Walking into a Social Cues venue requires you to expect the unexpected.
As you approach the Brooklyn site that houses Social Cues’ Bushwick space, you’re surrounded by stark brick buildings covered in graffiti. However, when you punch in the code and open the door, the inside is the opposite of the outside: bright colors, giant murals, a pink pool table, glittering light from multiple disco balls, and all the comforts of having your own private club by the hour.
And that’s just one of the ways Social Cues differs from traditional venues.
Social Cues is a collection of five venues — with two more in progress — in Brooklyn, N.Y., with a contactless planning process from booking to arrival to payment. Social Cues guests book or send an inquiry about the venue of their choice online for private events, receive an access code for entry, and arrive at the location with guests plus food and beverage. Social Cues takes care of the rest: each space is an Instagrammable wonderland stocked with games, all the equipment you need for audio and visual streaming, and entertainment options like karaoke or photo booths.
We spoke to Andrew Welch, Social Cues Director of Operations, about how the company’s concept was created, how it fits into the events industry, and how the venues are designed.
Each venue is really one-of-a-kind. The Bushwick location is known as Wynwood, and its bright murals, white furniture, and glamour reflect its Miami art-focused district namesake. The walls of the East Williamsburg B.S.A. Social Cues — named for the Brooklyn street art found throughout the neighborhood — are covered in the vibrant colors of New York City-themed graffiti and murals. Vogue, located in the Gowanus neighborhood, has artwork as well and an upscale feel with exposed brick, high ceilings, and decor like leather couches and mood lighting. In the Clinton Hill neighborhood, Surreal is a trip to Wonderland and includes a Mad Hatter mural, Victorian decor, and eclectic art that makes you feel like you have fallen down the rabbit hole. The fifth location — The Gallery — is a mix of modern style and industrial features, accented with abstract paintings and street art.
All Social Cues locations have the same set of amenities, such as karaoke, billiards, darts, pool tables, photo booth, board games, sound system, smart technology, and space for food and beverages.
“Funny enough, no one on the team knows till the last moment what theme the new locations will be. The themes and interiors are worked out by our in-house designers, whose primary focus is to create a moment of surprise and offer something fresh and unique. They never just stick to one genre; it’s more a mix of styles or a revamp of iconic themes that they think may appeal to the crowd while referencing the neighborhood the venues are in,” Welch said.
Social Cues venues have been booked for just about everything, from a casual get-together or after-work meet-ups to birthdays, game nights, baby showers, engagement parties, holiday parties, or production shoots.
“The beauty about our concept is that everyone can find something for themselves given the variety of amenities offered in addition to all venues being aesthetically different. The styles won’t ever be repeated at new locations,” Welch said. “It’s not your typical event space with an event planner onsite assisting you through the process and a management team ensuring your needs are always met. Clients know ahead of time exactly what they are booking, what Social Cues private lounge comes with, and how it works. All venues are ‘smart,’ so it’s important to follow instructions displayed in each location to ensure your own best experience while at the venue. Still, our team is always available by text or phone should anyone need assistance during their booking.”
Social Cues’ contactless concept is the perfect fit for a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but its creation was in the works long before anyone heard the phrase “social distancing.”
“Many ideas were circulating around how to bring event spaces to the wider audience with a focus on smaller gatherings and offering something new, unique, and competitive to the existing market, but it wasn’t really finalized until COVID hit as it became very clear what’s been missing in the city and what kind of new perspective on going out can be put out there,” Welch said. “Privacy and exclusivity were always highly valued, but the ownership was looking for the triple-A concept: accessible, affordable, and all-inclusive, which ended up happening, and ever since opening our first location, we have been receiving positive feedback from the clients, so demand for this type of night out is there.”
A hands-off, fully remote approach has been around the hospitality industry for the last decade, and it’s become more common with the introduction of tools like Tripleseat+ Direct, which allows customers to book and pay for events and catering in just a few clicks. It’s been popular for younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z, who prefer to use technology for just about everything as quickly as possible.
“I do think it’s more understood by the new generation as everything needs to happen very fast and better with a few clicks on your phone; meanwhile, the older generation still puts a lot of thought into an in-person interaction, or at least it’s more comfortable for them to talk to someone rather than click on the screen,” Welch said. “The remote business model doesn’t mean, however, that the service provided is not personalized, which is where the misunderstanding comes from; it’s just a different format: digital. I think this is the future, and I can see some other entertainment markets or food and beverage industry taking it on.”
From the venue’s perspective, the Social Cues concept saves time, money, and manpower.
“On our side, it’s a huge labor and time-saving factor as we have what we call a ‘silent’ team in place. You can always call us, text, or reach us via email, but there won’t ever be an in-person interaction. It’s the new era where the virtual world is more and more dominating as the booking and access process has been made so easy,” Welch said.
This allows Social Cues to spend more of its efforts on the business side and curate each venue’s design. Two New York City locations are slated to open before the beginning of 2023, and the company is considering other cities.
“One of the two upcoming venues will have an outdoor space. Our clients kept mentioning that an outdoor terrace would be a great feature for future locations, so we listened, and now it’s happening,” Welch said. “There is an expansion plan in place to other cities as well, which is very exciting, but I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves; let 2023 come first.”