Summer is often referred to festival season. One of the biggest and baddest of the summer festivals is EDC Las Vegas, also known as the Electric Daisy Carnival. Roughly 400,000 festivalgoers descended on Las Vegas this summer for the three-day party experience executed by Pasquale Rotella’s Insomniac Events.
Being a self-contained, thousand-acre-plus environment, some operators fail to see how EDC benefits their businesses. In fact, a large percentage of bar, nightclub and restaurant owners and operators across the United States shrug their shoulders when a festival comes to town. What operators should understand is that some festivals use a day or two or even an entire week to build up to the kickoff of their events. Your venue can partner with some of these event companies and participate in their events, benefitting from the influx of tourists.
But there’s another way that you can benefit from EDC Las Vegas and other festivals. Think about it: the event companies that put on festivals create immersive themed and branded environments that communicate core values, provide plenty of encouragement for social media shares, and seek to keep their attendees entertained, energized, and coming back for more. You should be doing the same, only you have to do it every time your doors are open. Here are 7 operations lessons I recognized at EDC Las Vegas this summer.
It doesn’t matter if you operate a dive bar or a multi-million-dollar, high-end nightclub: the four walls of your venue need to immerse your guests in your concept. Whether you believe you’re in the business of providing an experience, triggering emotions or creating reactions, the key is immersion. When I was on the ground at EDC Las Vegas, it was crystal clear where I was and what I should expect, and it wasn’t just because I was at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and there were hundreds of thousands of people in attendance.
Insomniac goes out of their way to create an environment specific to their brand and the experience they want to deliver to their guests. They have transforming a 1,200-acre complex into an electronic music nirvana down to a science. They’ve even created their own alphabet called the Owlphabet, and festivalgoers in the know can decipher some interesting messages with it if they look in the right places.
With an understanding of interior design, use of space, concept communication, or the help of a designer, you can pull off something scaled down but no less effective. You don’t have to do anything over the top to create an immersive experience, either (unless that’s true to your brand). Embracing the art of minimalism can be just as powerful as a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall design. The key is ensuring your four walls communicate in a manner that’s consistent with your brand and concept.
“All are welcome here.” “Love wins.” The former is an EDC brand message and the latter is a message from Smirnoff, which had a pop-up bar at EDC Las Vegas. Both messages were prominently displayed throughout the EDC environment.
By now you should either already know your core values or, after reading this article, be working on identifying them. You need to communicate your brand’s beliefs and values to your employees, guests and community within your walls, not just on social media.
Is a sense of humor near and dear to your brand? Is your brand within the community? How does your brand feel about sustainability? Let your guests know. Even if it’s something as simple as a message painted somewhere visible to your guests, use your space to make your brand values clear.
Your brand’s logo, font, colors and mascot (if you have one) need to play a role in your venue’s design. Insomniac’s symbol is the Night Owl (insomniac, up all night, owl – get it?), and festivalgoers see it all over the place. The symbol is the namesake of the brand's audio service Night Owl Radio. EDC uses a typeset “edc” that is recognizable instantly, along with owls. Remember the Owlphabet mentioned in the Immersion section of this article? More branding.
Now, you don’t have to develop your own alphabet, although that would be massively impressive. But you do have to use your brand’s logo and colors throughout your venue to make the space yours. From the menus to your employee uniforms (even if those only consist of a shirt or hat) to your glassware and signage, your guests should be inundated both overtly and subtly with your brand’s identifiers.
When executing promotions make sure to decorate your venue, book DJs or other performers, and feature spirit, wine or beer brands, that match the theme of the event. Provide your employees with outfits that tie into the promotion’s theme. Remember, your brand is hosting these events; realize the theme fully. One of Insomniac’s other big festivals, Tomorrowland, announces a theme each year. The 2017 theme was Amicorum Spectaculum, which when translated from the Latin communicates that this event was all about friends gathering for an extravaganza. Announcements for Tomorrowland featured imagery that recalled old timey circuses and festivals, pulling the theme’s threads tighter.
A fantastic example of branding and design is the winner of the 2017 Nightclub & Bar Dance Club of the Year Award, Love+Propaganda. An interest in and love for high art is important to Love+Propaganda. Bright pink but tasteful and impactful neon with messages like “all art is propaganda” and “never explain anything” are key design elements, and people love sharing them on social media. The signs have even earned their own hashtags. Your branding should be so great that it’s shared and hashtagged.
Another great example of branding is Nightclub & Bar’s 2017 Cocktail Bar of the Year winner Trick Dog in San Francisco. Trick Dog updates their cocktail menu twice each year. These bi-annual updates are such an incredible branding exercise that the revelation of the new menu and its theme are big industry news. Their current theme is “What Rhymes with Trick Dog?” and the menu is designed to look like a children’s book. This hilarious video shares details about their latest menu and also serves as more engaging branding.
Obviously, EDC is first and foremost a music festival. Maybe your business is a major live music venue, maybe it’s a neighborhood bar that features local bands a number of times each week. Maybe your bar doesn’t utilize live music at all. But even if the latter is the case, you should know and respect how large a role music plays in your operation. How many bars have you been to that played zero music? Let me rephrase: How many successful, fun bars that delivered a fun experience have you been to that played n music?
The role music plays in your business cannot be overstated. Music influences each daypart differently, from the mood of your guests and the atmosphere inside your venue to the frequency of drink and food orders. The types of music play, the beats per minute (BPM), and the volume can either drive people to the bar to place more orders or out of your doors to give their money to your competitors. Loyal listeners to Chef Brian Duffy’s Duffifed Live podcast know that the chef is acutely aware of what’s playing through the speakers at operations he visits, consults or operates.
Another thing you can learn from a festival like EDC Las Vegas is that the music you choose to play should match your brand. It isn’t wise to catch your guests off guard with your music choices. Every stage at EDC is a thematic environment that communicates the genre of music festivalgoers can expect to hear. Music should match your promotions, your theme, your design, everything. That doesn’t mean you can’t deviate at all, but if you’re operating a country music bar and want to offer heavy metal programming, do it through a promotion that makes your intention clear.
In a perfect world your staff is so engaging that their mere presence and snippets of casual conversation will keep your guests entertained endlessly. Your music and theme and the crowd you attract, also in an ideal situation, will hold your guests’ attention and keep them at your bar, ordering drinks and food with no plan of leaving before last call. Well, we live in an imperfect world and we serve people who carry distractions around in their pockets or purses; phones can snap even the most engaged guest out of the reality the reality you’ve built.
EDC is aware that the longer someone stays on their festival grounds, the greater the odds they’ll experience stimulation overload or otherwise feel the need to experience something else. Entertainment is a large part of the EDC experience, and I’m not just talking about the impressive DJ lineups and incredible stage programming. 2017 EDC Las Vegas festivalgoers who wanted a break from the stage performances or chill out areas were able to ride a Ferris wheel, take part in bumper cars, get whipped around on a variety of a spinning rides like Vertigo, Black Widow, The Sizzler, Zipper, Yoyo, Musik Fest and Freak Out, or rise above the festival grounds then plummet back to Earth on the Super Shot.
You can keep your guests engaged and energized by providing them with entertainment options. All types of bars and restaurants, in particular sports bars, neighborhood bars and casual restaurants, do well with Buzztime games. Bartop video game systems offer a slew of games for your guests to play. You can also utilize traditional video games (cabinets and tabletops), pinball, and air hockey tables. The classics – darts, pool, billiards, cornhole and shuffleboard – are always entertaining and 2017 Nightclub & Bar Show exhibitor PowerPong has taken beer pong high tech with their innovative, irresistible tables. A number of EDC Las Vegas stages featured VIP areas that offered guests giant Jenga, giant beer pong, and even giant chess, and you can offer these games as well. Card games and board games can keep guests at your bar for several hours, increasing the potential for more sales.
Whether you’re looking for a restroom, a place to refill your water bottle, a specific area within the festival, a bite to eat or a drink, EDC makes it very clear where you need to go. This may seem strange but a number of your guests don’t want to ask for directions for the bathroom or which of your employees can take a food order. Since a frustrated guest isn’t typically a repeat guest, make certain amenities easy to find with clear signage. It doesn’t have to be boring and match your venue’s theme. Those looking for water at EDC have only to look for signage that looks like water drops, for example. The design is simple, matches EDC’s branding, and is instantly recognizable and understandable. Several bars identify their restrooms creatively and, often times, amusingly. You can – and should – do the same.
One of the benefits of living in the technology era is the advent of the ride-hailing app. This has proven to be a boon for bar, nightclub and restaurant operators. Not only does this mean tech-savvy guests can always find a ride to your bar, ride-hailing helps operators keep their guests, roadways and communities safe. Just like EDC Las Vegas and other Insomniac events, you can partner with and encourage your guests to use Lyft and Uber. Should you have the space, you can even designate Lyft/Uber pick-up and drop-off areas to make things easier for your guests. Guest and community safety should always be among your core values, and encouraging – possibly even rewarding – guests to use ride-sharing apps ties into your messaging.
Overall, remember that festivals are part of our hospitality business family. These big event companies can learn from us and we can learn from them. Festivals draw thousands of tourists and their dollars to cities and towns where we operate, and with a little creative business thinking we can benefit from their presence and the excitement they generate. In fact, Insomniac will be making a big announcement about EDC on Wednesday, September 6, so keep your eyes peeled.