On the Road: Cyndy Drummey in Orlando, Fl.

Serenity Day Spa is a contradiction. The grand entrance, the sumptuous waiting area, and certainly the service prices indicate that this is a high-end salon, the kind “discount salons” ought to take a lesson from. But the little disappointments mounted and ultimately added up to a salon that ought to take a good hard look at the meaning of “spa” again. My nail tech Chris was himself the embodiment of the contradiction: He works part-time at Serenity Day Spa, and part-time at his in-laws’ discount salon, where he makes half of what he makes at the spa.

I hit two salons on a recent trip to Florida, and while I wasn’t deliberately planning to see one high-end and one low-end, that’s the way it worked out. But hitting both on the same day, I was struck more by the similarities between the two salons than the differences.

At five star Nails I sat down to a nail technician who misunderstood my request for wraps and stared in on heavily etching my nail with a drill and applying primer. “Strange,” I thought, “all that prep for wraps.” But I am accustomed to sacrificing my good nail health for a few months so that I can see salons as they truly operate, and I let her go at it. But she began to rough me up so bad, I had to ask the salon manager to intervene. Two hours later (!) I had a very hearty set of wraps that glowed in the dark due to the UV topcoat she put on.

I had high hopes for my planned pedicure at Serenity Day Spa. I was greeted warmly by the front desk staff and taken to a private waiting are. But the pedicure area was simply separated from the waiting area and the hallway by a curtain. The pedicure area itself was cramped and two pedicure chairs sandwiched a huge industrial sink with stuff piled in it. The rolling cart was thick with dust, and on top rested the “implement disinfection system,” which was a Tupperware box with swampy water in it. While I soaked, the pedicure tub began to oversud and overflow. Chris literally had to bail water for five minutes to prevent a flood. Besides the lack of ambiance and the swampy disinfection, the thing that appalled me most was the automatic and mandatory gratuity of 18% that was added to my bill!

I can call plenty of nail techs before I travel to a certain city and get a service that is impressive and relaxing and everything we try to make this magazine stand for. But there is a lot to be learned from randomly selecting salons to visit, and trying out the high and low ends. It’s the same throw of the dice many clients take when they are looking for a salon. But it also is a great lesson: Discount service sometimes comes at a high price.         

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