Are Online Nightlife Deals a Help or Hindrance?September 1, 2011 By: Sean Evans
Nightlife has always been about a handshake and a smile. It’s a personable business, predicated upon knowing your clientele and understanding their wants and needs — particularly for the bigger ballers and whales that walk through your doors on a [hopefully] consistent basis. Nightclubs have always been slow to jump on the digital bandwagon, largely because they’ve never had to rely on the Internet for their success.
Which is why the recent influx of nightlife deal/booking Websites has me a little intrigued. Sites like NiteTables.com, ClubHost.com, VIP-Bottles.com and more are springing up in various top and second-tier markets faster than you can blink, each affording the ability to buy one’s way into a room and many offering a discount for VIP admissions, bottle service and more. They allow guests to check out the venue, see the requirements for admission (whether monetary, group gender breakdown or something else) and book everything right on the spot.
But with these sites, gone is nightlife's personal touch. Back in the days of the monster clubs in New York, promoters and party throwers would gather rooms of interns and assistants and personally telephone vast indexes of numbers, singularly dealing with each prospective client and guest. Relationships grew from here and it wasn’t long before promoters had armies of partiers at their disposal; folks just needed a quick call or message about where to head on what particular night.
Now all you need is an Internet connection to reach hundreds, thousands or millions of people with a single blanket message or offer. This obviously is music to an operators ears, but it’s left me wondering a few things. For example, if you’re doing quite well already in a city or market, why would you need to rely on a Website to help garner additional guests? That’s why you pay promoters or a VIP host; it’s their job to rope in new business. For these types of places and venues, ones which are in the throes of hotness and at the apex of demand, aligning with a nightlife Website to secure additional patrons wouldn’t be a prudent decision.
It would be more like a double-edged sword: The normal clients you’ve cultivated over the years would be situated between the people who previously could not get in. You’d make a little more money at first, but the arrival of the masses to a place the trendsetters consider home would alienate the core consumer to whom you once catered. The desirable clients slowly would taper off as they search for the next hottest spot.
What will the clients paying full price for their bottles think when they realize the party sitting next to them got a two-for-one deal? How can you vouch for the attractiveness and energy level of an incoming party if all you’re going on are some Facebook pictures the sites are supplying you with? How do you combat the fact that, considering nightlife is rooted in exclusivity, it just seems like denigration of your brand by partnering with sites conceived around the idea of opening up nightlife to the masses?
Not all sites are discount- or deal-based, and the founders of each have some answers to those questions. “Time will tell for the top-tier venues,” says Adam Alson, founder of NiteTables.com, which allows participating venues to select if they’re going to offer special rates. “Eventually, these places will start using some sort of technology, whatever that may be, but something that makes their reservation process more efficient will ultimately make them more money.” This is true, but only after the law of diminishing returns has lowered a venue's cachet significantly and its in the second phase of its lifespan, in which the door is more lax and open to a wider variety of clientele.
Reef Mowers, president of ClubHost.com — which runs discounts frequently — admits the site is missing the top venue of home-base San Diego. The club, Fluxx, opted not to join because “it views itself as self-sustaining and doesn’t need the outside help.” Mowers contends that establishments that participate do so because they’re still looking to grow their base. He posits sites like his are added tools in a venue’s arsenal to help bring in new leads, ones who can be vetted with some Facebook snooping and basic questions. This is also true, but if you’re only dealing with second and third-tier venues, you’re admittedly foregoing substantial revenue from the top clubs in that area.
It’s such a nascent concept that it’s hard to determine how nightlife reservations on the Internet will fare. It’s apparent that there are some hurdles in the future of these sites, but Mowers’ optimistic outlook seems to sum it up best: “That’s all right. We don’t need every venue in existence. Our customers are happy to go to any place that’s fun.”