Operators of bars, lounges and clubs are creatively devising survival strategies as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic rage on
By Ade Ishola
When it reared its ugly head early last year not many people envisaged that its effects will be tremendously and long-lasting. But a year down the line, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on almost all areas of human activities is yet to abate as the second wave of the pandemic is not lesser than the first wave.
The pandemic has adversely affected many sectors of the economy with the hospitality industry not left out. The outdoor entertaining sub-sector seems to be the hardest hit in the sector. Many facilities, especially clubs are now closed across the nation while shows and performances by guest artistes are at a halt and the business at its lowest ebb at the moment.
Many of the bars, lounges and clubs still operating are just gasping for breath to survive.
The stringent Covid-19 protocols put in place by the Federal and State governments have made the operations of these entertainment centres more demanding. With the social distancing rule and its attendant limit of the number of people that can congregate within a certain indoor space, many operators have been forced to operate below ‘installed capacity’.
“We are losing money so much. Most of our patrons are forced to spend less time at the bar as they are conscious of the growing crowd. Many leave as the bar fill up. This is a loss of money to us,” Jude, a Bar Manager on Victoria Island, Lagos State.
This was corroborated by many operators spoken to by The Observers Life during its investigation across the South West region of Nigeria.
“Many times we are forced to ask people to leave to maintain the maximum number of people we could contain under the new rule,” Bolaji, a Bar Operator in Ibadan, Oyo State capital told The Observers Life.
Speaking in the same vein, Lekan, a Bar Manager explained that the Covid-19 protocols have necessitated the bar doing serious joggling to its sitting arrangement.
“We have drastically reduced our seats in the bar to obey the rules. We have also limited movements around the facility. We could no longer maintain a large crowd. This has seriously affected sales and income,” he said.
Badly affected are facilities whose main incomes were from the variety and live shows. Operators have either scaled down or stopped this money-spinning activity.
“No more elaborate shows. We are now forced to stage what we call mini-shows and exclusive parties. This is a small season for us,” said DJ Chatty, a Manager of Gruvv Lounge, a club in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
“We have lost customers as a result of this deadly disease. We used to attend to over 100 customers before but now hardly do we see 20 customers coming to us. People are being careful nowadays to go to any bar as some believe that the second wave of COVID-19 is more harmful than when we first had it,” said Franklin Ogbonnaya, Manager of Paradise Cool Spot located at Alimosho area of Lagos State.
The Observers Life’s checks revealed that many operators of bars, lounges and clubs still operating are forced to devise creative strategies to retain patrons, make money and stay afloat, thereby proving that the hospitality industry is all about creativity.
Some of these strategies are either evolved by the operators as a strategy to stay afloat or to tap into newer opportunities presented by the present situation. But these strategies are mainly aimed at making money or saving costs.
One of the major cost-saving strategies of the operators is the drastic reduction of staff to reflect the scaled-down operations, they are currently engaged in. In some cases, this reduction is as high as 80 per cent.
“We have seriously reduced the number of our workforce. Presently, we have 8 workers compared to 22 we used to have before the beginning of the pandemic. We have strategically done this to still maintain our service quality while saving costs,” said Oluwaseun Adebayo, Manger of Quarry Imperial, an upscale hospitality facility in Abeokuta, Ogun state.
Likewise, some operators have slashed the salaries and allowances of their retained staff all in a bid to save costs and stay in business.
“We try as much as possible to manage the situation during the COVID-19. We don’t want to sack our workers but we tried to reduce a little percentage of their salaries. Our service is well commended despite the covid-19 because we don’t inflate the price of our food anyhow. Our customers still appreciate us with our affordable service” said Friday Omeile, Manager at Happiness Lounge and Bar, Lagos.
Some operators, as a result of saving costs, have also drastically changed their buying methods. Many are no longer buying in large quantity like before when business was booming. The rising costs of drinks and food items have also forced many to now buy in smaller quantity.
Peter Ikechukwu, Manager in charge of the bar at Aso Rock Event & Bar Centre located in the Alimosho area of Lagos, explained that the company has been able to save cost by ordering their vendors to supply their items once a week instead of twice. He said the prices of food items and drinks have gone up in the market.
With the rampaging pandemic and the sharp drop, many operators have been forced to adopt many survival strategies, including finding new ways of making money. Many operators are now putting more efforts into their ancillary and complimentary services.
Those with accommodation services are rigorously promoting this. Adebayo told The Observers Life that the Quarry Imperial has been forced to lower its room rates and tariffs by about 35 per cent.
“We have accommodation, luxurious ones here. Also, most of the patrons of our bar are lodgers, special customers and their friends. Our ancillary facilities, including gym, gaming centre and multi-purpose centre, have also helped in attracting patronage,” he said.
Omeile also disclosed that Happiness Lounge and Bar is still making money as the company is creatively satisfying the customers who patronize them daily
“We are making money from our customers as long they come regularly to patronize us. Apart from normal service to customers, we also have some rooms where our customers can relax for some hours. This is generating money for us,” he said.
Aso Rock is also using this same strategy to make money and stay afloat.
“You should not forget that we are running hotel business so we use our rooms for people to use and we charge them for the service and we are making some money to keep the business running,” Ikechukwu said.
Interestingly the pandemic has made many operators pay more attention to their patrons and customers. New services have evolved from this process. A bar manager explained that because many of the frequent patrons no longer spend more hours at the lounge, the facility is now offering them an ‘on-the-road’ service, which includes drinks and small chop packages.
“We now give our regular customers the on-the-road packages to make them happy while at home. Even some of these are home delivered. All we are concerned with is to make them happy during this trying period,” he said.
Customers’ suggestions have also helped some bars and lounges to evolve new ways of serving them better and consequently make money.
“Our customers have helped us in many ways. They advise us how on what we can do to make the business grow and I am happy to say most of their ideas are helping us today. If you assess our bar and lounge centre here, you cannot compare with other bars because we try to bring innovation to meet the expectations of our customers,” Omeile said.
For some operators, the pandemic has made their operations tougher and they are looking on to God for survival. Justina Emmanuel, owner of New Edition Bar in Lagos, the low patronage of customers as a result of Covid-19 and the huge increase in the cost of items and drinks have combined to make the business’ survival tougher.
“I don’t have any survival strategies I only rely on God. The truth of the matter is that business is not moving the way it used to be in the past. I don’t have staff. Those who are working with me are my family relations,” she said.
While it is glaring that the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to the hospitality industry, the creative ingenuity of some operators is keeping them afloat. And some of these enterprising people are soldering on, weathering the storm to make money. Maybe make an abnormal profit and smile to the bank.
It is all about being creative.
Additional reports by Sunday Akintoye.