Happy New Cheers – the 600-Strong NYE London Bar Crawl
If you think keeping your friends together on a night out is difficult, imagine leading a group of 300 people on a bar crawl through Central London. That is what the team at 1 Big Night Out will be doing this New Year’s Eve.
They’ll also be in charge of celebrations for a further 300 revellers, with a bar crawl through trendy East London district Shoreditch and a double-decker party bus tour. Sounds like one busy night, right?
“New Year’s Eve in London is always massive,” says Julian Foster, MD of Fosterwood Ltd, the events company behind 1 Big Night Out. “It’s our biggest night for revenue and this year we’re really going for it, doing three dedicated events.”
According to Julian, who started running events with co-director Josh Wood when they were at university, New Year’s Eve in London represents a unique opportunity.
He says: “There’s a huge influx of tourists that come over and they all want something to do. New Year’s Eve is particularly tough to find somewhere to go. All the nightclubs are massively oversubscribed and cost a lot to get into, so we saw a massive opportunity.
“We think the concept of going to four big New Year’s Eve parties in the same night is wicked. Every club has a different vibe going on but it’s always an incredibly good atmosphere in each one.”
Thankfully, 1 Big Night Out is hugely experienced at throwing a party, having hosted nightly bar crawls in London for the last six years. However, pulling off three events for a total of 600 people does take some planning.
“Staffing is an issue,” says Julian. “We recruit people and run dedicated staff training throughout December to get them ready.
“It’s really busy, so there’s loads and loads of planning that goes into it behind the scenes – lots of meetings with all the bar managers and planning the itinerary in excruciating detail.”
Julian leverages his relationships with the bar and club managers to negotiate discounted entry and drinks, creating an attractive offer.
“At its heart, the business side of what we do is all about group power. With every venue you go to, you always get an incredible deal. That’s because the venues know we’re going to be coming with a big group so they can offer those discounts. With our tours you virtually always save the ticket price on the drinks discount.”
But it’s not just about cheap drinks. Joining a tour enables newcomers to the city to discover great nightspots and avoid falling into tourist traps.
“We like to show people a side of London they wouldn’t find on their own. Leicester Square has recently become quite an intimidating place if you don’t have anywhere planned to go. Tourists often find themselves getting dragged into a rubbish club and paying £10 or £20 to just to get in, and then paying through the nose for drinks.”
He adds: “We also have a tour we do in Shoreditch which is all about showing people London’s alternative nightlife, which is getting bigger and bigger.”
1 Big Night Out has built a great online reputation amongst tourists and students and won two TripAdvisor awards. Julian and Josh realise the power of reviews and, as such, have placed a focus on obtaining them.
Says Julian: “We want people to be able to look us up at any time and see good reviews of other tourists. We encourage our guides to get people to leave reviews and we do follow-up emails to remind people to leave one.”
Julian and Josh have also worked hard to establish relationships with London’s hostels and hotels, student unions and language schools, all of which help promote the brand. Aside from word of mouth, virtually all marketing now takes place online, but it wasn’t always so sophisticated.
Reveals Julian: “When we started, we moved down to London and slept on people’s floors and in hostels. We had a box of 5,000 flyers that we lugged around everywhere.
“Every person we got on the tour was someone who’d had the flyer put in their hand. We would run every night ourselves and be up until 3am or 4am and then do it all again the next day. It was really fun but also hellish at the same time.”
The events quickly gained traction, with midweek crawls attracting 30-50 people and weekend crawls drawing 150-250, but it was until two years later that the pair experienced their first sell-out, with 300 partygoers.
“I remember really well the first night we sold out and it was absolutely hectic. We had a team of about 15 guides working. At the end of the night we were in a nightclub, which had a capacity of 500 people and 300 of them were our guys, so it was a fantastic atmosphere.”
A big part of the offering, says Julian, is the promise of an excellent night out. The guides are not only responsible for keeping everyone together and safe, they must also keep the party vibe pumping.
“We’re different to a lot of events which have staff focused on stewarding; we’re tour guides at our core. That means going over and above to look after people and make sure they’re having a good time – whatever that takes – whether that’s a limbo competition or chatting to someone in Portuguese all night when you don’t speak a word of Portuguese.”
Another factor contributing to Fosterwood’s success is its diversification into multiple brands and offerings. As well as operating two bar crawls every single night of the week, the company has added a self-guided nightlife tour, a brewery tour, a monthly boat party on the River Thames called Pier Pressure and a fleet of double-decker party buses kitted out with big sound systems and LED lights.
“We now offer many different products,” says Julian. “We always knew that the bar crawls were just for students and tourists and because we weren’t going to be students forever we needed to keep the energy going. We wanted to create a broad-based events company that provides a range of different events. Diversifying what we do was really important for us.”
The company now boasts six full-time employees and a trendy office on Denmark Street, complete with fake grass, a basketball net and beanbags. And there’s no standing still; plans for 2016 include brunch tours and the launch of their very own venue.
“We’re really excited to be opening our own dedicated cocktail event space in Covent Garden. It’s a secret underground cocktail bar and that’s going to be a big project for us.”
To support the company’s growth, Fosterwood came on board with Eventbrite six months ago, making the platform its exclusive ticketing partner.
Says Julian: “Eventbrite is a really big name and one of the benefits it offers is that it really makes our customers feel comfortable when they’re buying tickets. We’ve tried a lot of fully integrated ticketing solutions, where the widget appears on our site, but people aren’t always completely comfortable with that. Since moving to Eventbrite we’ve seen a big increase in conversions.
He adds: “Another big reason we switched over was we were having problems with the mobile integration of the previous ticketing system we were using. When we got Eventbrite on board we were really happy to see that it was perfectly integrated.”
As well as having to keep up with changes in technology, Julian has to stay up to date with the rules and regulations surrounding alcohol.
“One of the biggest challenges we’ve had has been reacting to and dealing with changes in licensing and making sure the events we do are done in a very responsible way – that’s what separates us from the rest.
“It’s quite hard to make sure what we’re doing is sustainable but we’ve achieved that. We train people in licensing and get them their Award for Personal Licence Holders (APLH), which is the Alcohol Licensing certificate. Additionally all of our guides sign a protocol which clearly states what we can and can’t do. We pride ourselves on having good relationships with the bars. We listen to them and whatever concerns they’re having and make sure that our tour operates correctly.”
Another, less straightforward, challenge faced by the company is making sure its events continue to be a “cool thing to do” and project the right image.
“Bar crawls have always had a stigma about them,” admits Julian. “That’s mainly because bar crawls in other cities don’t have the kind of controls that we have in London. Quite often, if you went to Magaluf you would see someone lying on the floor or being sick and it gives them a bad reputation, but in London we’re much better than that.
“We’ve never had negative comments made out about us, but the challenge we do face is keeping what we do cool. The hardest thing these days is creating events that people want to keep on doing, simply because it’s easier now than ever for somebody to come up with an idea and run it and promote it and we have to compete with that.
“We addressed that in part when we started up our Shoreditch tour, but it can sometimes be difficult to get the venues we want on board. Sometimes they arrive in town and want to be the coolest venue so they’re reluctant to let in tourist groups. Usually, though, we have no trouble finding venues and they have been very eager to work with us.”
On the day I spoke to Julian, he was in the middle of preparing for two huge ‘Christmas Crawls’ – his office had been overrun by 500 Santa costumes from China, stacked in boxes floor to ceiling.
“We do it every year and it’s really, really good fun,” he says. And the fun is scheduled to continue, with lots of exciting plans for New Year’s Eve, although Julian’s not giving too much away.
“We like to keep the venues a secret, it’s much more fun that way, but I can tell you that our Shoreditch tour is ending at Cargo, which is a really cool venue -that’s going to be a massive party.
“We’re also excited about our bus party, which is stopping off at a secret location that has a vantage point for the fireworks over the Thames.”
It is the Central London bar crawl, however, that really swells the coffers. He says: “It’s selling really well, it always does. It’s our busiest one – double the size of the other two. That’s a guaranteed recipe for a good New Year’s Eve night out.”
And what is Julian hoping to get for Christmas? A sell-out! He reveals: “It’s normally a thing that on Christmas day I’ll log in and look at ticket sales – nervily! There’s always a bit of a late surge, with last minute booking enquiries to deal with when we get back into the office on the 28th, but I’m hoping we’ll pretty much be sold out.”
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