Being one of the industries that were first to shut down to moderate the spread of the virus, and most probably the last one to open up and go back to normal when restrictions ease up, the nightlife industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. With social interaction as one of the strongest pillars of its success, this current scenario of physical distancing poses an extra challenge on its struggle for a comeback.
While a lot of places sadly have had to permanently shut their doors due to operational costs, with time as the only thing that can tell if we will ever still get to see or visit those places again, there are still some establishments that chose to face this pandemic head-on. They say that businesses are like people–those who are quick to adapt to what’s happening will thrive, and while it is still a long way to get back to how the nightlife industry was performing, it is inspiring to see that more establishments are becoming more creative and pushing the boundaries of what was typically expected from the usual operations.
A consensus and forecast amongst industry insiders reveal that operations are not yet seen to go back to normal even by the first quarter of next year. Given this forecast, establishments-have had to quickly transform and shift their business models, some forced to do so in just a span of a week or two when normally these transitions properly happen in around a month or two.
How Bad did it Hit the Nightlife Industry?
Historically, the summer season is a strong month for the nightlife industry, the other season being the holiday season. So, this hit a lot of businesses that were expecting the sales trend to be going up. Another unfortunate effect of the pandemic aside from not being able to operate is that almost all the establishments had to let their hardworking employees go. One of the biggest players in the game, The Palace Manila Group (@escapetothepalace) had to let go of around 400 employees according to its VP for Marketing, Alexandra Habaluyas.
Fortunately, there are players in the game with a hybrid category which is a bar and something else like Tipsy Pig (with several branches across Metro Manila), which is a famous watering hole and also dining venue, as well as Dirty Daddy, which is a bar and barbershop at the same time. These places could capitalize on the strengths of their hybrid side to compensate for the lack of movement from the bar operations.
Dirty Daddy, (@dirtydaddyph) a bar/barbershop in San Juan is diverting more efforts to their barbershop while giving away cocktails with their services to their patrons and charging them half price for the succeeding ones. They are also offering vouchers for sale on various e-commerce platforms that can be claimed when they open again. This is an initiative that aims to support their staff that lost their livelihood.
Tipsy Pig, (@tipsypig_ph) whose bulk of sales were mostly from dinner and after-dinner service was greatly hit with the curfew, is now planning on launching their breakfast operations in hopes of capturing that segment of the market. Tipsy Pig also pivoted to a delivery model using their employees and creating a small fleet to fulfill food orders from customers within the Metro.
The Shift to In-Home Consumption
Even with this adapting and despite the many on-ground efforts such as contact tracing and the implementation of safety measures, the challenge is that people seem to still not be comfortable with dining out or socializing outside of their homes. Given this, another drastic effort was needed for a lot of establishments now shifting the business model to the current consumer behavior from “going to a happening” to “the happening now being at home,” which is also timely since Metro Manila and a few other cities were just put back to MECQ, restricting establishments from accepting dining in customers.
Aside from the food that Tipple and Slaw (@tipplecafe) have, they are also launching their bottled cocktails to be available for home consumption that is available for takeaway. The Palace Manila Group recently launched its Liquor and Food Delivery website (thepalaceathome.com) that compliments the series of shows they produce to stream online which showcases the Performances of their Resident DJs and MCs.
Ms. Gee (@whoismsgee), a popular spot in Poblacion also started bottling their signature cocktails in big batches for takeaway and delivery. They also came up with essential merchandise like face-masks to sell during the pandemic.
Loft (@loftcafeph) and Almacen (@almacenph) two outlets of the Unit 27 Group have also launched their delivery services with not just food but food and liquor bundles for their customers.
OTO,(@oto.ph) one of the most celebrated bars locally and named as one of Asia’s 50 Best Bars of 2019 is now letting their customers enjoy their award-winning cocktails and food via delivery through their website (oto.bar).
Even DJs who once kept us dancing all night long at clubs and bars now have now ventured into performing live sets done virtually. Some can be booked for 2-3 hour sets so you can enjoy their music for an intimate gathering at home. Bookable DJ Sets are available via slayathome.ph.
What’s in Store for the Future?
While the current business models that the businesses are operating on is not even close to how revenue yields pre-COVID, it still is a step forward to the recovery of once vibrant and energetic energy, which seems to be taking a hiatus for now. We as consumers can all help by patronizing our local outlets or even by sharing information on social media or online to help get the word out because you might not be a customer now, but someone you share the information to might be.
Generally, the sentiments are optimistic. A lot believe that it is only a matter of time until the industry that doesn’t sleep wakes up again. And when it does, it will surely be one for the books.
Editor’s Note: Since Franco’s assessment of what was once a bustling nightlife industry in the height of the pandemic, several changes have happened. But whether these changes are enough to sustain the industry is yet to be observed. We continue to support all efforts and celebrate the memories as we wait in bated breath for the return of the Manila night life we all love and know.
A well-known fixture in the nightlife industry, Franco and his successful business ventures have continued set high standards when it comes to serving Manila's night owls.
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