The Jazz Cafe in London is open with a capacity of 150, down from its normal 450. (Getty Images)

London club aims to find out if it can make money at reduced capacity

The Jazz Cafe in London is hosting live events with an audience again — fully seated and distanced, to stay in line with government requirements.

VenuesNow reached out to Jack Hersh from The Columbo Group, the company that owns the Jazz Cafe, to find out how to best reopen with distancing in place and whether it can be done in an economically viable way.

Usually able to hold 450 patrons, the Jazz Club is operating at a capacity of 150 for the time being, to be able to seat all guests around tables. Instead of increasing ticket prices to make up for lost customers, the club’s owner scaled back expenditures where possible, Hersh said.

The main thing for the team, he said, was to keep live going, regardless of the economics.

Hersh said: “As the (head booker Ruari Frew) says, we’ve accepted that it’s going to be difficult financially, but simply being open keeps so many jobs going from bar staff to engineers. These are the jobs that lacked support during the pandemic.

“It’s also just really exciting to be back with live music and hopefully creating something for Londoners to look forward to and enjoy.”

According to Hersh, it was too early to tell whether there was a way of staging live concerts in an economically viable manner while distancing requirements were in place.

“What we do know is this is the only way we could reopen under these conditions, so it’s worth a go,” he said, adding, “There’s a lot of factors at play for live music venues, particularly in London. Rent, artist fees, wages and the rest all add up, and some would argue you need a full venue to be able to cover those costs. We will have to see if that’s the case.”

The Jazz Cafe will be employing the same number of staff it would on a regular night but for a third of the customers. There’ll be staff dedicated to guiding people to their respective tables, making drinks behind the bar and serving them at the table.

There’ll be table service all night, which may be a plus, seeing that “a lot of customers will prefer not having to queue to get their drinks,” according to Hersh, who said it could even positively affect bar sales, seeing that “there’ll be plenty of staff on hand to serve.”

In his experience, artists and their teams are “just happy to get back to live music. It represents something normal which people have been lacking in their lives, so whilst remaining cautious people are very keen to get back out and do what they do!”

The same holds true for the audience. “We’ve had a great response from our fans,” he said. “We had a lot of love and support with our Crowdfunder and that’s just continued.

“Everyone has been waiting for some good news, and I think us reopening has certainly represented that for a lot of people. Ticket sales have been going really well. We would expect a full house every night,” Hersh said.

In his view, the key factors for a return to business at full capacity “are how the virus develops over the winter, whether we find a vaccine and whether we can develop an effective testing system in this country.

“It’s too early to be thinking about going back to full capacity just yet, but with us being open from now we will certainly be ready for it when it comes.”