What will be Left of the Nightlife Scene?
Social distancing is a real pain in the ass.
This truth is especially close to home for someone like me who’s had to immerse herself in the dining & nightlife scene for a living (I worked in the beer industry). In the on-premise scene — places or outlets where food & drinks are purchased and are intended to be consumed on-site, such as bars and restaurants — everything hinges on socialization. Connection & togetherness are the be-all-and-end-all. The way to make your mark in the nightlife is to add value to that social component by providing unique and exciting experiences.
But now, the whole experience of physical social contact comes with a cost. People are afraid of the risks, and might be for a long time. So if there’s no room for excitement, then what takes its place?
This story isn’t meant to give definitive or exhaustive answers to that question. We know this much about consumer priorities in these trying times: Stock up on essentials. Increase your financial safety net. Practice hygiene. And stay away from other people.
How this will play out in the long-run in public social settings might be the least of our concerns right now, but I know it’s at the back of everyone’s minds: What will this “new normal” be like?
So just to poke fun at the uncertainty of it all, here is my fearless forecast on what might happen to the nightlife & dining scene post-quarantine from both the customer & consumer lens.
Beer gardens, buffets, night-clubs, speakeasies, casinos
Unfortunately, the future is not bright specifically for these types of establishments.
In the old normal, what drove consumers to these places is the very nature of the experience that they offer — the hype & energy in a large, crowded dance floor, the intimate space by the bar that allows people to mingle & flirt with each other whilst ordering another round of old-fashioned cocktails, the ease and speed of gliding through ledges & cuisines of all-you-can-eat food, the brotherhood of sharing huge bar chow plates & beer buckets, and the air of luck pervading a casino alive with poker tables & slot machines.
But in the new normal, God forbid I bump into a possibly-infected stranger on the dance floor. Or be forced to sit in ungodly proximity by the bar in a cramped up speakeasy. Or use the same serving utensil as 200 other people in a buffet. Or drink from the same beer tower or soda pitcher as everybody else on the table. Or touch the insanitary lever of a slot machine.
Long table reservations
No, you may not get a table for 12. Not even 10 or 8 or 6. For 4 people? Okay, but you gotta follow the hard rule of one-seat apart.
So long to those big group reunions & gatherings — Those reservations that stretched up to four tables at a time. It probably took no less than an hour for the whole table to be completed, another two hours for the whole group to finish eating, and another hour of socializing & paying the bill. For four tables to be utilized by the same group of people for four long hours is definitely not a luxury we can afford to have now.
As for bars that insist on reopening, guest list is key. Strictly no walk-ins. Oh, and waiting time is probably two to four weeks. Plan accordingly.
Your friend who lives in a COVID hotspot
“Can I see some ID?”
No, it’s not to check if you’re a minor. But if your address shows that you came from that part of the town that’s still high on the COVID list, sorry, but you’re going to have to pack your bags and head home.
“For sharing” serving size
Your family’s favorite baby back ribs platter can now be enjoyed in solo meals! Only in solo meals, actually. That bucket of Hickory BBQ buffalo wings you used to savor and eat to the bones with the whole gang? Now available in solo plates, too.
To each, his own, guys. I’d love to share, but I’d rather not.
If it makes you stay, then it’s gotta go.
Other features or perks that may invite people to stick around in the establishment longer than necessary will be highly discouraged.
New consumer trends
House parties are going to play a vital role in this new normal. Since physical distancing is still of the essence, the parties will be limited to small gatherings. So I wouldn’t take it personal if I wasn’t invited to the next house drinking session. Spots are limited. They were just being practical.
On second thought… I thought we were friends?! (Prepare yourself for the litmus test of friendship you never asked for)
Silent discos — What was once a gimm niche gimmick is now the most acceptable form of clubbing in this new normal. You get to keep the great music, the alcohol, and most importantly, the party vibe. Organizers can either make use of disposable wireless headphones or sell high-grade versions to consumers for future headphone raves. Who knows? Maybe the next AirPods Pro will be specifically designed to be compatible with DJ equipment & sound systems.
This is the future of dj events & musical festivals. So grab your friends and your gear, and cheers (from feet six feet away)!
Chic masks are starting to pop up online and it’s only a matter of time until it becomes the latest addition to your OOTD. If you can’t leave the house without them, might as well rock them, right?
Now where can I get those zebra printed ones? #MaskGameStrong #EverydayMasquerade #PhantomOfTheOperaisShaking
Drive-thru/walk-thru & Happy Meals
You know how when we were little kids we used to get so excited about those McDonald’s Happy Meals that come in red boxes because we knew they came with a superhero figurine or some other cool toy?
Well, that kind of marketing might prove valuable again to dining establishments. Stores will focus more on increasing their capacity to serve orders via “walk-thru” or e-commerce. Some places might still open up for regular on-premise dining, but why do that when pick-up is much more convenient and you get a freebie on top?
It’s the same concept as when stores reward consumers for consumption. But this time, not only will consumers be attracted to purchase from the store, but will also be incentivized to do so in ways that promote physical distancing.
The ubiquity of alcohol
Alcohol is our holy water. Establishment owners must deploy everywhere in the outlet as if it were point-of-sale merchandise. Put an alcohol stand by the entrance. Swap that table tent card for a dispenser. Incorporate an alcohol holder into the tissue holder. Make it your centerpiece. Station another bottle by the counter. Waiters & bartenders are going to carry alcohol spray bottles in their pockets and aprons as if they were bottle openers.
Waitstaff & Bouncers in PPEs
On top of alcohol sprays, complete waitstaff uniform now includes a mask and gloves — For strict compliance. Face shields will be highly encouraged for maximum protection.
Feel free to share your thoughts with me!
How will the hospitality industry work around this shift in consumer behavior? Is there a business model that might solve the rift between the desire for connectedness and the forces of social distancing?
Crazy times call for crazy measures. But you know what they say: Necessity is the mother of invention.