Competitive socialising: Raising the bar

The restaurant, pub and bar industry is one that most of us consumers will take a passive interest in or a borderline professional interest in many cases.

This multilateral interest creates a highly competitive, diverse industry that constantly evolves with the changing consumer demands from almost every demographic profile.

The last few years have witnessed numerous ‘doom and gloom’ situations which have revolved around the struggles of homogenous propositions as they attempt (or fail) to adapt their offerings to remain fresh in a market where customers are increasing their spending whilst at the same time becoming more discerning as to where they do spend.

One trend that is shining a beacon of light throughout the industry with new concepts and ideas is that of competitive socialising. This trend is reaching a climax five to ten years after the first enterprising bars in London began offering customers the choice to play ping pong or crazy golf whilst having a drink and catching up with friends.

These bars are capitalising upon several underlying market shifts, mainly the need for millennials to social EVERYTHING (84% of bar users social some aspect of their night out), which drives the need to seek out original content, but also the general increasing proportion of disposable income that is being allocated by customers on experiences over possessions.

There are now about ten to fifteen quality operators that have expanded a competitive socialising concept to two or more sites, championing anything from axe throwing and baseball cages to old school arcade games and adult ball pits.

Having recently returned from speaking about investor sentiment in the industry at the UK Hospitality Bar & Nightclub Conference in London, it is clear that these concepts are incredibly popular in the market, and ergo, incredibly popular with investors.

Investors can see that customers are demanding more than what the traditional wet-led venues are offering and are especially attracted to the increased margins generated by an additional revenue stream provided by a chargeable activity.

This interest has been demonstrated by several significant investments over the year, including Cain International’s £28m majority investment in the crazy golf brand Swingers, Promethean’s £30m investment into the tech-enabled golf brand Puttshack and industry darling Flight Club’s £15m investment received in late 2018.

I’ve made sure that my name is first on the guestlist for the opening of adult ball pit specialist Ballie Ballerson in Manchester, having recently launched a second site in London following investment from Imbiba.

Some would argue that this increased investor focus has only become apparent since the spate of wet-led bar investments that occurred between 2016-2018 took a number of prominent brands off the market but my conversations recently have overwhelmingly indicated that these concepts are here to stay and that investors are chomping at the bit to secure the next, hopefully outrageous, concept to propel.

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