22-Dec-2015 (Tue) Wherein everything is terrible.

It's been a while since my last update, but that's only because everything has been a disaster and I haven't felt like talking about it.

It's the worst time of the year for the nightlife industry -- basically, you can count on Halloween being great, and New Year's Eve being great, and absolutely everything in between the two being terrible, especially in December. Everybody is broke or traveling or anticipating same. You also can't do any promotion for things happening in January or February, because New Year's Eve is like the goddamned Singularity -- nobody can even imagine what's on the other side of it so they won't even think about that until it has happened.

So into this dead zone comes the new restaurant and bar, at the tail end of a very expensive construction project. We have run out our budget, even after having deeply triaged the project, saving lots of things to be done "later".

Business at the new restaurant has been terrible. Business at the new club has been beyond terrible. Like, the attendance on many nights has been so low that we lost money by being open at all.

We're not even getting much daytime business at the new restaurant, which I still feel should be a pretty good location for weekday lunch business. Some of this may be attributable to the fact that the place isn't very visible. The complete mess that the condo construction project next door has made of our sidewalk isn't helping (and that mess probably isn't going away for two or three years); and the fact that our outside signage is terrible and hard to see is definitely not helping -- but, there's currently no budget for better signs either.

This is the part where everyone starts gushing platitudes: "Oh, it's early days! It will pick up! It's December!" Yeah, I know, that is probably true. But opening a second 24 hour restaurant means that I've got like 20 or 25 additional employees now, and oddly enough, they'd all like me to pay them. Telling me, "I'm sure it'll be better in February" doesn't help with that whole "payroll" problem.

In addition to the increased number of staff, we still have a ridiculously high turnover in restaurant employees -- either because we keep firing people for being just plain really bad at their jobs, or because they quit for whatever reason. Every time you hire a new person, that person costs you like twice as much salary for a couple of weeks while they're being trained, so having a high turnover is really expensive. If we could find just like... ten really competent people who would actually stick around, that would be great.

In attendance-related news, we finally killed our weekly Tuesday party, Sequence. The attendance when Sequence was at DNA was terrible, so we moved it over to the more appropriately-sized room at Codeword, and the attendance there was even worse, so we finally just threw in the towel. We kept slogging away at it for so long because we just had to believe that there is demand out there for an 18+ weeknight dance party, since there are almost none of those in this town. If you're 20 and you want to go out on a weeknight in San Francisco, you're pretty much shit out of luck. But, no. The people have spoken and they're not interested. Bummer.

This last Saturday we did a one-off Death Guild over at Codeword. It was a fun party, and pretty well attended. And all of our staff, and most of our staff's friends, would love it if we just did that all the time, which means that this is a conversation I had repeatedly that night:

    "This is my first time here, and this is great! You should do this party always!"

    "We can't. If we did, then you people, who spend your entire lives at Cat Club, would go there first and then come here, or vice versa. Which means everybody makes half as much money, and it's terrible all around."

    "Oh, yeah, huh, I totally would do that."

That night I was talking to a friend and used the phrase "mainstream dance party", and my friend said, "you mean like, eighties?" Because that's what mainstream means to you when you're a 40something goth. My response may have been overly heated.

Well, here are some photos from a few events over the last couple of months.

Hey, did you know that last month was DNA Lounge's Thirtieth anniversary of its original opening, back in 1985? Yeah, neither did anyone else. About fourteen months ago we started brainstorming about what we could do to mark the occasion. Our hope was to have a full week of live shows of bands that merited a $30 ticket and that had some kind of connection to DNA history, or the 80s or 90s or both. I came up with a list of 30 or 40 ideas, and our booker came up with others, and after pushing at this for a year, you know what we ended up with? Fucking Everclear. And that was a coincidence anyway. So we just ignored the whole thing. [Insert party noisemaker sound here.]

By the way, how is Second Life still a thing?

Bootie: Heaven & Hell
Bootie: Second Life
Bootie: DNA Lounge 30th Anniversary
Monday Hubba

So Stoked
The Phenomenauts
Bootie: Pro Wrestling Odyssey
Reverend Horton Heat
Mark Redito

Hubba Fairy Tales
Hubba Christmas
That 1 Guy
Death Guild: Saturday

20 Responses:

  1. Jacob says:

    I hope you find a way to make your businesses successful. Merry Christmas, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  2. ACN says:

    I had pizza at the new restaurant last week, it was great, I told everyone I knew at the convention about it, hopefully some others went too.

  3. Gareth says:

    Are these viable businesses fulfilling a demand or just vanity projects?

  4. JW says:

    The staffing thing, I sympathize with you...that's every restaurant right now, especially this time of year.

    I feel like it's easy to just chalk this up to the supposed tech boom, buuut...that's pretty much it. Young(&otherwise) people with money want to dine out, so the industry responds by opening more restaurants, thinning the labor pool.

    I work at a SF fine dining restaurant that is considered something of an institution, that pays rather well for the level of effort involved...and it's a struggle finding people who are knowledgeable and don't suck.

    Once we start seeing a contraction, hopefully things will return to normal. Establishments with good fundamentals will ride it out. Those that don't...won't. There's an excess of places we could stand to shed.

    TL; DR: It's not just you - it sucks for everybody. Well-run places will ride this out. Try to keep the faith?

  5. Jim Sweeney says:

    Part of the problem(s) might also be that there are so few 18-20 year olds in SF, both as pizza place employees, and weeknight dance-party patrons.

    They can't afford to move here, when in the past they moved here in droves, year after year, and the people who are moving here now aren't that age, and they don't have kids that age.

    Meanwhile, the existing SF population that's trying to stay in the city and ride out the storm just keeps getting older.

  6. William says:

    Nobody has any organic soul anymore. It's all contrived with bright colors and just weird plastic insane people. For example, Death Guild used to be attended by people wearing black and some unusual mascara etc. and feminine dresses and tops and some subtly and class to their persona. Now it's more bright pink and multi colored ribbons and just completely painted faces and the gas mask guys with their polyester cartoon clothing, punching and kicking on the main stage scares away all the appealing girls and softer guys from taking their turn on the main stage. Plus the music is all politically corrected wimpy one beat whiney, whiney, whiney crap neglecting Bauhaus, The Prodigy, Skinny Puppy etc. for whiney chick music or one beat German marching themes. Just Soul-less.

  7. James says:

    Please explain the logic underpinning the Cat Club conversations.

    • Ben says:

      I've read it twice now, a bit confused, and all I can get is that he doesn't want to steal half of the business of one of his competitors. Which is very kind to the competitor, and historically he's done other things for the good of the SF nightlife industry generally when he could have done things that were just good for him/DNA, but it is an odd decision when juxtaposed with the rest of the post.

      • My take on it was that there's a niche, currently filled by Cat Club, favored by people in the same demographic as the DNA/Codeword staff. He's saying that instead of booking a variety of shows appealing to a range of people at different times (including an occasional foray into Cat Club territory, which by its novelty might pull people away from Cat Club for a night), his staff would love it if he just tried to squeeze into that niche alongside Cat Club full-time. It sounds like the end result would be that neither DNA nor Cat Club would be viable if each had half that niche.

      • jwz says:

        The goth scene is not large enough to support two competing events on one night, no matter how many times an aging goth tells you that sounds like a great idea to them.

        And it's not exactly a growing community. That star left the Main Sequence quite some time ago.

        • Elusis says:

          Exactly. This is what killed most of the goth nights in Denver - at one point there were FOUR competing clubs every Sunday night, leaving one to endure such bon mots as "OMG the music is SO MUCH BETTER HERE!" "Then why don't you come here more often?" "All my friends are at [other club]." "Why don't you bring them here?" "[crickets]"

          Because inertia and habit win out over effort and curation every damn time.

          (OTOH, I'd come to Codeword for a goth night once a month. And I haven't been to Cats in over a year. But I'm enough of a grown woman to realize that you can't run a club just for me and my six friends, even if we are nice people who buy a lot of drinks and tip well.)

      • James says:

        Indeed. What if selling beer has the same social complications and competitive frustrations as software? [insert Keanu meme pic]

        Anyway, I've examined the Second Life statistics and conclude they are still around due mostly to porn, and predict they will last no more than five more years, because of HighFidelity.io, a pure-JavaScript, pure-peer-to-peer, updated virtual reality platform with facial expression mapping to avatars and no restrictions on interactions imposed by corporate terms of service morality police.

  8. Full Face Paint says:

    Death guild kicks ass. They just need to update their music a bit. Lots of awesome dark goth dance music around today.

    Goodluck DNA! Best club in the city by far!

  9. Suedehead McGee says:

    Regarding business at CW:

    I agree that it is in a good location to attract a strong morning and lunch rush. However, I doubt pizza and beer cuts it for this clientele's breakfast and lunch preferences. Perhaps the CW menu should better accommodate this clientele by offering breakfast/traveler friendly foods such as foccacia, egg-rounds, fresh fruit, oatmeal, fruit and vegetable juices, etc. (This would be a great way to use excess produce before it expires). It would also help if all of the staff were competent in making espresso drinks(foaming milk, microfoam, etc) and knew the difference between a cappuccino and a latte.
    One could also leave flyers (that had a shortened menu) in the lobby of nearby hotels/condos/apartments with a "bring this flyer, get 10% off" or "we deliver here until 4am!") This could help improve visibility, reaching further than just street view. Speaking of visibility, an illuminated "espresso" sign could do wonders. Ntm "espresso" speaks louder than "coffee" as it is inclusive of a specialization and the assumption that yes, the place with espresso also serves coffee.
    You could also advertise free wifi, which is sure to bring by a plethora of folx who want a late night coffee spot and wifi. I KNOW SF has to have folx who are looking for that. Hell, through in an open mic night and you have every liberal college students' wet dream.

    When the budget allows, interior decorating would do wonders in making the spot much more inviting and comfortable for those passing by. Perhaps something to brighten it? Mirrors, interior lighting, different color theme. Comfortable vintage looking chairs, sofas, artwork, etc.
    Again, just thinking about the targeted community and what would best appeal to them without completely selling out/deviating from the alternative DNA appeal. At this point CW looks more like a dive bar than a place to get breakfast or lunch, undermining the targeted audience for the location.

    Regarding Turnover:

    The turnover is astonishingly high for being such a sweet and easy gig to work. This bears with it both a financial burden and a social tax(we can get more into that later). There are several reasons for this, including: The tendency of management to hire just about anyone, including people with little to no restaurant experience; working at a 24hour place that has intense rushes isn't for the faint, and should not be underestimated; these people end up leaving before they have a solid reason to leave, and the constant training of people that the OG crew knows won't work adds extra stress and work on aforementioned crew(social tax) as well as wastes money (financial burden): management style is poor, often aggressive and demeaning, giving workers less of a reason to invest themselves in their workplace: the training of new hires is inconsistent, which further prolongs the training period, ultimately costing more, financially and socially; this needs to be reviewed to ensure the success of the people you are hiring; lest they think pushing pizza is too difficult and quit (going back to the shortcomings of the training process): promotions often come from a basis of nepotism, rather than a vote of confidence between the management and those who will work under this new person; this leaves the OG crew disheartened as they watch as noobs who cannot fulfill the basic requirements of their position, much less act as leaders, are promoted because they have it good with "_______"; hence the most recent exodus of dedicated employees (those who were there for >1 year) who ultimately left, not because of job stress (as this has greatly improved) but because of feeling disrespected.

    Competent people rarely stay in restaurant jobs because of the pay, they stay because of the feeling of camaraderie.
    Having a high turnover undermines that basic fabric of having a stable restaurant crew.

    I would love to continue this conversation sometime, until then I wish you and DNA a most fortunate future, wherein everything rules.

    • James says:

      I think you're on to something. "Consumers at breakfast time are a force to be reckoned with."

      In the southern Denver Metro suburban cultural wastelands, the only place that does live music is the Java Jam Cafe, a block northwest of the Lincoln light rail station. For breakfast, too, I swear. Apparently they are only on Facebook, but the point is they have something called an "egg muglet" which I'm convinced, as much as I love pizza for breakfast, might be preferred over pizza by the typical office breakfast-goer. Fewer carbs.

  10. Dan says:

    What were your expectations regarding business there at this time of year? Were there any surprises that are dragging things down? How far off are you from where you expected?

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