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The emphasis in re-design is on integrating them with the bar area, the DJ booth and VIP lounges

Dance Floors That Sell
Scale Down the Space and Step Up the Profits
By Michael Harrelson michael@oxpub.com

Is your concept of a dance floor design stuck in the 1970s, back when Tony Manero, polyester shirts and the Bee Gees reigned supreme and nightclubs competed to see who could spend the most money to build the biggest rectangle?

Just as with certain aspects of human anatomy, bigger has long been synonymous with better.But when it comes to the size, shape and feel of a nightclub dance floor, less can be more — a whole lot more, in fact.

Nightclub owners who doubt this would do well to ask themselves a question before spending a small fortune on a dance floor design or re-design. Which would I rather have: a dance floor that’s big or one that sells?

Death by Disco
There is little doubt that economy has replaced ego when it comes to modern dance floor design. Even in nightclubs with traditional dance floors that recall the larger-than-life disco scene of a Studio 54, the emphasis in re-design is on integrating them with the bar area, the DJ booth and the VIP lounges to avoid the design missteps that can make dance floors both dysfunctional and less appealing to guests.

In the new design equation, not only form, but function has changed as well, says Jeff Cahill, president of Cahill Studios, a nightclub and restaurant design firm in Redbank, N.J. Rather than a clearly defined dance space in a traditional nightclub setting, the new dance floors are often indistinguishable from other areas of what are now better known as nightclub/restaurants. That these hybrid dining and dancing facilities — drawing on the weekend strength of nightclubs and the day-to-day staying power of restaurants - are the wave of the future is evidenced by a spate of local ordinances that are evolving to accommodate them.

“When disco died, this (nightclub/restaurant trend) started,” Cahill says. “It’s all driven by economics. Because no one can afford to dedicate that kind of real estate to just dancing. Now, in 2002, the (dance floor) space is integrated into the dining room and the lines are blurred. It’s not just the perfect rectangle anymore. That’s a thing of the past.”

Just how far the evolution in dance floor design has come is obvious to veteran DJ Davey Gold, who spins for dance crowds at clubs and venues throughout the United States and the world. “I’m not sure if there are any clubs or lounges that generate business primarily from the dance floor design, Gold says. “I’ve visited hot spots where dance floors weren’t present at all.”

These days, someone could be sitting on top of a dance floor and not even realize it, says Cahill, whose firm has designed a number of these morphing spaces for clients. “They might be sitting at a table that is moved to the side when the DJ or band kicks into that tempo or beat,” Cahill says. “They don’t have to journey to a destination. They can turn around and start dancing. The crowd will move and form the area that is designated for dancing.”

Why do these amorphous areas work better than a designated dance space? Part of their appeal is their fresh look and their human scale — something Cahill says stands in stark contrast to conventional nightclub interiors that can look as if they were more appropriate for cattle than people, with rows of booths and rectangular bars where guests sit shoulder to shoulder. But to Cahill, whose background as a graphic designer makes him less prone to the mathematical approach followed by interior designers, there is another reason as well.

“On some nights, it might look like the dance floor is too crowded or too empty, “ Cahill says. “But a dance floor without boundaries, (one) that can grow or shrink with the crowds, that dance floor will always be correct.”

Stepping Up Sales
If the trend in dance floors today seems a tad less glamorous that in the old days, then rest assured there is still plenty of excitement and opportunity for all in their broader market appeal, greater functionality and in the higher level of creative energy they can generate for club-goers.
Whether conventional or non-conventional, the dance floor, increasingly, is no longer a separate destination within a nightclub. Indeed, the overall nightclub experience is now much more interactive, Cahill says.

As president of CMS, an international music consulting firm, Houston’s Wyatt Magnum has taken more than a few turns on dance floors in his day. In the process, he’s come to understand the steps to take and the steps to avoid in designing or re-designing a fun, profitable dance environment. He offers the following tips to club owners.

• If You Built It (Against A Wall) They Won’t Come
I feel strongly a dance floor should never be built against a wall. You should typically be able to walk around the entire dance floor to ensure good traffic flow.”

• Make It Cocktail Friendly
“Another common mistake I see is the lack of drink rails around the dance floor. You want people to gather around your dance floor to encourage guests to interact with each other. Easy access to the bar from the dance floor is another key ingredient. It’s a proven theory that dance floor rotation equals higher beverage revenue.”

• More Can Be Less
“I’d rather see a small dance floor that’s packed than a large dance floor that’s half empty. I’m also big on multi-level dance floors. Dance platforms allow guests to become the stars of the show.”

“The bar and how it relates to the dance floor is hugely important,” he says. “You can’t take a bar and put it in another area against the wall. They are like lovers. They need to feed off each other. If I’m somebody who doesn’t care to dance, I don’t want to be isolated off into another area. I want to be in the same proximity as those who do want to dance. I want to share and feed off their excitement. And vice versa.”

Trendier nightclubs also are rethinking the placement of VIP lounges for the same reason, Cahillsays. “Those outside perimeters (around a dance area) are a good place to put the loungers,” he says. “But preferably, the lounge areas should be elevated because, typically, they are a lower-type seating. You don’t want to have butts in your face. You want lounge people to have a better vantage point.”

Rather than merely providing a cosmetic makeover to a venue, such dance floor innovation can have a major impact on a club’s bottom line. “Obviously, if you can keep customers all night, your liquor sales will actually outweigh your food sales,” says Cahill. “Lots of places are comfortable with a 60 to 40 percent food-to-liquor split. But the scale will actually tip the other way making liquor the higher earner.”

“In the last 10 years or so, lounges in cities like New York, Miami, Las Vegas, etc., seem to be gaining popularity among club-goers,” says Gold. “Posh, cozy, elaborate in décor (and) usually designed by a well-known designer, (they offer) a more intimate setting. They usually contain a small or no dance floor, some or no intelligent lighting, an adequate sound system and a small DJ booth. Places like Lot 61 and Eugene (New York City), which don’t have dance floors ...(still) manage to pack in a crowd

For all their downsizing, the new dance floor designs hold out the promise of a nightclub experience to put “Saturday Night Fever” to shame. “Ideally, you should think of your entire square footage as a designated dance floor,” says Cahill. “Because ideally, on a perfect night, everybody should feel like dancing.” NCB



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