A day in the life of a Nightlife Ambassador

We’re fortunate to work with John Hayes, our very own Nightlife Ambassador and all-round industry legend.

With a 45-year career in the night-time industry under his belt, John has previously been the Chairman of BEDA and Council Member of ALMR. He is now on the Late Night Working Group and the Events Committee at UK Hospitality alongside his busy schedule working with the NDML team plus he’s also Chairman of the Disco Bowls Company.  So it’s fair to say John knows the night-time industry inside out.

“Trade associations such as UK Hospitality and the NITA are incredibly important as they work to improve the night-time industry by bringing key stakeholders and industry leaders together,” John says. “We’re establishing best practice, guidance and recommendations so the industry can continue to grow and a lot of work is done on lobbying government and politicians.”

Having started his career as a DJ in the early 70s, John has gone on to run a number of nightclubs, pubs, restaurants and a hotel. He has a broad range of experience across the entire nightlife spectrum so has extensive knowledge of the issues affecting the industry.

It’s no secret the night-time industry has suffered a hit over the last decade or so. Many clubs are closing down, as less people are venturing out at night. But why? John believes the Licensing Act 2003 has something to do with it. “The Act took affect on my birthday, so I’ll always remember it! The Licensing Act 2003 included new legislation around flexible opening hours, giving licensed premises the potential to open for up to 24 hours. It might seem great on the face of it – but 24 hour drinking just doesn’t suit our culture. In the UK we don’t drink small amounts throughout the course of a day – we’ll go out for one session, and drink a larger volume in a shorter amount of time. Let’s face it – we don’t have that lovely Mediterranean weather that encourages people to stop out and drink for long periods of time.”

“Allowing licensed venues to open for 24 hours only dilutes the number of people who visit the venue at one time, which causes a number of issues. There’s less atmosphere, for a start. And then you have the cost implications. Instead of opening for a few hours in an afternoon and then again in an evening, you’ve got bars and pubs opening throughout the day and into the night. That’s a big difference in the number of staff you have to pay for.”

It’s true that the number of pubs has increased in the last year, while the number of clubs has remained roughly the same. John explains, “Pubs used to close at, say, 10.30 or 11pm. That gave people time to be tempted into town for a few more. The moment pubs close half an hour later, you’re looking at customers fitting in an extra pint there instead and then heading off home after last orders. That decreases the number of people being driven into town centres. It’s a fine ecosystem and I don’t believe that 24 hour licensing is helpful to the overall economy. It has helped most cities but not many provincial towns.”

There are increasing blurred lines now between night-time establishments. What is a pub, bar or club and how can customers tell the difference? Many are now hybrid venues, serving coffee and brunch in the morning, food and drink throughout the afternoon and evening and then delivering a full nightclub experience complete with a dancefloor and DJ later in the night. This takes full advantage of more flexible licensing outlined in the Licensing Act 2003, but it does have a wider impact. The way customers interact with the night-time industry is changing. They are able to pick and choose their experience – and won’t settle for a sticky-floored one.

The reputation of the night-time industry is also one regularly called into question. The Agent of Change principle may help to address some issues between planning and licensing. If a developer is proposing to build near an existing late night venue, it is recommended they soundproof the new build to prevent noise complaints. John believes the digitalisation of the licensing process has also impacted the industry. “These days it takes much less time, now. You can apply for a Premises Licence pretty much anywhere and, so long as no one objects, there’s your licence and off you go. This naturally leads to the industry becoming oversupplied, and even potentially run by people who don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for! Running a licensed venue is tough and shouldn’t be taken on lightly. But done well it can be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences.”

Digitalisation isn’t just affecting how people apply for a license. It’s affecting our entire way of life. “Entertainment is everywhere,” John explains. “We have hundreds of channels on the TV, the internet on every phone. The way people are socialising is changing. It’s becoming more isolated. This means people are going out less and relying on technology to connect with new people instead. They won’t go out to discover new music or find new friends – with a quick search online you can discover a whole section of society who share your taste or views. People are less likely to engage with nightlife to socialise and discover.”

We know that younger generations are drinking less, and are more health conscious and financially aware. The cost of a night out is prohibitive for some, who may instead choose to save up and buy tickets for one long festival. Festivals are increasing in popularity as they offer a memorable experience for customers to share with friends. As artists expect to be paid festival fees, clubs are struggling to bring in headliners without hiking up ticket prices. It’s a vicious cycle and one that is causing a number of big-name clubs both in the UK and abroad to struggle.

“There will always be problems within the industry, and the industry will always find a way to overcome them. What will the night-time industry look like in 10 years? Who knows. The industry evolves at such a fast pace, and new trends are always taking over. I’ve even heard of virtual nightclubs! Whatever happens, I hope the industry continues to be exciting and an important part of the next generation’s lives.”

John gave up his DJ decks many years ago, but he’s still making a tremendous difference to the industry. As part of his work with NDML, he connects some of his old friends and fellow nightlife professionals with our award-winning services. He truly believes in the difference specialist insurance can make, having been a past NDML customer himself. “My job is to spread the word about NDML, and add that extra dimension of personal service. I know a lot of people in this industry, and it’s important they all know why they need the right insurance. I’m a genuine advocate for NDML, and feel confident I can vouch for them because the team always pull through and deliver their promises for customers.” He is also proud of NDML’s internal culture. “NDML is a lovely place to work. There is a real emphasis on wellbeing and caring about its people, which means everyone here is invested in the business and wants to do the best for our customers. It’s great to be part of.”

Throughout the years, licensed venues have been subject to hefty claims made against them. Slips on spilled drinks, trips over wires or equipment, intoxicated falls. Whilst there may be no sure-fire way to bring down the number of claims against a club, claims defensibility is the next best thing. “NDML offers free Claims Defensibility Training for customers, which helps mitigate risk and defend claims against a venue. For example, venues should have CCTV – and should know how long to keep a copy of the footage. The NDML team can advise on that.”

With John’s help, NDML’s profile is increasing and we are proud to be the night-time industry’s leading insurance broker. We are on a mission to help the industry and work with leading voices and associations like the NTIA and Best Bar None to make a difference. Together, we can secure the successful future of our nightlife.

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