Experiential hospitality has never been more important for consumers, currently deprived as they are of large-scale events, Inception Group co-founder Charlie Gilkes has said.

Speaking as part of MCA’s The Conversation panel, Gilkes said that the continued ban on mass live music events and ever-growing list of international travel restrictions has left consumers “very experience-starved,” and therefore open to a smaller-scale alternative.

“People are dying for an experience,” he said. “The consumer at the moment can’t really travel, and there’s no festivals or concerts to go to, so they are very experienced-starved, and very hungry for them.”

And for the Mr Fogg’s and Bunga Bunga operator – well versed in the alternative and experiential – this pent-up demand has served as a “big opportunity.”

“Because experience isn’t just delivered through live entertainment, it could be in our new escape room experience at Cahoots or through our gin making experience at Mrs Foggs, which is very theatrical,” he said. “There are all sorts of experiences we can offer which don’t involve live entertainment.”

In its Bunga Bunga sites, which are set to relaunch with a socially distanced show in October, Gilkes said the business intends to replace their original karaoke offer with a coronavirus-safe ‘kara-soaky’ event.

“We’ve got three shower cubicles where people sing into the shower head, which are sanitised in between use,” he explained. “So that’s a covid-safe way to be able to deliver the concept.”

Perhaps surprisingly given its primarily London-centric location and late-night offer, Gilkes added that since reopening, it is not lack of demand but the government restrictions that have had the most detrimental impact on revenue.

“For us as a company demand is not an issue,” he said. “It’s the restrictions being placed on us in terms of capacity that are the big problem.

“You can’t have people standing at the bar, which is a big restriction, and because of the one metre plus between each table suddenly a table of four which can be very quickly become a couple of twos, can’t happen.”

However, his biggest concern for the business is not in the guidelines it is already trying to manage, but the suggestion of what could be to come.

Following its implementation in Belgium back in July, Gilkes said his primary concerns at present are “about rumours of a 10pm curfew.”

Citing the legislation introduced on Monday (14 September), he explained that the new measures will give the government the ability to bring in a national curfew, although it would likely be initially applied at a local level.

Despite Belgium supposedly preventing a second wave as a result of its stricter measures, Gilkes dismissed the idea, not just for the damage it could do to the industry but also on the basis of its logic.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea because if you are operating within the guidelines, which it’s important to ensure people do, then there’s no reason for the virus to be any more dangerous after 10pm,” he said. “I think it would just force more people out earlier.”

Rare Restaurants CEO Martin Williams echoed Gilkes’ concerns, adding that “alarmist” government messaging and restrictions such as curfews, local or otherwise, would do inevitable harm to the sector.

“We’re a liberal nation, we’re a common-sense nation of people who aren’t used to be penned in,” he said. “But ultimately, as soon as you start talking about curfews, as soon as you start limiting people and re-closing down places, I think it’s very alarmist and unfortunately will have negative connotations not just for those specific cities but for the industry overall.”