Above the Bar – Size Really Does Matter

The phrase “Size Matters” is so true in so many ways in our business, so many venues are both blessed and cursed with this issue. Many operators around the world wish that they had more size for all types of applications, for me personally the perfect venue size is about 7000 to  8000 square feet. You might ask how does this work for you and why so little?

There is a principal I describe as “Spatial Dysphoria”   : a state of feeling unwell or unhappy in a space: An emotional state characterized by anxiety, depression, or unease due to spatial relations to others.

This can been most easily explained by giving you an example, next time your staff is all at the bar early before your open, I want you to get everyone spread out in the venue and turn the bar or club music and lights on as if you where open on a busy Saturday night, Kind of sad huh, if that was your spot on a Saturday night at midnight I would want to cry. Now want you to take the whole staff in the bathroom and crank up your I-Phone with dance music, then I want you to run the bathroom light switch like a strobe light to the music, now that’s a party! you can charge cover to get in, with 15 to 20 people crammed in a bathroom you should almost be at legal capacity. That is now the hottest club in the city and everyone will say “That bar is the Shit!”

Let’s demonstrate another way Spatial Dysphoria affects us in a social setting, get your staff in the club and gather them into one area by the actual bar, now stand on an object about one step in height from 7 to 10 inches, this will give you the feeling of superiority, so this means that the higher you get the greater that feeling should be correct? Wrong. Now step up and stand on top of the actual bar top in front of your staff,  AWKWARD! now you feel isolated and dislocated from them. This should help you define the comfortable height levels of VIP areas and Dance Boxes.
That is the start to understanding Spatial Dysphoria and the affect it has on us all in the industry, now lets look at the challenges that we have in using this phenomena as a strength and not allowing for it to be a weakness.

The first thing you need to do is identify the problem, signs to look for in your venue that you have an issue is simple. Are you able to drive and hold people into your venue early or do they come and go like a revolving door? You can track this by spending time in your venue early, now and then compare the effect of the tactics that I suggest to you.

Now that you have identified that you might have a problem, you will need to look at your venues actual layout this is critical to determining the order and staging needed in expanding your venue as the night progresses. I prefer to open my venues in stages and along with that I have some key moving parts that act as attachment points for the venue during the opening stage.

Stage 1 Preopening: During this period the slowest and most challenging time to a nightclub is the period that needs the most attention to detail. some of the key elements are to just drive traffic and events early in order to hold and establish your base clientele.

1-Attachment points: These are bar stools and hightop tables that are later moved or removed in later stages to make way for the high volume crowds. Bar stools, tables and seating in general will increase stay time of guests and provides attachment points for patrons in what would be otherwise open space. using bar stools early at the actual bars is important as they will be the first points of attachment for early customers which in turn are your base to build on. Tables and attachment points are important not only as an attachment point but to be used as a functional flow pattern creator turning an awkward narrow space into an illusion that the customers interpret as a busy bar or club. this can be done simply by placing a line of hightops and 2 to 4 bar stools down the center not the left or right of the space adding layers of customers in the center not the edges of the venue.

2- Venue Staging: This is the concept of setting the venue up in multiple areas staged to open as the venue fills up. VIP areas are great as they create the illusion of preferred or premium real-estate, that being said VIP areas need VIP’s and setting up policies in which hosts are staging tables with female parties with the understanding that the tables are comped until sold should always be explained. we are here after all to create those social interactions and there is nothing better than a table of guys buying bottles for ten girls who they just met and are trying to impress.
Venue staging can be done using any number of dividers, from curtains to velvet ropes to furniture, the goal is to fill in the areas as you go, opening the areas up just before you hit the capacity of those areas. this will make sure the venue always looks crowded to any customer entering the venue.
Having the option for multiple spaces or rooms makes staging that much more dynamic as this allows you to have multiple music formats which in turn is like having two of three clubs in one. I personally like to open my first area with a top 40 format that appeals to the masses then open the other areas with a more specific music format giving the customers choices and in turn using this as an attachment point holding the customer longer in the venue.

Stage 2- The build up; In this phase the customers are entering and the bar is beginning to open up in areas in stages, now this is the time to begin to have security and staff pulling the bar stools and positioning tables and furniture to maximize flow patterns, floor space and sales outlets of the venue. For example, I pull all of the bar stools from the actual bars as these now have become a liability for me and inhibit sales as you need the customers to continually rotate at the bar for high volume sell thru.
The bar stools at the hightops used to create flow patterns and customer layering are now also removed to create flow as the tables continue to provide attachment points keeping the illusion in tack and never opening this space up to an open free flow space.

Stage 3- Packed; the venue depending on the night will now be at or above capacity and the staging areas should be opened to match the volume of customers, this is needed to allow for the venue to operate at the safest high volume capacity possible and it is up to you and your staff to maximize the sales during this stage.

Some secrets that I use are staging hightops, bar stools and attachment points at or close to the entry of the venue to maximize the illusion to the newly arriving customer that the venue is busy, I call this “Front Loading” the venue. If my customers are all spread out on the sides or in the back of the venue, then the venue appears slow to newly arriving customers.

Next I fill my venues with layers both front to back and up and down, this layering is important to the breaks up sight lines forcing the customers to enter deeper into the venue increasing the over all commitment of the customer. Layering up and down is demonstrated best by VIP rooms, stages, dance boxes, raised DJ booths, hightop tables and furniture. This allows for the customer to maximize his or her opportunities to socially interact with other customers, while having a sense of spatial segregation that in the female customer creates a feeling of privacy or a safe zone in which they can have a good time without unwanted social pressures from male customers.

Remember every venue is different so get the most out of your venue by using the psychology of the consumer to your advantage and turn what you think is the weakness of your venue, into your biggest strength. Size does matter and space is your friend, you can do the huge numbers in one night that smaller venues cannot achieve in a one week.

Chris Lenahan