Famous for being famous, celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke is expanding his plush Mayfair salon. The larger premises not only allow greater numbers of rich and famous people to flock to his sumptuous setting, they also allow him to offer his pampered clients sustenance while they have their hair coiffed or curled. Besides Champagne or Earl Grey tea, Clarke can provide them with sushi or organic salads and more, freshly made on-site.
For London-based Fare - the catering company that won the contract earlier this year - Clarke's salon offers a captive audience of up to 1,000 clients a week. It would appear to be a lucrative contract. The company, currently fitting out the kitchen in the salon and finalising the menu, is part of Principal Catering, which turns over more than £5m a year. Other contracts include the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, and Jerwood Space in SE1. Managing director John Durden estimates that the Nicky Clarke contract is worth more than £100,000.
Clarke is not the first hairdresser to offer food made on the premises. He is following the example of other hairdressers to the rich and famous, such as Daniel Galvin, who has had on-site catering at his George Street salon in London for nearly 10 years.
Clarke's interest in catering has been triggered by the fact that customer demands have changed. Many of Galvin's clients flock to his salon because of his skills as a colourist - and colouring hair takes a lot longer than simply cutting it. Galvin's clients could be in his salon for up to four hours. Clarke's customers, too, are demanding colour as well as a cut and he wants to ensure their loyalty by making their lengthy visit as comfortable as possible.
"The result is the new phenomenon of catering in salons," says Durden.
Charles Worthington, who added a huge London flagship salon to his chain of businesses earlier this year, agrees. "My clients want more than just their hair styled," says Worthington. "They want to be pampered."
At his salons, it is possible for clients to try every sort of beauty treatment or holistic therapy. It is a one-stop shop, packed full of what are the current buzz words in hairdressing: added-value services.
"It doesn't matter how much you charge, be it £250 or £20, a client will be happy only if they think it has been worth it," adds Worthington, who charges £250 per haircut. "They have to feel as if they have had what they paid for. It's all about added value."
In his new Percy Street salon this means a full catering service, provided by Leith's, which joined the operation for the salon's opening in June. It is offering meals ranging from smoked salmon sandwiches on wholemeal bread served with dill sauce, baby leaf and caper garnish (£4.50) to tabbouleh and roasted vegetables with olive and basil tapenade croñtons (£5.50), all presented on fine china.
"I looked at a couple of other companies for my new salon, but I liked Leith's best," says Worthington. "Its people were proactive and excited about being part of Charles Worthington."
With hairdressing yielding a higher return per square foot than catering, it is an expensive added service, and although other salons are following suit, it does seem to be a London trend. It is not uncommon in hairdressing, however, for something to begin in the capital and then spread to other areas.
"It is certainly not a profit-making exercise," says Worthington of the contract, which Leith's estimates will turn over £80,000 sales per year. "It is covering our costs and a bit more. It is about pampering our clients," he says.
Errol Douglas, whose salon is in Knightsbridge, feels the same: "It's not massively lucrative. It is an added service for our clients."
Catering at his salon is provided by PJ Catering, and Douglas says that 50% of his clients will have a sandwich, at least. But they can choose from a menu that also has soups, salads and jacket potatoes, priced £3-£6.
At the moment, only 35% of the 160 daily clients at Worthington are having food, but that is expected to grow. "It is concentrated around the early morning and lunchtime appointments. We have menus about the salon and the waiting staff are identifiable," explains Worthington. "As more clients see the food served and realise it is available, they will begin to plan eating here when they book their appointments."
With all that hair flying about, health and safety would seem a potentially big issue. Most salon caterers, however, claim that logistics is a bigger headache. Serving food in a salon is made difficult by the fact that there are rarely tables and chairs for people to eat at.
In most salons clients are served at the styling station - although food is rarely served while hair is being cut. Worthington's has a lounge area with sofas for clients to relax and eat in if they want to. Either waiting staff or the hairdresser will take the order, but it will be served by the former.
As space in salons is at a premium, the kitchens are mostly small and situated in the basement, but they are fitted out with professional equipment.
These restrictions obviously affect the sort of food offered, which is why sandwiches and other hand-held items are popular. But good presentation is also imperative in meeting the expectations of clients at such exclusive salons, as well as encouraging others to indulge. The menu must also be changed frequently, as most clients are visiting every four to six weeks. "Some come every week," adds Douglas.
"Presentation is crucial," says Mimma Cirrone, who has held the catering contract at Daniel Galvin for almost 10 years. She estimates that 80% of the salon's 200 daily clients will have food. "It must look good, be small and easy to eat and have intense flavour. Clients at a hair salon will rarely eat as much as they do at restaurants."
In all the salons, the belief in it being an added service rather than a lucrative business keeps prices low. Each meal costs about £5. Payment is usually included in the overall bill at the end of the appointment.
"With our system, the client is invoiced for everything on one bill. We record sales agreed and then invoice the salon at the end of the week," explains Durden. "It makes it simple for the client; much more customer-friendly."
Nicky Clarke, Charles Worthington and Errol Douglas are trendsetters in the hairdressing profession and other salons will be watching closely to see how successful their large, multi-service businesses develop. Perhaps lack of space and the cost of setting up a professional kitchen will deter many from offering in-house catering. But if the catering succeeds in these salons, it will be only a matter of time before the top salons in other cities start following suit. n