Everyone likes a little pampering now and then, but it can be hard to indulge your decadent whims without blowing your sensible budget. That’s where local specialty schools come in handy. Students perform upscale services for discounted (usually under close supervision by their teachers!). While the services can be quirky, they want to make sure you leave happy. Particularly at schools associated with major brands, it reflects poorly on the brand if you don’t. Chances are good you’ll walk away feeling like you’ve gotten a treat, and so will your wallet.
Haircuts And Color
Hair stylists and colorists need heads to practice on, but to avoid very young, inexperienced students, we look for branded salons in our city or their associated schools. They don’t always advertise their need for models on their websites, so it’s worth calling and asking if they have a training night. For example, Vidal Sassoon posts information about becoming a “cut and color model” at its academies in LA, Miami, Chicago and San Francisco. But its salon in New York has a unadvertised, once-a-week training night where stylists hone advanced techniques. No matter where you go, this isn’t something you pop out to do on your lunch hour. Prepare to spend two hours on a haircut and four or more on a color service. The students might be trying a technique for the first time and they tend work slowly and carefully.
The Deal: Plan to pay $10 to $40 for haircuts and $15 to $50 for color treatments that could easily cost well over $100 or $200, respectively, at the associated salon.
Watch Out: There is often a trick to getting appointments. You might have to wait a few weeks for an opening, or show up at a specific time to make an appointment in person.
Like with haircuts, look to local beauty academies. Better still, look into institutes associated with well-known products and spas for a facial with quality products as well as cutting edge services and extractions.
The Deal: At Aveda Institutes across the country you can get one of their signature facials, which incorporate their all-natural products as well as extras like scalp or foot massages. Services might start at $45 for a 90-minute treatment, compared with roughly twice that amount for a 60-minute treatment at Aveda-associated salons.
Watch Out: A teacher will be checking on your student’s technique and progress, and the experience won’t be as zen as it would at a day spa. Also, the extraction process could be fine or a little ouch-inducing, depending on the experience level of your aesthetician.
This is probably the most fail-safe service to get from a student. After all, even an amateur massage is going to be pretty darn good. The best way to get one: Google your nearest city with the terms “massage institute” or “massage therapy school.” When you find one, look on the homepage for a link to their clinic.
The Deal: Plan to pay $30 to $50 for a one-hour massage, a third to half of what you would pay at a day spa.
Watch Out: You might have to bring a doctor’s note the first time you come confirming that you have no heath problems that a massage could aggravate. Again, expect the ambience to be more clinic than day spa.
OK, going under the student needle might seem a little daring, but it’s usually the advanced students who are working in the clinic—think of it as similar to the intern phase of medical school. Often the same schools that teach massage teach acupuncture, too. A Google search for your town with the words "acupuncture" and "institute", "school" or "clinic" will turn up a service provider.
The Deal: Plan on $25 to $50 for services; sometimes follow-ups are a less than the initial visit. The Swedish Institute in New York offers a series of 13 treatments for $360, a deal worth considering if you are dealing with a chronic condition.
Watch Out: It’s worth asking about the experience level of the students in the clinics, just for reassurance. Be prepared to share a lot of medical information, perhaps including the name of your primary physician.
Once you’ve pampered and primped you’re ready for a night out. Local cooking schools often have a restaurant attached. Students learn the logistics of high-end service while you enjoy a haute dinner at burger joint prices. Typically the students run the front of the house while the faculty, or faculty and students together, run the kitchen. Expect a prix fixe deal that features a lot of local and seasonal ingredients and dishes that look pretty.
The Deal: Le Cordon Bleu cooking school has schools in 17 cities across the country, each with a restaurant attached with its own menus and pricing. We tried the one in Portland a few years ago. Our meal at Bleu featured local goodies like hazelnuts and morel mushrooms, and was easily the best dining deal we ever had. Its offerings range from an $11 three-course lunch to a $25 five-course dinner. Try getting a single entrée for that at a stylish restaurant.
Watch Out: Expect the occasional nervous server or minor glitch in service. In Portland, the waitress had such a hard time opening our wine that we actually offered to help her. Speaking of wine, it’s often less of a bargain than the food. Plan to pay the usual local going rate for beer, wine or cocktails.
Tell us in the comments: Have you ever received student luxury services? How did it go?
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