We’re in the middle of a seismic generational shift, and the bar and nightclub business is among the most affected by the changes.
According to the Insider Magazine, which dubs itself “The guidebolok to millennial culture,” bars and nightclubs are closing their doors in droves and liquor sales are dropping around the word. In its report “Bid Farewell: Why Millennials are Abandoning Nightclubs,” Insider states that millennials – those born between the years 1977 and 1994 – are a target market for the industry but bar and nightclub owners are missing the mark on bringing them in.
Dale Malone, owner of Dukes and Boots just west of Sedalia’s city limits, has watched his crowds decline in recent years. Malone is a hospitality industry veteran, with 40 years of experience owning and operating bars and restaurants as well as doing consulting across the country. Still, what is happening today is new to him.
Malone noted that with past generations, there was “a need for social interaction on a live level with actual, physical touching and seeing and talking and being with people.” He recalled the days when scores of young adults would “cruise the strip” in Sedalia; on weekend nights, the streets and parking lots were full of people from not only Sedalia but all across the county, “and we all seemed to get along.”
But today, “Social media has taken the place of social physicality,” Malone said. “You can stay at your house by yourself and go on a Netflix binge … and call the pizza guy and they bring it to you. You’re also on your smartphone or tablet and you’re in touch with everybody – whether it is on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter. They don’t need as much to go out and physically interact because there are sites like Tinder and Periscope … where you can meet people.”
And before you think this is just Malone going on a Grumpy Old Man rant, understand that all generations have shifted from those that came before them. But one constant has been the restaurant and bar industry; while times and tastes changed, establishments changed to ensure they could keep their crowds coming – but the crowds came out. Now, while restaurants are still doing fairly well, bars and nightclubs are struggling.
“This is a nationwide trend,” Malone said. “For the first time, there is not a new demographic replacing the people who, when they start getting into their mid to late 20s, start getting married, start getting job promotions, don’t want to stay out until 2 in the morning. … There is still some of that demographic coming out, there always will be.”
But those numbers are declining, and Malone has a theory about the cause. Throughout the years, when there was an economic downturn, bars “generally do very well,” he said, “not to drink your problems away, but because it is a great value. For $20, you can have a few drinks with friends, dance, have fun.” But after the economy hit rock bottom in 2008, there was no bounceback.
Malone said one byproduct of that period is the practice of “pregaming:” a group gathers at friend’s house to drink and socialize before going to bars.
“Over the course of eight years … 18-year-olds (in 2008) are now 26 – that is the demographic that is missing,” he said. “They taught themselves to sit around for that couple of hours with music turned down, having cocktails, actually having conversation.”
Those who contend that going out today is more expensive than in the past are off base. Millennials have grown up with expensive technology in their hands and infinite possibilities at their disposal. They can shop online through their phone, watch their favorite TV shows and movies on their own schedule and connect with the world without getting out of their pajamas. They simply choose to spend their money on different ways to be social.
“Where I am perplexed is how am I going to reach these kids, and if I do, how am I going to convince them to come out?” Malone said. One option is to match a trend that is working in larger markets across the county – a kind of “all night pregame” that replaces a dance floor with grouped seating, thumping beats for low music and longnecks with higher-end cocktails and craft beers. But what works in New York won’t necessarily work in Sedalia.
Malone said he is open to suggestions – those millennials can find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share their ideas.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.