With a combination of superstar DJs and VIP luxury Hakkasan Group CEO Neil Moffitt has helped reinvent Las Vegas. He explain why it works - and why restaurants and clubs don’t always mix.
Despite his huge success putting on dance music festivals and big club nights in the UK and Ibiza, not even Neil Moffitt could have dreamed how lucrative the new wave of Las Vegas clubs could be.
“If you had told me in 2001 that a nightclub could make $100m, a year, I would have told you were drinking too much sake”, the Hakkasan Group chief executive said.
His scepticism is not surprising given the notorious turbulence of nightlife economics.
Still, fewer people were as well placed to capitalise on the combination of big-name DJs with spectacular VIP club experience in the world capital of entertainment, Las Vegas.
After building up his Angel Management Group in the US, it was bought by the Hakkasan Group in 2014, marking a significant shift from its humble origins as an upscale Chinese restaurant in London, 15 years ago.
But according to Moffitt, speaking at the group’s Sake no hana restaruant in St James’s, the move into clubs opened the door for group’s global expansion.
“What we did was persuade people like me that it was ok to go to nightclub”, he said. “You can have your own table, not be squashed next to some sweaty dude on the dance floor.
“That’s where London fails. If my daughter saw me in a club in the UK she would think it was weird.”
The VIP table service and controlled environment at the Hakkasan club in the MGM Grand are naturally appealing to A-list celebrities looking to get away from the masses.
And with its 7,000 capacity, the venue has harnessed the massive popularity of EDM in American youth culture, with DJs Calvin Harris and Tiësto reportedly earning hundreds of thousands of pounds an appearance.
The success has made Hakkasan Group the biggest non-gaming company in Vegas - as well the bigegst restaurant operator.
Moffitt says the situation is in stark contrast to London’s ailing night-time industry, which recently saw seminal Farringdon club Fabric shut its doors over two drug deaths.
According to Moffitt, the decline of London nightlife can be put down to a shift in behaviour with people preferring bars and restaurants to clubs, as well as licensing law extensions which made after hours clubs less necessary.
“Society has changed. Nightclubs have become less relevant”, he said.
“Even in Las Vegas, peak drinks revenue is 12-2am. In London if a club stays open until 6pm, by 3am everything is over. They’re just open.
“When people come to London it’s a poor example of what clubs are supposed to represent.”
Nor does he believe London could replicate the Vegas style clubs.
“There are few markets in the world where it works”, he said. “I’m happy to talk about how much we make, but the costs of running these places are exorbitant.”
“That type of luxury doesn’t exist in UK nightlife. In Las Vegas the club is an extension of a $4bn casino and an extension of the brand. If you want to provide quality in London, it has to be smaller and very high end.”
While the American clubs have sprung Hakkasan onto the global stage, with a raft of new openings around the world announced in recent years, he admits there are issues combining clubs with restaurants, and suggested there may need to be some separation in future.
“Restaurants and clubs are not the same”, he added. “They are from different universes, so we may look at bifurcating the businesses in the future.”