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Although some British bars are struggling, others are thriving by offering customers new experiences. But is the alcohol industry shifting as a whole, or is this just a passing fad?
Themed experiential cocktails are on the rise in UK cities, and many are inspired by popular culture.
Venues typically offer customers costumes to put on and group activities.
On Wednesday, fantasy-inspired The Cauldron will open its second pop-up venue in London.
One reason for this trend has to do with changing consumer habits.
Millennials are less likely to drink than previous generations, according to market research firm
And people are more likely to drink at home – says that household spending on alcoholic drinks rose by 2.8% from 2013-2017.
But this doesn’t mean that millennials – people born between 1981-1996 according to Pew Research – do not go out.
According to research firm, millennials seek unique experiences and new drinks.
Unlike previous generations, when they catch up with friends, drinking is no longer central to social bonding.
Many younger consumers no longer gravitate to, and 22% of respondents told Mintel that more places should offer some kind of activity.
Although venues are designed to be “Instagrammable” – places people want to photograph and share on social media – some are trying to get consumers to put their smartphones down.
“We’re fighting with technology here – often when a group of young people visit a venue, they are all on their phones and they’re not talking to each other,”
He says there is a difference between concept bars focus on decor, while concept are about providing a unique experience and transporting the customer to another world.
Over the past decade, pop-ups have been increasingly used by new businesses to test out ideas, says Lucy Shaw, editor of alcohol trade magazine Drinks Business.
Pop-ups are hospitality events put on for a limited amount of time. They are held in temporary locations such as a tent or an existing venue.
“It makes business sense to have a pop-up, before you plough hundreds of thousands of pounds into a business,” Ms Shaw tells the BBC. “You want a litmus test, [you want] to test the water.”
Small businesses make up over 99% of all businesses in the hospitality industry, which made up 9.3% (£161bn) of the UK economy in 2016, according to the ONS.
Matthew Cortland, The Cauldron’s co-founder and chief executive, says pop-ups are attractive, because you can gain capital by promoting the venue concept online and pre-selling tickets.
The Cauldron has opened two pop-ups in the UK and one in New York. It is now seeking a permanent venue in central London.
“We signed the lease with the last money in our bank accounts. We had just enough money to pay rent for one more month,” he tells the BBC of the first pop-up in Dalston, London in 2017.
“But within one week of opening our doors we had broken even, and we sold out every day, so we extended the pop-up another month.”
Inception Group, which owns eight restaurants and one club in London, is unusual in that it did not begin as a pop-up.
Founders Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling were told they were crazy by some when they decided to start Barts, a 1920s prohibition-style speakeasy in a Chelsea residential building in 2009.
The pair, who are completely self-funded, couldn’t afford a central London location, but they hoped their concept would be strong enough – a secret so exclusive that even the venue’s address wasn’t public knowledge.
Despite the overwhelming odds new businesses face, Barts succeeded, and bit by bit, the founders started other concept venues, often buying furnishings from car boot sales and eBay.
Each time they picked a failed venue location no one else wanted, then used profits from the successful venues to fund a new venture.
“We joked that it was ‘the right postcode, the wrong street’,” Mr Gilkes tells the BBC.
While themed experiences and new drinks might be popular with millennials, some have criticised the quality of the drinks, which can be an acquired taste
Another solution is to make simpler cocktails. Mr Gilkes says that London’s bar-staff are now cutting down on the number of ingredients in each drink.
Some millennials, particularly city workers, feel bartenders are too slow when they make up cocktails.
In response, many venues have taken to pre-making batches of some drinks.