The Show Must Go On

A Phoenix nightclub owner puts music and employee care center stage.

Summary — Running a bar and nightclub is a tough job, and finding perfect harmony can be especially hard for new businesses in the industry. One owner shares his journey towards creating a thriving, multi-location bar and nightclub plus promotions business below. Learn how he's increasing attendance at shows and building employee loyalty at the same time--a riveting ensemble.

Time to read: 7 minutes

Great guitar solos feel right because they give you what want, and delight because they surprise you. The bar and nightclub business can feel the same way.

It’s said the perfect guitar solo should be 50% expected and 50% unexpected. You want to feel like it makes sense, and hits all the important notes, but you also want it to take you somewhere, to give you more than you thought you’d need.

Few businesses combine the unexpected and the expected as successfully as bars and nightclubs. But that’s part of the excitement, it’s part of why patrons come and why employees take the job. Learn all your parts and just hang on. It’s helpful to have a bunch of other experienced players to point the way and provide a safety net. So that you can marry the expected and unexpected into an inspiring solo (or venue) that catches people’s attention and doesn’t let go.

Loud and bright, and late at night, bars and nightclubs can be tough workplaces.

Good Advice and Unexpected Value

Phoenix nightclub and bar owner Charlie Levy has gathered together creative and experienced partners to provide guidance, steer him away from mistakes and catch him when things don’t go perfectly. One of those advisors is his friend and insurance agent David DeLorenzo, a former music industry vet himself who provided crucial advice a decade ago when Charlie was making the jump from music and event promoter to full-on nightclub, bar and event space owner-operator.

That’s the value that good agents provide to policyholders, and what David tries to deliver to his bar, nightclub and restaurant clients at Ambassador Group Insurance in Arizona. The business owners know they need workers’ compensation coverage. They may even know that lowest cost isn’t the only consideration. But often that’s it. “The niche I’m in, they really need my help,” David explains. “A lot of them don’t even know what it is that they don’t know. That’s where a good agent, with a good provider to help, can add unexpected value. We are resources beyond just providing policies.”

Opening the Doors on a New Business

“It was a real shift in every way,” Charlie explains of the jump from promoter to facility owner. “As a promoter you walk into someone else’s house and you get to use it for 6 hours. And then you leave, just walk away. On the downside, you ultimately can only be as a good as the venue is. That can stop you from putting on great events. Having had the Crescent Ballroom for 10 years now, it’s a lot more responsibility and headaches because you’re not leaving it at the end of the night. You live it 24/7. And throw in the additional element of a restaurant. Wow.”

But it can be much more fulfilling, as well, Charlie swears. There’s an additional sense of accomplishment when you succeed at things. You get to be more creative, but you also need to be more creative to really pull it off — simply because you have to hit all the numbers and mitigate risks to keep the business running. The business has to be open to keep staff employed, a real challenge even before pandemic shutdowns. And that takes strategy, hustle and creativity.

Getting Creative in the Bar, Nightclub and Event Industry

“You constantly have to program it,” Charlie explains. “Theme nights, different combinations of bands, even spoken word can work. Sometimes an evening bombs and nobody shows up. But then you have those evening or events that just come together perfectly, and it’s a smash. It’s good business, but it also becomes a happening in the local culture and people remember it for a long time.”

Asked for an example that perfectly combined creative programming, good business and a cultural moment, Charlie comes up with Phoenix Unknown. “There are over 160 languages spoken in Phoenix,” Charlie explains. “I thought, think of the range of food, music, art. People from so many places and cultures. We put together an event that benefited the International Rescue Committee, which focuses on refugee relief. We had 30 different bands, lots of different kinds of food. We crushed it!”

Location, Location, Location

In addition to the Crescent Ballroom, Charlie and his team have The Van Buren, Valley Bar and Gracie’s Tax Bar to keep busy. “Sometimes we do smaller nights, say jazz for 100 people, but it is definitely the big events that can be especially taxing for our people,” Charlie explains. “We had to work out techniques like staggering shifts and learning where our greatest risks were. The staff’s mental and physical health is very important. At the end of the day, we are all in this business to entertain people and enjoy ourselves. One of my guiding mantras is that this is about having fun and being nice. If we aren’t having fun, it’s going to transfer over to the customers.”

Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix, Arizona, is an inviting destination.

This photo-illustration of the Van Buren shows what it looked like long ago and today.

Employee Empathy Creates Loyalty

Charlie recognizes that it’s a young people’s business. The staff is perhaps less experienced, less concerned about their health, and their living and working primarily at night. And further, the customers tend to be the same, out at night, having a good time, and there’s alcohol in the mix. It’s also complicated by the needs of a restaurant kitchen and those hours starting much earlier in the day. The Crescent is often in use for 20 hours per day, and that can put a strain on everything, including people.

That’s one of the reasons Charlie raves about having a good workers’ compensation policy and agent in place. “It is 100 percent a security blanket for me, and helps me sleep at night,” Charlie says. “It’s a very valuable tool, and makes me feel great that my people are covered if anything goes wrong. My employees who’ve gotten hurt very much appreciate how it has helped them recover. And even if it wasn’t legally required, I would still get it, 100 percent, a no-brainer.”

Even with all of the challenges, Charlie has no regrets about the transition he made a decade ago from promoter to nightclub owner. “I fall ass-backward into most things I do, whether the Crescent Ballroom or each of the other venues, but it always seems to work out,” he says. “It helps to have good people there like DeLo to help keep you from really messing it up.”

Ready to Rock

Agent David DeLorenzo shares 3 lessons for Bar & Nightclub owners:

  1. Sharpen Your Focus — It’s a riskier work environment. Set good procedures, provide training and repeat repeat repeat in meetings and signs. Use the Loss Control resources at your workers’ compensation carrier to help reduce risk.
  2. Help Your People — Make sure they have resources. Protect their health and income with good workers’ comp. Focus on them to see a bump in your bottom line.
  3. Seek Balance in Your Expertise — If you are not the perfect hybrid of artist and business person, find a partner who is the opposite of you. Or find good advice, like from an agent who’s been there before…

Liquids to slip on, glass that cuts. Bars are fun and exciting, but also come with risks that need to be mitigated and covered.

Starting a business is easy with workers’ compensation insurance from EMPLOYERS®. Have questions about how EMPLOYERS could help your business? Start by connecting with a local agent, or read more about our expertise in the restaurant and hospitality industry–we’re the preferred workers’ compensation insurance provider for the Arizona Restaurant Association and many other hospitality organizations around the country. If you’re already part of the EMPLOYERS family, policyholders and agents can log into EACCESS for account details.