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Shift to digital and immersive experiences: three top trends from the 2019 Bar & Nightclub conference

Author: Matt Swan, Promote for Pubs Account Manager, Eagle Eye Solutions Ltd

Creating immersive experiences enabled by digital engagement was the main theme that dominated discussions among industry specialists attending the 2019 Bar & Nightclub Conference recently.

Eagle Eye was excited to attend the UK’s leading event for sharing insights on the trends shaping the future of the late-night sector, hosted by the UK Hospitality trade association at the fantastic Troxy venue in London.

Clear consensus emerged around key challenges among the line-up of distinguished speakers, representing leading UK bar and nightclub operators such as Bibendum, the London Cocktail Club and Mitchells & Butlers.

Here are the three trends that topped the strategic agenda of attendees at the show:

Differentiated experiences are essential for driving footfall – regardless of age. With fierce competition among a smaller than ever number of operators and venues, attendees sought to understand which groups to target.

Examples and analysis from the likes of Karl Chessell, Food and Retail Business Unit Director for out-of-home food and drink market researcher CGA, suggested opportunities existed beyond the traditional youth market.

There was a call to target the “middle-aged” customers, who want to have a night out, which represents a shift of focus from the next generation of young drinkers coming through.

Instagram and pink represent immersive experience trends. The ability to use social networking to engage customers and stay on top of the latest trends came through loud and clear as the show’s second key trend.

Many speakers highlighted a rise in “Instagrammable” experiences that customers can share with friends via social networks as a new way to also successfully promote a bar or nightclub venue’s brand to new audiences.

Social was also both a source and driver of inspiration behind the latest craze for pink Neon signs and pink Gin drinks, which are all the rage and are seen as a must-have for venue (including Tonight Josephine and Sketch).

Although social is now an essential area of activity for enhancing the marketing effectiveness and reach in the sector, Peter Marks, CEO of the Deltic Group called out the difficulty in actually tracking its impact on sales.

Interest in digital as an enabler grows. The use of digital to enable more quick, convenient in-venue customer service is growing as part of the trend towards more differentiated, immersive experiences from the show.

The sector has embraced the operational and customer-facing benefits of faster contactless or mobile payments. Cash now only accounts for 22% of all UK sales, according to the British Retail Consortium.

But the event threw a spotlight on increasing levels of operator interest in pre-booked sales as a way of boosting footfall and sales by encouraging to visit a bar or pub while out and about instead of at home.

Many operators are doubling down on their existing digital investments with pre-booking to mitigate the fact that the UK eating and drinking out-of-home market is experiencing its slowest rate of growth in seven years