10 Things Managing A Nightclub Taught Me About Business (And Life)

“A DJ playing music in a club with smoke machines pouring over the crowd” by Matty Adame on Unsplash

While I was in college at the University of Kansas, I worked at a nightclub in Lawrence, Kansas. If you went to the KU, chances are you have at least one crazy story from the place. I have at least a hundred.

In school I studied journalism, but I think I got a de facto business degree, as I learned a lot in my time as a manager at The Cave.

1. Customers/People Move In Herds

Part of the job of running a nightclub is promotion. You can have a perfect club that is run perfectly, but at the end of the day if people aren’t coming in the door, it will fail.

I realized very early on that getting one person to come to the club (change their behavior) was a very difficult task. However, if there was something that got 300 people to say, ‘Hey, that sounds fun!’ it was exponentially easier to get even more people to come.

Nothing explains this better than the fact that “Dollar Night” ($1 drinks, $1 beers…it’s a college town!) was packed. Every Saturday, completely packed with a long line outside the door. However, Fridays just weren’t the night that people went to The Cave. Even if I could convince 10 people to show up, the general population just didn’t come on the “off nights”.

2. A Cool Product Is Great, But It Doesn’t Guarantee Success

I’m biased because I worked there, but the club I worked at was very unique. It’s a nightclub located 5 stories underground than can hold over 800 people. If you wanted a nightclub experience, The Cave was the place to go. However, just having this super awesome space didn’t mean we were going to be successful (although it definitely helped).

People choose convenient shit over better things that are inconvenient or unpopular.

This ties into people moving in masses. Promotion is key.

I was so surprised at the number of people I would talk to that said they’d never been to the Cave, or didn’t hear about the upcoming event. When I was fully immersed in the club, it was hard for me to understand how people could just not be aware of it.

This was really just an opportunity. If the club was fairly successful to begin with, and there were so many people that hadn’t even been there, we clearly had an opportunity for growth.

3. Small Tweaks Can Lead to Great Increases in Profits

The club I worked at was a big space, especially for a smaller college town. On our big nights we’d see close to 1000 people pass through our doors. When you’re doing big volume, even small changes can lead to major gains over time.

You can apply this principle to any business. Testing is important. Try making minor changes to optimize your product or service in the long-term. In terms of nightclubs, raising (or lowering) drink prices by just a dollar can make people act very differently.

When you’re running a business it’s often easy to look at your processes from a very high level. This makes it easy to miss big gaps or missed opportunities in your operations. Finding and fixing small inefficiencies makes improving your business easier than trying to overhaul everything.

4. Customers Want Reliability and Consistency

Don’t switch up your brand. People come to your business looking for something. If you don’t deliver on the promises your brand portrays, people will not come back.

In the context of a nightclub, this means that people expect to hear certain music, pay a certain price or see certain people. If you drastically switch this, people will be turned off, and may not come back. If you have a strong brand surrounding your product, emphasize it and drive people to it. There is no reason to move away from something if it’s working.

5. Employees That (Actually) Care Are Rare. Cherish Them.

Working with college kids in a bar is much different than working with full-time employees in a traditional business setting. Nightclubs present especially unique challenges. Take a 21 year old college kid and put them in front of every liquor they could think of…but tell them not to drink any of it.

(Good Luck)

When people aren’t getting paid a lot, it’s hard to demand high performance out of them. However, some people just really did care. On the other hand, some people really didn’t care. It wasn’t hard to impress me, all you really had to do was show up when you were scheduled, and actually perform your assigned duties.

People actually doing this was shockingly rare.

While paying these people more can help keep them around and make working more beneficial for them, there are other ways to keep them around. This could be as small as telling them you really appreciate their effort. This is something that I didn’t do enough of, but when I did it usually paid off.

6. Small Incentives Make Employees More Productive

“The Fourth Principle of Economics, which N. Gregory Mankiw assures us is accepted by almost all economists is: People Respond To Incentives.”

I was surprised at the effectiveness of this one. We decided that we would start offering nightly bonuses to bartenders who reached a pre-determined sales goal or to whoever had the highest sales that night. The results were shocking. We saw an big increase in productivity and noticeable uptick in effort on the first night. And it kept working, weekend after weekend.

The incentives didn’t even have to be a lot of money. It could be an extra $25 at the end of the night and people still responded really well. People were pumped about working and it was fun to see the competitiveness come out of people as they tried to win the bonus for having the highest sales.

The bonus system helped make employees care about their performance and added accountability, something that otherwise was difficult to do.

7. Operate Like You’re Doing Poorly — Running a Tight Ship Helps When Profits Are High.

If your business is successful it’s easy to grow complacent. This applies to employees from top to bottom of a business. Often if you aren’t seeing noticeably negative results or being held accountable for your performance, it’s easy to grow comfortable with the way things are going.

By running a business without overlooking the weak points, you can create an even more profitable business when the good times come. When a business is struggling there is no alternative to making sure every employee is playing a vital role and every dollar is accounted for. If you take the time to shore up your systems, when you scale them they will make your business even more successful.

Holding people accountable is very important.

8. Brand Image is KING!

This one ties into the importance of promotion, but it goes beyond that. Shaping public opinion is very difficult. People’s first impression of you, or your business, is what they hold in their minds and is what they will tell their friends.

It’s important to do as much as possible to manage your reputation and be proactive about protecting it. This applies differently to every business. Transparency and responsiveness are generally the best route, but aren’t always the best choice.

If your business falls victim to negative press or is associated with a negative event, it will create barriers for you to overcome before getting people to return to your business.

9. People are Easily Confused — The Simpler, The Better.

This might just be a nightclub thing, but anything you have to explain twice to people is just too complicated. Imagine having to explain some new system you were implementing to 1000 drunk college students…see what I mean?

Even if your clientele is totally coherent and intelligent, they do not want to feel stupid. Nobody wants to feel stupid. You should create a very clear and simple system for interacting with your customers. Set rules and procedures early, preferably before you need them. This will help your business run smoothly.

In the nightclub industry having everything run smoothy is 90 percent of the battle. Making sure your employees are aware of the systems you have in place is vital. While something may be obvious to you, as a manager, it may take a few times for your employees to catch on.

If people don’t know how to interact with your business, they will have a harder time moving through the conversion/sales funnel (and will spend less money).

10. Change Is The Only Constant, Be Flexible

The ability to overcome obstacles is valuable in all aspects of life. Running a nightclub is fast-paced and can be very high-pressure. There are a number of times we’d have to figure out a serious problem an hour before we opened, or even during the night.

The sound system would be completely unresponsive and our tech guy would be out-of town. Or it would be Halloween (often our biggest night of the year) and half of our staff would call off work 30 minutes before they were scheduled. While many people would probably lose their mind in those situations, it just became part of the normal circumstances — and eventually I came to expect things to go wrong.

The most valuable people are those that can overcome unexpected changes or challenges. It’s interesting to watch people get super stressed over a simple bump in the road…when running a nightclub that isn’t even an option.

Conclusion

Working at a nightclub was so fun! It was such an exciting job. If you can handle late nights and long hours, I highly recommend giving it a shot. You might just learn a few things along the way.

There is so much to be learned in every situation. Keep an open mind and you might be surprised at all the little things you start noticing.

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Christian Stewart ✔️

Christian Stewart ✔️

Privacy, technology and internet culture. Trying my hand at YouTube here: youtube.com/c/privacy-guy