#WeAreNightlife Revisited – The Piano Works, with Tristan Moffat

NDML talks to London’s The Piano Works

#WeAreNightlife is a campaign that celebrates the night-time leisure and hospitality industry. We revisit The Piano Works to see how they have got on since the pandemic, the reopening, the Christmas period and the big return.

As part of NDML’s lookback at the We Are Nightlife campaign, we revisit The Piano Works, a live music venue in Farringdon, London. A one-of-a-kind experiential venue, The Piano Works offers live performances every night from grassroots artists and musicians. With no outdoor space, The Piano Works is one of many clubs greatly affected by the lockdown. However, with great perseverance, support and character, The Piano Works quickly returned upon the national unlock with new offerings and one-time events.

The Piano Works has had to adapt and evolve to survive. They utilise London’s unprecedented talent pool  to go above and beyond what is expected of hospitality venues. Tristan Moffat, Operations Director of The Piano Works Group, recounts with NDML their route to survival, how they adapted to suit customer appetite, what the business’s areas of growth are, and where The Piano Works sees itself within the post-pandemic hospitality sector.

“Since restrictions have fallen away, we’ve seen a really strong return to business. We went flying into Christmas, but were massively impacted when the Omicron virus hit. We lost revenue and profit which was supposed to be our reserved through the more difficult trading period of summer.”

“When everything fully reopened on the 27th January, it just went bang. We replaced a lot of our Christmas business and cancellations to be spread out over February and March. We are going to have a difficult time competing with that next year, but we’ve had a very, very strong trading season, up on our budget, and up on 2019 which was our best year to date.”

Has customer appetite changed since reopening in summer 2021?

“We all talked about this huge wave of pent-up demand, and we certainly found our guest and loyal music lovers were wanting to come out in force. They wanted to share experiences and support businesses. But what I’ve noticed is there is a change in consumer spending pattern.”

“It’s a trend that was coming into play prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic has been a shot of adrenaline in terms of all trends. People want a lot more bang for their buck. Across the sector, people who are market leading have a really interesting experiential concept are trading the best they ever have done.”

“I tend to find there is no room for mediocrity. Any of the operators who are simply doing what they did before, or are not giving the guests that sense of added value for money – that whole middle-market are either out of business or fast approaching. People don’t accept average any more.”

What has The Piano Works been focussing on since reopening?

“When we came back we wanted to go back to the basics; do what we do but do it really well. We have an exceptionally talented Musical Director, Andy Joseph. He’s been working hard at raising the standard of our musicianship that level further.”

“Operationally, we’ve taken on board a company called Feed It Back, they give us amazing insights into guest feedback. They tell us better than anybody does, what we are doing right and what need to keep doing, and keep doing better, and what areas are not our greatest strength, and turning those areas of development into real positives.”

“We’ve had a lot of challenges in terms of recruitment of staff, of management, retention. In order to secure the best we are having to pay way above market rate, so we’ve increased our labour investment.”

“We’ve been developing a new menu of British neoclassical favourites. We are trying to reinvent home comforts, doing them in a new way people have never seen with an amazing taste and quality.”

What’s The Piano Works’ stance on the emerging events culture?

“Everybody should be looking at ways to diversify their portfolio and their business offering. A huge untapped area of potential for The Piano Works is outside events. Our concept is versatile; we do an event every year called cocktails in the city, we provide the musicians for that event. The feedback has been incredible, people have said the key takeaway has been the music and the audience-request concept.”

Has The Piano Works received any support during the pandemic?

“A lot of people give the Government a lot of stick for their support, but we have two businesses and our support accumulatively is into the millions. We had furlough – we made the decision not to let anyone go – we’ve had local authority discretionary grants, we applied for the culture recovery fund. It has essentially supported us being able to reopen, enabled us to put on hundreds of gigs, resulting in thousands of performances form live musicians.”

“We have just been successful for the ERS scheme, and that will support us in continuing to remain open without any closure periods or putting on less performances. It’s been hugely important for us to be able to rebuild guest confidence, and also not losing talent.”

How does the nightlife industry build community togetherness?

“According to NTIA, the night time industries are worth £66 billion in GDP, 6% of the total economy.”

“This is where people get to blow off steam and have fun. It’s so important for people’s mental health, for combatting loneliness, its networking, it’s friendship building. These are all part of being human. I can’t stress enough how important it is; people need to have fun, they need to be together.”

“Live music venues, grassroots music venues, nightclubs, experiential venues; we are about bringing people together.”

“There is a difference between live music venues and competitive socialising. We are all about people being together, singing together, dancing together. All of our businesses are trading strongly which shows just how much people missed that. I don’t think the pent up demand for what we offer is going anywhere, it’s been a huge part of our society for hundreds and thousands of years.”

What’s the story behind The Piano Works’ charity single?

“We believe music is a powerful purveyor of messages. We never expected a chart-topping No.1 charity single; we created a combination package, with the charity single bringing awareness, bring UK operators together, to raise money on behalf of the hospitality sector, rather than lots of desperate campaigns.”

“We created two cocktails, and we give two pounds of every £6 cocktail we sell to the British Red Cross. We also ask our guests to donate £1 per cover, matching anything our guests donate pound for pound. We are incredibly proud of what we’ve raised, and we’ve created a powerful emotive video, and there has been a lot of positive comments.”

Do you have new favourite moment?

See Tristen’s previous answer here

“We had an amazing moment at the beginning of the [charity] campaign. I bought five hundred handheld Ukrainian flags and we distributed them around the venue. Our musicians performed our charity single, Hero, live to an audience holding 400 flags up in the air. That was unbelievable, the emotion, the people arm in arm, singing Hero at the top of their lungs – that’s the new top moment for me, just incredible.”

Will the experiential market continue to grow?

“I don’t think it’s going anywhere, it’s going form strength to strength. The amount of concepts out there… shuffleboard, mini golf, darts, beer pong, different live music concepts. There’s a lot of high street space that’s being vacated. Operators are coming in, partnering with restaurants and leisure, creating houses of leisure. Offering multiple different concepts, sort of like an amusement park – this is a hugely growing trend. I think they are missing one trick – they are not doing music in these places.”

What are you most looking forward to at The Piano Works?

“In term of future opportunity, I can really see there are a lot of sites coming on the market, a lot of mergers and acquisitions. For us we are looking at the next five-year plan, we are looking at major cities across the UK. To build our brand.”

“The pandemic has proven the theory of the survival of the most adaptable, and we have adapted day by day through the pandemic, and we have survived out the other end. We are in a strong position thanks to Government support and support from our landlords. I think we will be coming to cities nearer you in due course.”

“We look forward to working with other local communities and building local businesses.”

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry today?

“If someone was new to the industry, I would say that you need to find a concept that no one is doing already in your local markets, something differentiated, or you need to do something better than anybody else in the market is dong it.”

“Grow slowly and steadily, organically. Give your customers what they want. Listen to what they have to say. If something that you are doing is not quite working with your customer base, listen to them.”

“Keep a healthy cash reserve at all times, which will protect you in a future crisis. The pandemic highlighted how on the edge some businesses were, and a lot of businesses moving forward will be a lot more cautious about their expenditure, keeping a level of reserve to protect the business.”

“Be optimistic, be forward-thinking, but be cautious and careful and plan ahead.”

Who Are We?

NDML has made it their mission to protect, safeguard and provide guidance to businesses in the hospitality and leisure sector. With inside information, case studies and up-to-date information on policy changes, NDML is a broker who cares about a business’s welfare and will celebrate their growth.

NDML is the broker that’s number one in the nightlife sector and we offer exclusive tailor-made policies and have decades worth of expertise. Our award-winning service is built upon genuine relationships, and that’s why projects, such as #WeAreNightlife, are so important to us.

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