Interview: Jake Parkinson-Smith
A King's Road institution for the last 50 years, private members club Raffles has entertained everyone from the Rolling Stones to the Queen of England. Following their 50th anniversary celebration in Berkeley Square last week, Q Insider caught up with Senior Partner Jake Parkinson-Smith to discuss his role in the enduring success of Chelsea's most illustrious nightclub…
Q: Firstly, how was Raffles'50th?
JAKE: It was amazing! That night was a real indication that since I joined 18 months ago we've turned Raffles around and have been doing things the right way with a fantastic team in place. We are delivering a reliable brand and our members know with Raffles the music is going to be great, there's going to be lots of gorgeous people and – most importantly – it's going to be an amazing experience with an outstanding production. No other club in London could have pulled off what we achieved in that venue in the middle of Berkeley Square Gardens and that's something that we are very proud of.
Q: What do you mean by "the right way"?
JAKE: Before I joined, I went to Raffles on a random Thursday night in February and felt it was in desperate need of some changes and improvements. It had great potential it just needed some innovative ideas and a strong team to take it from the First Division to the Premiership and that's something we've achieved in a very short space of time. We immediately focused on ensuring the customer service experience was improved making certain that as soon as they enter the venue they are served within 2 minutes, whether this is at a table or at the bar. Another key factor is the creation of a family environment amongst my staff. I've been in the industry a long time, so I knew I had to bring in a team who are loyal, honest and hardworking but most of all enjoyed working together and we are very lucky to have created this atmosphere. A lively happy team rubs off on the customers to create a positive energy. So many clubs have that dead, tense atmosphere but at Raffles we have a great vibe.
Q: And great music is of course essential to that atmosphere…
JAKE: Absolutely. Another reason we're going strong is because we've had some unbelievable DJs perform at the club. In particular we have created a unique Thursday night experience called Le Jeudi Soir which is focused on deep house. We've had everyone from Sven Väth to The Martinez Brothers. What's more with a 5am license we can keep the party going longer than other clubs.
Q: What personality traits do you need to be a success in the nightlife industry?
JAKE: You've definitely got to be a people person and you can't take yourself, or the industry, too seriously. I was lucky enough to have a very inspirational grandfather (celebrated fashion photographer Norman Parkinson). He treated everyone the same, always remaining humble despite his unique experiences and I learnt a lot from him.
Q: Is it true that Raffles has plans for international expansion?
JAKE: Yes, we will be opening Raffles, Puerto Banús in March next year. It's a different game outside of London because you have to adapt to the area's locality; you can't just take the blueprint from London and drop it somewhere else. We've spent a lot of time planning and researching the area to offer a different experience within the Raffles brand for our first international expansion. Watch this space!
Q: And finally, what advice would you give to anyone trying to break into the nightlife industry?
JAKE: It helps being a networker and having a wide variety of friends. You have to enjoy spending time with people and be interested in learning about them. You have to be able to balance your life with a lot of sleep deprivation, have good patience and manage customers even if they are being a bit difficult or had too much to drink. If you're a good judge of character and can read body language that's a great asset too. It's a tough industry to work in but I love it and wouldn't change the position I am in today.
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