Late night venues are increasingly competing with the entertainment people can enjoy from the comfort of their sofas, so they need to offer an experience that cannot be replicated at home, according to Charlie Gilkes, co-founder, Inception Group.

With Warner Bros releasing movies straight to the small screen and people able to have restaurant quality food and DIY cocktail boxes delivered to their doorstep, venues have to provide consumers with “something you can’t put on the back of a scooter”, he told the audience at MCA’s Pub Conference.

Inception Group took an innovative approach to the reopening of its venues from 17 May; opting to embrace the remaining restrictions with tongue-in-cheek costumes worn by staff. “Rather than take away a third of the furniture for social distancing, at Mr Fogg’s we dressed a bunch of mannequins as Victorian characters […] and rather than face masks we had staff dressed as beekeepers,” explained Gilkes.

“What we didn’t want was people to turn up to a Perspex prison and it be a miserable experience. I walked into some pubs and it was a bit like going through airport security. It felt like a punishment before you even got a drink – so we tried to make it fun.”

Commenting on how trading has been since its venues were all able to fully reopen from 19 July, Gilkes said “it really does feel like normal again”. Following a trickier July in which the impact of the pingdemic forced it to close three of its sites, the group managed to take advantage of the fact lots of people were coming to London for staycations.

“In the last few weeks we have really seen the capital come back to life,” he added. “Every week it feels busier, and I think tube usage is up 40% week-on-week at the moment. Covid isn’t front and centre of people’s minds at the moment.”

Gilkes said he believed the group had also benefited from being a destination concept, and that high footfall outside its venues had always been a bonus rather than something it’s relied upon as the majority of its guests have always booked in advance.

In line with his comments about late night venues needing to be more experiential, he added that from the trend he has seen at his own venues, which open at midday – of customers going through those different trading sessions and staying on till late, rather than head to a nightclub – he feels traditional nightclub venues need to be about more than just a good sound system, and that they should also look to extend their trading hours.

“You’re not going to be able to just get by trading from 11pm-3am – you’ll need to start earlier,” he said.