Imbibe live logo in white
1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

The Rise of Competitive Socialising: What we can learn from Junkyard Golf

Image: Facebook @junkyardgolfclub

At Imbibe Live 2023, Lawrence Brown, Senior Insight Manager at KAM and Lauren Cassells, Head of Marketing & Sales at Junkyard Golf took to the stage to discuss the booming leisure trend of competitive socialising.

Competitive socialising is as it sounds – essentially it’s the idea of socialising in a competitive or gaming environment. Driven by advances in technology and the explosion in demand for new and different customer experiences, competitive socialising is rapidly growing in popularity, gaining ground in various venues across London and other cities in the UK.

If you’re an operator or a supplier, see the full session recording below and be sure to read on to gain an understanding of the future opportunity for this growing occasion.

Competitive Socialising: What is it and why is it growing?

Lawrence Brown opens the session by presenting brand new research from KAM around competitive socialising trends. He explains that according to a survey with around 550 participants, last year only 27% of the respondents had visited a competitive socialising venue. However, this year, that number has surged to 37%, indicating a significant uptick in interest and engagement in competitive socialising venues. He suggests that this trend is transforming the way people socialise, offering a wider array of experiences and competitive activities.

Brown then goes on to delve into the demographics of who's attending these venues. He explains that while the trend remains somewhat London-centric, it's also prevalent in urban areas and is primarily driven by Gen Z and Millennials, who are at the forefront of adopting and popularising these social occasions.

Despite the current economic pressures and the movement towards going out less frequently, the KAM survey showed that 32% of respondents are going out more than they did last year, and only 22% are going out less. This suggests that competitive socialising might be somewhat immune to the economic challenges that other sectors are facing.

Want to know more about this topic? Read our article ‘Six Experiential Cocktail Bars to try in London’

Activities and opportunities

When it comes to the types of games and activities customers are engaging with, traditional games still hold appeal. However, there's a growing interest in arcade games, virtual reality experiences, and virtual shooting games. The sector is continually evolving to provide diverse and innovative gaming options. Some venues are taking it a step further, offering multiple activities within the same space. Indeed, 83% of visitors take advantage of this, enjoying various activities during their visit.

Junkyard Golf Club, a crazy golf venue, can be considered a leader within the sector with its rapidly growing operation in six key cities and a seventh site recently launched in Camden. During the session, Lauren Cassells explains that their customers are looking for more than just a night out. They're making responsible choices, drinking less, and while there are various reasons for that, Junkyard Golf offer an environment where people can relax and not feel pressured into drinking. Excelling in special occasions like stag dos, birthdays, and date nights, they provide a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.

However, competitive socialising venues aren't limited to specialist venues and designated spaces. The trend is expanding into traditional pubs and bars, who are exploring ways to incorporate such elements, like shuffleboard, VR headsets, or unique games, to differentiate themselves and cater to their local communities.

How are people discovering these venues?

Brown shares that from a Net Promoter Score (NPS) perspective, competitive socialising venues are performing exceptionally well, suggesting that word-of-mouth recommendations are a primary means of discovering these venues.

However social media, particularly TikTok, also plays a significant role in promoting these venues. For Junkyard Golf, visuals are crucial; Social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok help to make the brand look appealing and shareable. These visuals give customers the opportunity to see how the experience looks online, and are significant drivers for growth.

Competitive socialising customers and their drinking habits

According to KAM data, total dwell time in competitive socialising venues is currently at 86 minutes, and while this exceeds the average for all of hospitality, Brown explains that there's room for improvement. Many people engage in activities that last about an hour and then move on to somewhere else. The competitive socialising sector has the opportunity to increase dwell time by offering a more enticing food and beverage experience, thereby encouraging people to stay longer and spend more.

In terms of drinks, when asked about their preferences, responses suggest that for competitive socialisers there’s a higher demand for cocktails and other unique drink formats. Gen Z, in particular, is more likely to opt for cocktails when they go out, indicating a willingness to spend on a good time.

Cassells reinforces this, stating that at Junkyard Golf while their customers express an interest in No and Low options, the biggest trend for them is a focus on quality. People are willing to spend more on premium products and experiences; while they may drink less, they're looking for high-quality drinks when they do.

Cassells also explains that they have bars on the courses with a strong focus on fast service. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are peak days, but they also have strong business on weekdays, thanks to corporate guests looking for team-building and socialising opportunities. During peak times, congestion on the course is their biggest challenge, with the aim of ensuring quick service to keep the experience smooth and customers happy. They’re also exploring options like vending machines and technology to deliver drinks efficiently while guests play. 

Room for growth and opportunities within the sector

In summary, Brown shares that the competitive socialising sector is experiencing rapid growth, driven by the desire for unique and engaging social experiences. Despite economic pressures, people are willing to spend on high-quality experiences. Venues that offer a diverse range of activities and enhance their food and beverage offerings can capture greater customer loyalty and spending.

Cassells believes that there’s plenty of room for growth and innovation in this space, with more immersive experiences and multi-experience venues becoming popular. More people are experiencing and enjoying these venues and the corporate sector is an area with clear potential, as team-building and socialising opportunities are in demand. 

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