As trading across the sector gets more variable and gains more marginal, providing an experience above that found at home, where restaurant standard food can be delivered to from an ever-increasing variety of operations, has grown in significance, and competitive socializing means more than a game of dominoes and a local quiz. Living in a culture in which people are constantly afraid of missing out, consumers are demanding experiences that deviate from the mainstream. Can the sector evolve to meet this demand for more experiential events and in the process underpin a renaissance in the UK’s late-night sector?
A recent Frost & Sullivan study showed that by 2020, customer experience is projected to overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator. The report found that companies globally lose over $300bn every year due to poor customer experience, with more than two-thirds of this being spent with competitors. The survey stated: “Poor customer experience results in customer churn and also negatively impacts a brand’s reputation.” Quite.
At the same time as the report came out, Inc magazine in the US produced its annual ranking of fastest-growing private companies in the country. Entering the top ten this year at number 2 was a Massachusetts startup called Paint Nite, a company that hosts group painting events at local bars. Launched in Boston in 2012 it is now a $55m business, who partner 1,100 “creative entrepreneurs” (local artists) who host painting events at local bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Both the above points highlight the growing market and need for operators to take their proposition above the norm. Soho House and Drake & Morgan have been fine exponents of this trend. The former providing a variety of different experiences under one roof through its growing House estate, the latter leading the way with butchery classes and flower demonstration.
Concepts like Bounce, Flight Club and Swingers have come up at this from the other side, a sports-based concept with F&B tagged on, although the latter has expertly teamed up with street food and fledgling operators to place its food and drink offer on a higher level. As an aside I understand that the team behind Swingers is currently exploring locations in London for a further sports-themed format.
Over the coming months, further operators will be looking to tap into this market. Due to open at Nova towards the end of the year, the 11,000 sq ft Greenwood from the ETM Group will be split over two floors and alongside a restaurant and bar, include a brow and lashes bar and barbershop as well as an 80-cover outdoor seating area. Upstairs will be a bar with five screens, two of which will be mega screens, showing all competitive domestic and international sport throughout the day and night, plus an American 8 Ball pool table and ping pong table.
At the same time, Pizza Pilgrims’ next open in West India Quay, is set to take the fun element of Swingers and run with it further. The company wants to turn the 5,500sq ft space into a “pizza playground”. With space for 250 covers, the intention is to create a 150-cover pizzeria and use the remainder of the space for entertainment, with the inclusion of the UK’s longest fussball table and an area with sofas where customers can sit and play computer games. They even intend to install a bocci ball court, where customers can try they hand at the Italian version of the game boules.
A further example recently opened in King’s Cross. Spiritland, is the music-led concept from the founders of Canteen, built around an “exceptional sound system and original, in-depth musical programming”. In essence, a permanent restaurant, bar and members club “with music at its heart”.
Arguably, operations like London Union and KERB are already tapping into the need for shared food and drink experiences, providing a sense of community or even a “communal high” that has been lost as the nightclub sector has shrunk and evolved. It is hoped that the introduction of the 24-hour tube in London will allow further concepts to flourish, councils permitting.
Earlier this year AMC, the Chinese-owned firm, bought Odeon cinemas this for £921m, pledging to spend on “guest experience strategies”. It said: “We know that many guests want to enjoy a full night out when visiting our cinemas, often with a trip to a decent local bar and restaurant as part of the experience.” It hopes the tactic of investing a more refined experience boosts the average spend per customer and places the emphasis on encouraging a smaller number of people to splash out on a luxury night out rather than on the number of heads.
Less frequency but greater spend per visit, we’ve heard that somewhere before, but have you got the experience to act on it?