By Lubna Hamdan
General manager Richard Jenman on what it’s like to join the circus and why the show never stops for this notorious London club concept
The “legendary” Cirque Le Soir nightclub, as general manager Richard Jenman likes to call it, is best known for its otherworldly risqué circus theme.
Fire breathers, sword-swallowers, tattooed aerialists and stilt walkers are just a few of the acts that take place behind the unassuming black doors of the club located on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road.
The London club concept first opened in the UK capital in 2009 to an A-list celebrity crowd before a large Arab clientele triggered it to launch its Dubai branch just three years later.
Now managed by 39-year-old Jenman, the club witnesses its fair share of high profile customers, sky-high bills and thrilling performances. Jenman, who’s worked in high end hospitality for 23 years, gives us an inside look on life with the circus.
What is your most popular and profitable night of the week?
Monday night is our hip hop night and it’s our most popular and profitable night. We’ve won multiple awards for it.
What is the highest bill that a customer has paid at Cirque Le Soir Dubai?
That’s a trade secret – but I can tell you we’ve had bills higher than AED500,000.
What about the most expensive bottle at Cirque Dubai – how much is it?
That would be a bottle of bubbly for AED150,000.
Apart from working in Dubai, you’ve worked in London nightlife for over 9 years. How does the Dubai nightlife scene compare to London’s?
They’re very similar in terms of the brands that work but I think in terms of Dubai, everybody is spoiled for choice, so you can’t make any mistakes.
You have to make sure that whatever you sell or your product is at the top at all times because very easily, you fall and somebody else grabs the market if you’re not careful. This just makes the whole competition thing more aggressive. And it just means that you have to be sharper and keep your eye on the ball.
Would you say then that the industry in Dubai is more aggressive than London?
I think it is in the case of the Dubai market doesn't forget. So if you do something wrong, you’ll be picking up the pieces for a long time. So you need to make sure that all the time, you’re at the top.
I think in London, people tend to just go to whatever club they wish at the time whereas here, if you’re doing things right, you have the loyalty factor and people will always come back.
Is there a missing factor(s) in the Dubai nightlife market and if so, what is it?
It’s very weird how the time frame that nightclubs operate [in Dubai] is a very small window. It’s primarily from 12:30am or 1am to 3am - which is very bizarre. And don’t get me wrong, in those two hours, people party.
But for the rest of Europe and London, there’s that longer period. People will come at 10pm and they’ll stay until 4am.
I don’t really think there’s another missing factor. I think the experience you get in Dubai is at the very top of the industry. The shows that we put on, the artists that we get - the service is at the top of its game.
Why do you think people in Dubai limit themselves to just two hours of partying instead of the four and a half hours they could spend?
I think it’s just because of the mentality of the region and possibly because people are not used to anything different. I certainly feel that if it was to increase and the hours would go longer, it would be beneficial to the market. But it is what it is. A lot of our clientele party in Europe and Lebanon as well so they know what is possible.
Dubai has seen a large amount of new venues open up in its nightlife scene. How do you find the competition in Dubai, how does it affect you and how do you deal with it?
Dubai has become a very competitive market, but that’s a good thing because competition puts you at the head of your game. It really shows the good operators from the bad. And I think if you’re a good operator, you will always thrive in that environment.
You obviously take into consideration the competition. You don’t ignore it. You keep a good eye on it. But at the end of the day, you always strive to make your venue and your product the best it can be. It’s not just one element that goes into a business, it’s all the elements. And you have to make sure you cover them at all times.
Have you witnessed a change in consumer spending due to the economic global slowdown?
It’s difficult to say. I would say that people are taking a longer time away from Dubai. I think this time last year, more people were back earlier.
Cirque Le Soir London has a reputation for having strict door policy. Is the Dubai venue the same?
We obviously uphold a certain descriptive door policy because we’re a premium nightclub in a five-star hotel. But in general I think we’re more open-minded than some of the other clubs [as] we have a very diverse clientele. We’re certainly not very restrictive at the door. We generally like to have a good calibre of people in the building, that’s all.
As long as you’re looking good, hip or stylish, you’re welcome. We also have a huge amount of floor space on the dance floor which other venues don’t generally have. That’s why we’re more open minded because we can fill two sides of the venue, not only the tables but the dance floor too.
What’s it like being a club manager in Dubai? What are the upsides and downsides of the job?
It’s not a job that everyone can do, but when you have the amount of experience I have, it just comes natural. I’ve done it for so long now - it’s certainly very demanding but it’s also very rewarding. It’s not only a job anymore, it’s a way of life. I don’t think there’s anything else that I could do after this.
What is a normal day in your life?
I wake up just before midday and touch base with my marketing team and promoters and make sure the structure for the night is taking place. Then I’ll come in [to the office] and start having meetings, making sure the business is moving forward, generally setup and begin my shift. I finish very late, 4am at best. There’s not much sleep in this lifestyle. You never really stop. Your phone never stops buzzing.
Do you go clubbing on your free time?
I don’t go clubbing but I certainly like to keep my eye on the competition and see what’s going on in the market.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Keeping ahead of the competition. You can never take your eye off the board. It’s never going to stop. There’s never a moment when everything’s perfect. There’s always going to be challenges ahead, new competition, new directives. You just have to keep going.
What is the best part of your job?
It is when everything that you do works at the end and the night is a huge success, because it means all the time and effort you put into it was worthwhile.