Peter Marks, chief executive of nightclub operator Luminar, has claimed that late-night venues have become an ‘easy target’ for local authorities and the police when it comes to reducing crime rates, as an increase in phone thefts is shadowing a significant reduction in the number of incidence of violence.
Having saved the group from administration in December 2011, Marks revealed that incidents of violence across Luminar's nationwide estate have halved since he took over, but nine out of 10 cases that now involve the police are mobile phone thefts – which bars and nightclubs are often powerless to protect against.
“This is a real issue for the industry at large,” Marks told BigHospitality. “Mobile phone theft is of course a problem for any business that attracts crowds of people - be it football stadia, restaurants or bars.
“But the one place that’s particularly an easy target for this is a nightclub. A lot of people will leave their handbags on a seat and gangs are targeting venues up and down the country.
“The police are adopting a stance on these ‘incidents’, with no thought as to what the incidents actually are - they could be incidents of violence or incidents of phone theft, but they are largely being treated the same.
“Who would want to invest in a business that could lose its license through these crime statistics? But the reality is that they are largely phone-theft driven - that is what’s happening out there.
“The risks as a nightclub operator are no different now than they were 20 or 30 years’ ago. But the problem we’re facing is that if councils and the police don’t work with us and instead just see us as an easy target to reduce crime stats, then it becomes a very difficult business.”
Luminar is currently undergoing an appeal against a decision to revoke the licence of its Oceana nightclub in Kingston upon Thames following the fatal stabbing of a 20-year-old clubber.
Two drinks per visit
While admitting that these problems of violence and drunken disorderly behaviour will never be eradicated entirely, Marks reiterated that ‘there are less incidents today than there were 30 years ago’, suggesting one-off incidents are now proliferated by the likes of 24-hour news and social media.
“Wherever you have large crowds of younger adults, you can have incidents,” he said. “We’ve got some of the very best methods and procedures for trying to eradicate as much as you can but you will never eliminate it. But there’s just a lot more emphasis on crime nowadays.
“We sell only two drinks per person per visit. If someone’s had too much to drink and they get throughout rigorous checks and then the drink hits them, we have to deal with that. But it’s certainly more common now, perhaps because of the recession.”
Luminar was at one point worth over £800m and operated more than 300 nightclubs and late-night venues. It was placed into administration in October 2011, with just 75 clubs, debts of £85m and a market capitalisation just north of £700k.
“When we bought the business, it’s fair to say that there was a lot more wrong than we thought and it’s going to take us longer to get it right,” Marks added.
“But I’ve never been more convinced than I am today that we can turn this business round. We’ve had to fight hard for market share and we’ve had to refurbish our premises (nine have been refurbished so far).
“We’re pleased with our progress. We’re probably six months behind where we would like to be but this is not a one year turnaround programme - it’s a two or three year turnaround programme.
“The momentum is with our business. We are seeing annual total profits moving up every month.”
Marks was speaking exclusively with BigHospitality yesterday from the site of one of Luminar’s latest refurbishment projects – Moka nightclub in Crawley. The full video interview will be going on site later this month.