Nightlife During Covid? 🍻🤔

Hi, Dan here. Welcome to the 3rd edition of my newsletter. 👋

I got a bit depressed doing research for this post. It’s an industry close to my heart. 💔

Yet I see hope. 🕊️

A Sorry State 😔

Nightlife has been decimated by Covid. Any way you look at it, things look pretty bleak.

Many cities are still in lockdown. When restrictions do ease, pubs, clubs and music venues will be some of the last places to reopen. Rightly so. But when they finally get the green light, many won’t able to, because they’ll have gone out of business.

Those that can aren’t out of the woods either. As London night czar Amy Lamé points out: "Overwhelmingly, bars, pubs and clubs rely on the last 20% of people walking through their door before they make a profit, so it's really important they're operating at the fullest capacity possible."

Social distancing makes that bloody hard. Almost impossible.

In cities where they have reopened, bars are now being blamed for outbreaks, forcing new closures and tighter restrictions.

How can we balance nightlife with public health? And will it ever recover?

A Human Need 🧬

Despite all this, I’m optimistic in the mid-term, and bullish on the long-term future of nightlife.

Why? Because we need it.

When people in the UK were asked what they were most looking forward to post-lockdown, only seeing family ranked higher than a night out.

Nightlife is timeless.

In one of the last CEO Q&A’s I attended at Airbnb, Brian Chesky said Warren Buffet's advice to him was to bet on things that are ‘timeless’ (like travel).

Well, there aren't many things more timeless than socializing at night. People have been doing that since the dawn of time. Nighttime is THE setting to fulfil our need for human connection.

As well as being important for building connection and community, nightlife is essential for a city’s culture and vibrancy. Further, the nighttime economy:

What Now? 🤔

If you’re still in lockdown, this is perhaps a preview of what’s to come, when nightlife does start to open up where you are.

I’m lucky enough to live in a city (Amsterdam) where Covid has been managed well, and they’ve recently eased restrictions. It’s not completely over, as Health minister Hugo de Jonge put it: "We can be done with the virus but the virus is not done with us" (so Dutch! 😄).

But it feels back to normal in a lot of ways, including many bars being back open (woohoo!).

There’s social distancing measures in place, hand sanitizer and plexiglass shields on tables to keep groups apart. You often need to make a reservation with your name and number (so they can track you later if needed).

Some wait-staff are, but most patrons aren’t wearing masks, just social distancing (and so far there’s no major outbreaks, touch wood!).

The weather has been pretty good, so nightlife is confined largely to sitting outside at outdoor terrace bars. Which is not bad at all! It’s obviously much safer. Plus there’s always table service for drinks now (sometimes ordering through an app or QR code).

The number of people allowed in indoor spaces just increased from 30 to 100 (provided guests have their own seats). For outdoor venues, the seated limit is now 250. Pretty high.

There’s 5 or 6 people allowed per table. You can’t really walk around and meet new people like before. So it’s more about conversation and connection with the people you’re out with. Which is really nice!

I’ve also noticed people telling stories more and being more vulnerable - more openly sharing their (Covid) challenges.

Places close earlier, but that’s also not a bad thing IMO - you can go home at a reasonable hour, and avoid those last drinks that invariably cause the hangover!

What About Clubs? 🕺🏻

It seems unlikely that clubbing will be able to return to ‘normal’ for a while (aka heaving, hot and sweaty). Probably not until there’s a vaccine really. South Korea's club reopenings were linked to a spike of infections, resulting in a new nightlife shutdown.

However, some are experimenting with social-distanced clubbing. I’m not convinced…

More broadly, various groups are working on strategies to reopen and reactivate nightlife safely around the world:

  • VibeLab launched a Call for Best Practices inviting night mayors, night-time advocates and other “nightologists” (should I add that to my LinkedIn? 🤔) to share ideas for a global recovery plan. I’ve signed up.

Drinking Helmets? ⛑

Brands are trying to come up with innovative solutions too. Suntory, the Japanese maker of Jim Beam and other spirit brands, wants people to swap face masks for ‘drinking helmets’.

CEO Takeshi Niinami gave top managers a mission: design headgear that will keep drinkers safe, while recapturing the experience of a fun night out. So… ‘drinking helmets’?

The company hasn’t released any photos of the proposed helmets yet (bummer!).

Photo BBC, EPA

What’s Next? 💡

I’m going to expand on this in another post, sharing my ideas and vision for nightlife during and post-pandemic. Briefly, here are some trends I think are coming:

  • Hyperlocal Nightlife: was becoming a trend before Covid, and now people working from home will want spend more time discovering their local areas

  • Open Air: more venues operating as outdoor / open-air. Taking back to our caveman roots - sitting outside, under the stars, telling stories, perhaps around an open fire (later maybe dancing or watching musical performances too)

  • 24-hour Venues: expanded hours can help venues achieve social distancing, while also allowing their businesses to bring in more revenue

  • Nightly Events: many venues will treat each night as an event, with a DJ, band or other performance and an admission fee, in order to make it profitable.

  • More Diverse Events, Experiences & Locations: e.g. an intimate pop-up live music event in a building not usually used at night. This could be an important way of attracting locals and domestic travellers, in the absence of international travellers.

  • Nights In (Online): right before I finished at Airbnb, I helped onboard a number of ‘Night In’ Experiences (one of which became the global face of Online Experiences during Pride Month). Basically social gatherings, often over drinks, but online. I’m not sure of the longevity of these after things fully go back to normal. But who knows how long that will be? They are surprisingly good and really foster connection: LGBTQ Culture & Nightlife, Puerto Rican Salsa Dance Party, Global LGBTQ Bar Hop Across Four Cities.

Who knows? Nightlife may eventually end up being better and more interesting.

Stay well and I hope to see you on a night out soon!

Dan 🤘