The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
BAR owners and patrons were in a celebratory mood recently when government announced that it was finally lifting the ban on nightspots, allowing them to resume normal business for the first time in over a year.
For most club owners, the timing of the reopening could not have been better, as it allows them to fine-tune their joints with one eye on the festive season, a potentially lucrative period.
Many are hoping that the recent announcement will be followed by a further relaxation of operating conditions in future. However, while some are celebrating, it remains to be seen if all bars will be able to welcome back the patrons that they last saw before the ban on bars was enacted.
The lockdown led to new habits, with some people preferring to drink either from their cars or at home. Some got used to the habit of frequenting shabeens or other unlicensed places of entertainment.
“Cabinet notes, with concern, that the continued closure of licensed bars and night clubs has caused not only a loss of income and unemployment but also resulted in the mushrooming of illegal outlets,” cabinet noted as gave the go-ahead for nightspots to reopen.
The question on the minds of some now will be whether to entice patrons to ditch these illegal drinking spots with the festive season on the horizon.
“There were bars and nightclubs that were running during Covid-19 illegally,” entertainment powerhouse and promoter Babongile Sikhonjwa told Sunday Life. “The ball now remains in people’s court because we have to ask if people will return to those bars and nightclubs that were running because they were the only places that were open or are they going to return to their traditional drinking spots.
“So, we are yet to see who will come out as champions. Are those places that were running now going to suffer because maybe people were only going there due to Covid-19 or are people going to shun their traditional joints? So, we are yet to see what is going to happen. This is time for the entertainment brains and creatives to come out and then we will see who is going to own December,” he said.
Former Pub Lagondola and Signature bar manager Dalubuhle Sibanda said that some entertainment joints might struggle to lure back patrons due to their astronomical prices.
“It’s going to be hard for some people to go back to the clubs because they had used to spend US$1.20 or so for a quart of beer and now, they have to go back to bars where they are charged US$2 for a pint. I’m in Gwanda right now and a hotel is selling a dumpy for R20 while the most happening tshisa nyama next door is selling a quart for R20 so it won’t work.
“We have a problem whereby people try to push insane profit margins. They import beers at R12 and then sale them for R50. People will just sit outside bars and drink from their cars like they have been doing all along. That shabeen culture will grow. People can buy bottles of whisky or whatever, drink up and only go inside the club when they are already wasted so as to minimise costs,” he said.
Sibanda said he could see DJs getting extinct as club owners had realised that they could do without them.
“The need for the DJ is going to die. The Amapiano mixes have negated the need for DJs and I think that’s another part of the bar culture that is going to die. I don’t see the need for the DJ right now because people have found out that you can run these things without DJs,” he said.
Sibanda said clubs with owners and managers that thought on their feet would thrive.
“It’s a good chance to bring back a better entertainment scene. If you want to entice the people back to your joints, you really have to think about what exactly you’re offering them. People will start to put serious thought on how they want to attract people to their bars. Owners will have to think of serious gimmicks on how they bring patrons back to their clubs because they cannot just assume that people will be happy with just drinking alcohol. It will be a good time for that creative and know how to package entertainment because right now, a bar might be unique but it definitely cannot be the only thing that you have to offer. They have to innovate and that is what is needed,” he said.
Veteran promoter and club manager Joe Tha OG said joints that were thriving while other joints were closed would find things tougher when old players were now back in the game.
“For places like, for example Umguza (Yatch Club), if their strategy was to replace nightclubs, then they will be in trouble because the nightclubs will be back doing real nightclub hours and doing the real deal for the nightclubbing people. So, it becomes a real challenge for them because in as much as they would love to replace them, I don’t think they don’t have the totality of what a nightclub will offer, from the atmosphere to the hours. They will have challenges so they have to be extra creative to keep the people there. If they offer family time and things like jumping castle and other outdoor activities then they will be safe because they will still have that other crowd that is interested in activities that don’t involve nightclubbing,” he said.
As the festive season beckoned, Joe said now was a good time for owners to revamp their joints.
“For the other clubs that were closed and now want to reopen I personally think it’s a good time for them to touch up, clean up and know that when they do come back the market that they used to have has gone somewhere else or has changed habits. It is very important for them to really look into their marketing strategies so that they get the new people and the old ones because somehow if you’ve been to a club before by now, you’d be missing it.
“It’s just different when you’re buying for $US1,50 from your bottle store setup and drinking from your car or you’re ordering from your next door and drinking from home. It’s different when you’re in the club and loud music is blaring around you in that atmosphere. Some will miss it and go back but there is a section that might not go back and clubs need to replace them with new people,” he said.