Over the last couple of years, the ‘experience bar’ has moved to dominate the London On-Trade. What started as social darts and after-work ping pong, quickly progressed to immersive cinema experiences, tipsy escape rooms and even axe-throwing. The landscape of ‘going out for a drink’ changed dramatically, and the ‘drink’ was no longer the focal point of a social gathering – especially for Gen Z. Suddenly, more so than ever, ‘going out for a drink’ had become ‘all about the experience.’
With the way social media and technology has progressed, the shift towards a more experiential on-trade is hardly surprising. Social media has reduced the attention span of consumers almost down to that of a goldfish. Things have to be instantly captivating, fun or different to be worth spending time on in today’s busy existence. Beyond attention there is also the question of money. People just aren’t going to spend money on something they don’t think is worth it, so if that round of beers also includes a round of mini golf for you and a few mates? Then great.
I wonder, however, how the global Covid-19 crisis will affect this sector of the on-trade – and I’m not just talking about the economic impact, that much is obvious. Sure, the social media-appeal of these bars has not gone away, they’re still going to look great on the Instagram feed, and consumers are going to be thirstier than ever for experiences when this is all over. But the nature of those experiences? That’s where the biggest change will be.
At the time of writing, around 20% of the world’s population is currently under lockdown. For many people, real-world experiences have been restricted to a once daily walk or run around the park, and grocery shopping has quickly become the social highlight of the week. Everything has had to go online, with happy hours, pub quizzes and meetings taking place over video chat. Social interaction as we know it does not feature in today’s new normal.
When this is all over and things slowly start going back to normal, my hopeful expectation is that people will have more appreciation for things they may have taken for granted before Covid-19 took over. Being able to go out for more than just the food shop, being allowed back into gyms and group exercise classes and, yes, being able to pop down to the local for a catch up with friends over a drink.
After doing the right thing and staying at home, going out again is going to feel like a novelty in itself, and I’m not sure ‘going out for a drink’ is going to need to come with all the bells and whistles anymore. Playing darts, mini golf or even throwing axes at a wall will still be enjoyable, but I’m not sure if we will see them as a prerequisite for a drinking occasion. Perhaps, if only for a while, being able to sit in a bar, drink in hand, engaged in a face-to-face conversation with friends will be enough.
This article was written by Sophie Harris, Project Manager