Opening a bar or late-night restaurant—is it worth it? Not if you read the newspapers. Narrative journalism may be necessary to sell more papers, but (as more people are starting to realize) it can do a lot of harm in the process.

Insurance companies have traditionally placed any start-up delving into the late-night leisure industry as “high risk”, and the general journalism narrative in recent years is that it is even riskier.

It goes a little something like this: that the days of clubbing and excessive drinking are over, and late-night leisure is in terminal decline.

But that cannot be right. For one, restaurant insurance companies are moving away from outdated notions of automatically deeming all things that happen to involve loud music and alcohol high risk.

Another major rip in the fabric of the journalism narrative is that the facts don’t support the narrative. Not even a little bit:

The late-night restaurant and bar business: a changing, not decaying, economic landscape

Contrary to all of the doom and gloom-selling headlines, the late-night entertainment business is actually flourishing, not declining. The confusion probably stems from the undeniable fact that the industry—like almost all industries—has changed massively over the past decade. Undoubtedly, this is due in part to the ubiquitous Internet, which now dominates our daily lives and oversees much of how we react to consumers.

Here are some shocking truths about the restaurant journalism narrative

•    The majority of bars and nightclubs succeed after opening and are still going strong after three years in operation (see chart, below.)

•    There has been an explosion in the number of independent bars that are opening; with almost 8,000 independent bars opening in Britain within the last decade. This is an increasing trend.

•    There is even evidence to suggest that supply is not meeting demand, which could explain the doubling in popularity of illegal raves over the last year—suggesting there are more ‘ravers’ than there are ‘places to rave in’.

•    The late-night leisure industry rakes in a whopping £70 billion for the UK economy alone.

survival rate of new pubs bars and nightclubs in the uk

What you, the entrepreneur, can do with this information

The first thing to do is to… breathe a sigh of relief! The late-night restaurant industry is not going away any time soon.

But that isn’t to say opening a bar or nightclub is an easy task. The night-time economy may be flourishing, but it has also changed massively. Anyone hoping to open a nightclub or bar with a traditional mindset may be in for troubled waters ahead.

No. If you want your nightclub or bar to succeed in 2018 and beyond, you need it to be special. Not completely original, not ‘unique’; just… special. ‘Special’ sounds like a bit of a cop-out, but hear me out:

How the internet made us all snobs

It is often said that word of mouth is one of the most powerful signals with which to build a business, and with the rise of the Internet word of mouth now spreads like wild fire.

Your bar or nightclub needs to initiate positive word of mouth to succeed. This includes what we call a motif.

A motif is a decorative appeal; it is the theme, the character, of your establishment. Most importantly, a motif is what your customers will take away; it provides the ‘memory glue’ that keeps people talking and coming back.

In other words, your motif is what makes a bar ‘special’. Think about these motifs that other establishments have used to stick in the minds of their customers:

bullet-green15   Death-row, saloon, or Western themed restaurants

bullet-green15   Periodic/Nationalist

bullet-green15   Business (i.e. ‘stock exchange’ or ‘happy hours’ when drink prices reduce)

bullet-green15   ‘Alternative’ music nights

None of those is particularly unique, but used in the right away, they can make your establishment ‘special’ and keep people talking about them.

…snobs with short attention spans

It could also be postulated that the Internet has shortened our attention spans, which may explain why bars and night clubs also induce ‘gimmicks’ to buttress the theme.

Got a Sci-Fi themed nightclub opening up? Then how about posing an alien statue right by the entrance? It will invite selfies and, huzzah! free promotion on social channels, and greater word of mouth.

Memory glue and relevancy – restaurant marketing essentials

If I hope the reader takes anything away from this article, it is this: that we live in an age of incredible consumer choice, driven relentlessly by the demands of the market. In this information superhighway age we have also become distracted and spoiled. It takes something truly special to win our attention; something memorable; something relevant to our lives.

Those who have been reading carefully will remember one incredible fact: that it is 8,000 independents opening up every year; not chains. That does not give them a safety net, but it also gives them free reign to put into practice any motif they like.


Remember, if you plan to open a late-night restaurant or bar, provide the theme and the gimmicks, and get the memory glue. And memory glue in 2018 has never been more important.

Our guest author, Neil Wright, is a copywriter for NDML Insurance Specialists. He is proud to have worked closely with many start-up and experienced nightclub and bar owners. He spends his spare time reading and hiking with his girlfriend.

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