It’s Friday night, and you’re going out. Out out. You close all the tabs in your browser and slap your laptop shut. You arrive at the club and your worries melt into nothing. You flirt in the smoking area and dance by the decks, two-step to your heart’s content and stumble in at 5AM. You feel fucking brilliant.
But the next morning, your bank account looks worryingly low. Pre-drinks cost you £18. Entry set you back a couple of tenners. Drinks added up to £30. The Uber home was £21. Oh, and don’t you forget that £7.50 sloppy kebab. Before you know it, the cost of your night out has turned into a small fortune – and that’s without picking up.
These days, it feels like going clubbing in the UK – especially in the capital — has reached a new level of expensive. “It seems that since the pandemic, everything has shot up,” says Kate Karpinski, a 25-year-old student. “Pay on the door prices are skyrocketing and you have to be really on it with booking tickets. The tier system is quite annoying.”
Has clubbing really become more expensive? Or are we just infuriated about having to splash the cash after two years of virtual raves, HouseParty, and live-streamed DJ sets? We went to club promoters and bookers to find out.
Let’s start with fabric nightclub in London, who have shared figures with us directly. So far in 2022, fabric’s average weekend door price has been £18.95. That’s actually less than their pre-pandemic average of £19.16, back in 2019. “Don’t get me wrong, our tickets still go up to £25, or more if it’s a higher talent bill,” says Andrew Blackett, fabric’s programming director. “But instead of early bird tickets, we [now] sell pre-midnight entry for around £12 or £15, giving a heavy discount for people to be there in the first hour. After that, it goes up to £25, which is very comparable to how much it was in 2019.”
Encouraging punters to ditch pre-drinks and get through the doors earlier is a widespread tactic used by clubs to try and increase bar take. “Ticket prices haven’t changed in years,” says Jamie Shearer, general manager of Corsica Studios. “[But] people have got more inventive. We don't feel comfortable putting the drinks price up, so we’re now thinking about how else can we get some revenue coming in.”
After speaking to more promoters – including Palidrone, Milkshake, and Secretsundaze – it certainly seems like club tickets have generally remained the same price as they were before the pandemic. If they have increased, it’s only been by a couple of pounds. So why are we all feeling like something has drastically changed?
There are a few possible explanations.
It could be that the honeymoon period from clubbing’s post-lockdown return has fizzled out, and everyone has realised that being stuck in a sweaty room of strangers and weird noises isn’t quite as worth our hard-earned cash as it used to be. It could be that if you do manage to scoop that pre-11PM cheaper entry, you’ll probably be spending just as much as you would have, or even more, on your overall night out.
There could also be another explanation – and it’s to do with our good old pal, inflation. “A plausible explanation for this [situation] is ‘confirmation bias’,” says Professor Alex Edmans, a behavioural finance expert. “Everyone is saying how expensive things are, and how high inflation is. You see this in the news all the time. Thus, people think this is the case when they go clubbing.”
Ubers and other costs involved in a night out are also on the up, which could impact our attitude towards entry prices. Arman Eshraghi is a Professor of Finance at Cardiff Business School. “While ticket and drink prices may not have increased much, the total cost of a night out clubbing has increased at a higher rate – including costs like transportation, the cost of a meal before or after, and the opportunity cost of a night out,” Eshraghi says.
“Psychologically, it may be other costs and frictions in our mind which influence the behaviour [of clubbing clients].” This could be especially true for young people, a group that has been proved to have higher inflation perceptions – meaning they’ve believed that prices have historically risen more than they actually have.
But in the near future, it’s likely that the push might really come to shove. Research conducted by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) in June showed that 61.5 percent of 325 nightlife operators said they’ve been paying more for artists and DJs post-pandemic.
“Sometimes, we’re asked to pay fees that mean we can’t even break even, or mean we lose money,” says Daniel Howe, promoter at Palidrone and booker at Sneaky Pete’s club in Edinburgh. “Some artists are wanting double the fee that was agreed before the pandemic.”
To deal with the squeeze while keeping entry prices the same, many promoters have started to book more up-and-coming or local talent, rather than flying in A-list DJs from halfway round the world.
Club tickets usually cover artist fees rather than the costs of running the venue, so it’s likely we’ll see a jump in drinks prices soon, too. More than half of the respondents in a survey by the NTIA revealed a 30 percent increase in operating costs compared to pre-pandemic levels. And while energy plays a huge part, it’s not the only worry. According to Andrew at fabric, the price of the fluid used in dance floor smoke machines has doubled since 2019, the price of bar supplies has tripled and the price of staffing security has gone up by just more than 20 percent. “We’re resistant to put [the price of] anything up, but there's a point where your margins have to be met or something's got to radically change,” he says.
It’s a massive concern for the future of the night-time economy – a sector that is still feeling the blow from being the first to shut and last to open as a result of the lockdowns, and one that has lost at least 154 UK venues between 2016 and 2021. And now that the post-lockdown clubbing boom is well and truly over, many venues are finding that they have fewer punters coming through their doors compared to before the pandemic.
“We’re definitely slightly down in what we might expect with the types of nights we're doing,” says Jamie at Corsica. “One thing we’re definitely finding is that people are going out less than they were before,” agrees James, co-founder of Secretsundaze.
Michael Kill, CEO of the NTIA and Savenightlife, says that many businesses have highlighted the fragility of ticket sales, alongside changes in customer confidence and increased operating costs. “The industry needs to come together to tackle this issue, alongside a long term plan from the government,” Kill says.
We know, we know: It’s all very cheery. It could be part of the reason why house parties are back with a vengeance, and why the free party movement looks like it’s about to have a renaissance. But it’s also a great reason to support your venues even more, if you can afford to do so (come on, you’re not that old!). Try to go clubbing on the cheap: do a sober night out, look for parties doing discounted tickets, or ditch the blockbuster events at places like Warehouse Project for a low-key party supporting emerging DJs. Get out there, have a good time, and enjoy that £7.50 sloppy kebab.