What's Nightlife Worth?

What’s nightlife really worth to a community? The answer to that question will soon be sought out by a coalition brought together by the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) that’s seeking to launch a study of the economic value of nightlife. The question for you, as a bar or club operator, is would you participate in the study?

Before you answer that, consider that the study is being designed for use as a tool in developing public policy on issues ranging from mass transit and taxi services to noise ordinances, policing and urban development – all issues that directly affect your business. If, as a nightlife owner or operator, you feel uninvolved in policy decisions on these matters, then participating in such a study might be your first step toward having a say.

Let’s face it, bars, nightclubs and restaurants with a strong bar business are often viewed as nuisances in downtown areas, credited with driving up the costs of policing and trash removal, contributing to high noise levels and unsafe streets. So when it comes time to set the policies on these matters, operators aren’t always asked to the sit at the table. But there is a move afoot in which coalitions of licensed operators, law enforcement, regulators and public policy advocates are coming together to address such issues – cities including New York, Providence, RI, Lincoln, Neb., and San Francisco are devising new models for greater cooperation. The result? A greater appreciation among government agencies for the challenges bar and club operators face and for the fact that the majority of licensed operators really do want to do the right thing.

But back to the study. In 2003, a similar study – also done in coordination with RHI – assessed the value of nightlife to New York City at $9.7 billion in annual economic activity, encompassing everything from the wages paid to employees to the city and state taxes paid by the business owner, from the cost of goods and services purchased by the venue to the dollars spent by the patrons at the venue and on parking, transportation, tolls, restaurants, hotels and even attire purchased for their evening out. All told, 838 New York nightlife venues filled out a 5-page questionnaire about their businesses – venue-specific information was held in confidence – and Audience Research & Analytics combined that with 1,036 patron interviews and analysis of various economic metrics to determine the economic impact of nightlife on the Big Apple.

The impact on nightlife operators in NYC was that it opened the door for better communication with different entities – from neighborhood groups to police – regarding various issues that were under debate. In addition, it helped promote the city’s after-hours offerings when several area publications ran lengthy articles about it.

This next study will likely be fielded in three regions in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland area, and will serve as a model for similar studies in other cities. We all know money talks, so being able to demonstrate the economic contribution an industry makes to a community is one way to get everyone’s attention. And while I know many operators don’t really want to share the facts and figures about their business, my thinking is that the more we all share, the more everyone understands this industry. The result could well be recognition of nightlife as a contributor – rather than a nuisance and a drain – to tax coffers and employment, not to mention a well-deserved seat at the policy-making table.

Let me know your thoughts on your willingness to participate in such a study. Click here to e-mail me directly.


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