friends over to catch up over massages. Since he travels so much for work, he’ll try to schedule business meetings during massages, too. Like McNary, Mahon sees spa treatments as integral to his own health, and as a bonding experience with his friends.
“It’s no longer this spa setting where I have to go somewhere and it’s a fluffy environment,” Mahon says. “I think millennials have less of a stigma about situations like that than maybe a Baby Boomer generation. It’s nice to get a massage. It’s not about being manly.”
Spa owners nationwide are also capitalizing on the trend. Since 2012, Stacey Grondahl has hosted all-male spa parties at her Scottsdale, Ariz. spa, We Do Men, which is tailored exclusively to dudes. After working as a massage therapist for large corporations and at resorts, Grondahl realized there was an untapped market in specialized men’s skincare.
At We Do Men, visitors can pick from a variety of services with punchy names, like “The BrowTender” (grooming for brows, nose, and ears) and the $81 per person "Men In Black” group package, which offers a facial, massage, the BrowTender, liquor sampling, and more.
Groups come from all over the country for bachelor parties, golf retreats, fraternity reunions, she says, but the keys to working with an all-male client base is to keep the appointments moving (she’ll frequently break down group parties into multiple mini-services). It also helps if you offer booze, she says.
“It’s [about] being able to create an experience where guys don't feel like they’re being emasculated,” Grondahl says.
That sort of no-BS atmosphere was what drew Vir Sodhi and a friend to We Do Men on a recent guys’ trip to Scottsdale. Since college, Sodhi had become a frequent spa-goer, but found it hard to convince his friends to go with him.
By choosing a spa that focused on men’s care rather than plushy ambiance, he was able to persuade a buddy to get his first facial with Grondahl. The accessible way she pulled back the curtain on skincare products demystified the idea of a daily facial regimen.
“I think he... enjoyed the educational process around the products he currently uses,” Sodhi says of his pal’s spa experience. “In addition to noticing a difference, he’s more educated about what's out there.”
Though he feels that the stigma around male self-care is shifting, Sodhi finds — at least within his friend group — that pampering is low on the to-do list, or that his friends don’t necessarily enjoy massages. Most of them, however, just haven’t given it a try. Since he was able to get one to Grondahl’s spa, he’s confident he might be more successful next time.
“This might be the year I could convince the group to do a group pedicure,” he says.
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