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With Clubs Closing And The Rise Of No-Alcohol Britain, Is This The Death Of The Big Night Out?

Big nights out on the town are an undeniable part of British culture - but are they about to be consigned to the memories of those of us born before the turn of the century?

Nightlife experts warn we're losing one club every two days at the moment - and if we stay on this trajectory, we will have none left by 2030.

"The main reason we're seeing nightclubs close is that midweek nights have completely fallen away and it's mainly down to the cost of living," says Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester.

That was also the reason given by the owner of the UK's biggest club chain when it announced a slew of closures earlier this month. Rekom, which owns popular club brands Pryzm and Atik, said it would be closing 17 venues because students hit by the cost of living crisis were cutting back on club nights.

Before the pandemic, Mr Lord explains, students would often be clubbing midweek - but now they're having house parties instead to save money while they grapple with soaring rents and food prices.

"A nightclub business is not sustainable just on a Saturday night and a semi-good Friday night," he says.

'We used to hit the wine heavy - not so much now'

There's another trend that is proving a challenge for nightlife businesses: Generation Z appears to be our most sober one yet.

The Portman Group's 2023 annual survey with YouGov suggested 39% of 18 to 24-year-olds don't drink alcohol at all.

While this is welcome in many ways, the UK's ingrained booze culture means much of our night-time economy is centred around drinking.

Laura Willoughby, who runs Club Soda, an alcohol-free bar and shop, says older people are also starting to cut back on their drinking because they want a healthier lifestyle.

"We hit the wine quite heavy as women in that generation and we're now hitting menopause so we're looking to cut back," she says.

Laura Willoughby. Pic: Club Soda

Image:Laura Willoughby says people want choice more than anything. Pic: Club Soda

A recent report by hospitality research organisation KAM found 5.2 million fewer adults drank weekly last year than in 2021 - with three-quarters of adults moderating their alcohol intake to some extent.

Drinks expert Dan Whiteside believes the availability of information about the bad effects of alcohol and the rise of health influencers are also driving people to cut back.

"People have been going out less for quite some time," he says.

"Clubs will probably become a thing of the past."

What about the good old British pub? 

Shifts in behaviour are also hitting pubs and restaurants.

It seems inconceivable that the British pub could suffer a similar fate to the nightclub, but experts say people drinking less and choosing to end their nights earlier are forcing many of these businesses to rethink their strategy.

Nearly 400 pubs in England and Wales closed their doors for good in the first half of 2023 - with many also blaming sky-high energy bills, soaring costs of ingredients and difficulties hiring staff.

Liam Davy, head of bars at steakhouse chain Hawksmoor, says:

"I live in Hackney, which is one of the most vibrant boroughs in London in terms of late night economy. The number of late night businesses that have shut down or are really struggling, it really speaks to people doing things a little bit earlier."

Liam Davy. Pic: Hawksmoor

Image:Liam Davy has seen a 'big spike' in sales of non-alcoholic drinks. Pic: Hawksmoor

So what will tempt customers back? 

For Karl Considine, the "alternative choice" his alcohol-free cocktail bar offers appears to be a huge success.

Love From (@love.fromco) in Manchester is regularly packed with people sipping cocktails and enjoying a fun night out - but the difference is, everyone there is sober.

"I'm really clear on that we're a night-time venue, not a daytime venue - we don't do coffee, drinks or hot food," he says.

Pic: Love From

Image:Pic: Love From/@oliverlawsonfood

Mr Considine himself has struggled with alcohol addiction in the past, when he would find he could "never just have a quiet night" and would "always want to take it further".

While Love From is a safe space for those in recovery, he is clear the bar is "absolutely" for everyone - including those who are drinkers but just want something different.

Karl Considine. Pic: Love From

Image:Karl Considine has struggled with alcohol addiction - and says his bar is a safe space for all. Pic: Love From/@oliverlawsonfood

Will alcohol-free bars become more popular?

Love From is not the only alcohol-free night-time venue to have popped up in recent years - among others, there's also London's LGBT club night House of Happiness and of course Club Soda.

But Ms Willoughby says she doesn't think we'll see a huge increase in alcohol-free venues like hers because "what people actually want is choice".

Inside Club Soda in London. Pic: Club Soda

Image:Inside Club Soda in London. Pic: Club Soda

Many people are cutting down on alcohol rather than giving it up altogether, she says.

Club Soda runs workshops for retailers to learn about alcohol-free products, and those who ended up expanding their alcohol-free menus have seen their group bookings increase.

"Everybody wants to have a nice time - they don't want to sit there with a tap water or a very sugary soda which they can only have one of - they want to participate fully," she says.

No longer an afterthought

Low and no-alcohol products are now the fastest growing part of the industry.

Mr Whiteside says the amount and range of products has "exploded" in recent years, and they can be found in most bars and restaurants.

Meanwhile, Mr Davy says he's seen a "big spike" in sales of non-alcoholic drinks.

His company has started paying more attention to that section of the menu "when to be honest in the past it might have been a bit more of an afterthought or something aimed at kids".

A non-alcoholic sour cherry no-groni sold at Hawksmoor. Pic: Hawksmoor

Image:Hawksmoor has started offering a wider selection of alcohol-free drinks - including this sour cherry no-groni. Pic: Hawksmoor

Although most pub and restaurant chains have adapted and now have better low and no-alcohol drinks menus, he says smaller businesses have been slower to make changes.

And of course it's more difficult for nightclubs, which are arguably even more centred than alcohol than other businesses.

Then there's that pervasive marketing problem - the perception that some of these products are overpriced, meaning people will instead opt for a cheap cola or lemonade when they're not drinking.

So is there anything else businesses can do? 

Mr Lord says he has been advising pubs to offer more event-based nights, such as darts or quizzes, to get people back in the door.

This is an opinion shared by Ms Willoughby, who says Generation Z is much more experience-led in their social lives.

"It's not based around the strength of the drink in their glass and more about lovely evenings out," she says.

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