Kenneth Wright said it was “swings and roundabouts” at the late-night central London venue which was operating at about two thirds capacity. He did not expect this to change in the new year, as there were fewer tourists visiting the capital than usual.
Looking to 2023, Wright anticipated customers would want value for time and value for money. He believed they wanted more than a traditional pub, and expected a sit-down experience with packaged goods, drinks or entertainment.
This was because many could not afford theatre shows, so would want pub experiences where they could spend their set budget and get “full bang for their buck”.
This could look like bottomless brunches or a drag queen act. Packaged products could include champagne on arrival or pizza and cocktails on top of entertainment.
Entertainment is key
Central London pubs needed to invest in top notch sound systems and light equipment if they wanted to put on a good show, Wright said.
In this way, he hoped consumers would stay at his site for longer rather than ‘bar hop’ to other venues.
Wright also believed soaring energy costs and rail strikes were damaging the sector. He believed hospitality could take a big hit next year if industrial action continued until Easter.
The Phoenix Arts Club had been optimised for power saving and energy use during the pandemic. However, if the energy crisis was not resolved, Wright said it may have to cease daytime trading.
While they would still serve customers coming in for a drink, staff had stopped advertising a daytime offering as it was “just not viable”.
“2023 is going to be a year of breaking even,” he added.
One of the biggest hurdles facing the sector was keeping up the enthusiasm of customers and staff, according to the joint owner.
He said: “People tend to forget that there’re a lot of staff behind the scenes in venues like ours that are not customer facing, but are working incredibly hard on social media, on marketing, or on things like building rosters.
“That enthusiasm [is key] to make a business work. It can be very jaded if it's just constantly fighting for survival.”
There had also been a change in the venue’s customer base. The site was well known as a hub for the late-night theatre community, but Wright had seen a slight drop in night-time trade.
Instead, most of the moneymaking happened from 7pm to 10.30pm, where the cabaret packaged products took place.
During the pandemic, the site developed a strong digital offering through live streams of shows. But this was going on the backburner in 2023.
Instead, venues needed to be social media ready. “From the venue to the drink, everything’s got to be ready to go online and look stunning all the time,” Wright continued. “People want to boast about having a good time because it may actually be a rarity for them.”
There had also been a dip in beer sales and entry level spirits, but an uptick in premium wine sales. Wright thought this was because a bottle of wine lasted longer than single cocktail.