Virtual spaces key to high-end venues

By Amelie Maurice-Jones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Digital revolution: Virtual spaces are here to stay (Getty/ Nikolay Evsyukov)
Digital revolution: Virtual spaces are here to stay (Getty/ Nikolay Evsyukov)

Related tags: Technology, Finance, Coronavirus, Cocktail, London

Virtual spaces are here to stay, with high end venues using them to unite customers safely, increase revenue and engage with a global audience, operators have said.

In the Pub of the Future​ report published in May, Heineken forecasted pubs would level up when it came to using digital spaces including a focus on gaming over the next decade.

The Japanese have already coined a term, on-nomi,​ to describe ‘drinking alone’ over video calls while isolating, and with 40% of consumers being interested in make-at-home cocktail kits according to Nielsen CGA data, it looks like others will follow suite.

Reflecting this is Zest Mixology, which begun hosting digital cocktail classes for companies during lockdown: staff were sent cocktail ingredients boxes individually before joining a zoom call where mixologists would teach how to assemble the drinks.

The company has five recording booths, each complete with a greenscreen and HD cameras to look like other parts of the world. Through rotating round the booths in different breakout rooms, participants learn to make different cocktails.

Christmas spirit

Managing director Murdo Macleod said: “As we come to Christmas, many organisations are deciding, ‘you know what, we're just going to go with virtual’.

“It is safer in terms of the pandemic, and it’s actually more efficient in terms of lower carbon footprints and getting people together efficiently and quickly.”

Despite sales dropping through spring and summer, Zest Mixology has seen a surge of Christmas party bookings: the company are expecting to ship 15-20,000 cocktail boxes this November and December versus 10,000 last year.

To combat ‘Zoom fatigue’, the company uses greenscreens to transport participants to the top of the Shard or Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands hotel, creating experiences that contrast the “dull” monochrome of standard Zoom meetings.

“We're all about engagement, vibrancy and interactivity. There's lots of interactivity going back and forth on chat or on polls; there's people shaking cocktails in different countries. That's how we keep it alive,” said Macleod.

This reflects Bacardi’s 2021 Cocktail Trends Report​ which predicted consumers would seek pleasure, nostalgia and escapism in drinking when Covid-19 restrictions eased.

Macleod added that unifying global teams was a strong part of the business, with staff still opting to meet virtually rather than fly to be together.

He said: “This is something that has never slowed down since lockdown and is a part of the business that is actually growing.”

High cost

Co-owner of Soho-based Phoenix Arts Club Kenneth Wright said digital spaces were vital in funding performers and involving a global audience.

During Covid, the club maintained a strong online presence, keeping upwards of 300 entertainers and performers in paid employment through livestreams.

The club now continues a free weekly Thursday night livestream that attracts around 100 to 400 viewers from as far as Australia, and also runs monthly live streams where 800-1002 viewers pay to watch a performer showcase their talent.

Wright said: “We are about two thirds full at the moment, but there's still a number of our traditional audience missing, and we need to keep in contact with them.

“There are very few tourists in London, and we still have a considerable amount of people there that are isolating.

“It's important they have the ability to join in and watch live performances from the comfort of home.”

However, volunteer at the Swan in Windsor, Berkshire Ken Sutherland pointed out that maintaining digital spaces cost money.

As a community funded pub, any money raised goes to the pub’s upkeep and rent payments, with little to spare for technology; even Zoom costs to run for more than half an hour.

Unless Covid rules changed, there would be no return of virtual bingo nights, music events or coffee mornings at the Swan. Sutherland said: “We have no money for that”.

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