Tag Archives: Innovation

SURFING THE TRUMP DISRUPTION: 4 Keys to Success as America Changes in 2017

Whatever your opinion on Donald Trump, everyone can agree that there are huge changes coming to America and the world, starting January 20.

How can a business person or any other citizen adapt and prosper in this volatile time? Since the election November 8, I have come up with a few ideas. None of them involve Tweeting after awards shows.



The US government is the largest organization in our nation. It is about to drastically transform. A multitude of new businesses will spring up to manage the intentional and unintentional results of this disruption. I believe people are going to prosper in new  enterprises arising to exploit or even to oppose this radical shift in government.

It’s not simply that we’ve moved from a Democratic to Republican administration. Mr. Trump seems determined to disrupt the way governing has been done for decades, just as he broke all the rules of campaigning. Whether you love or loath the incoming President, it’s obvious that the next four years will not be business as usual. Is Donald Trump the Amazon of politics, a profound game changer? Or is he closer to Bitcoin or Google Glass, a passing sideshow oddity? Either way there are big changes in store starting right away.

Some of the sectors where the new administration and Congress will make drastic changes include health care, national security, energy policy, international relations, tax rules, business regulations, laws over individuals, and conservation. As these changes are instituted, businesses and jobs will be created to manage new challenges and exploit new opportunities. I expect an explosion of innovation as our nation grapples with the new Administration’s game-changing approach to government.

These opportunities will not be for business owners only. If you don’t own your own company, be on the lookout for openings your employer can exploit, and suggest new moves. You could end up leading a new division of your company! And look for part time side business ideas as well.

There will be opportunities for Republicans and Democrats alike. Innovative enterprises aimed at fighting Mr. Trump and Republican control of government are already emerging.

The Trump Disruption will have no borders. There will be opportunities not only for Americans but people the world over. As America is disrupted from within, other nations will have new chances to excel and challenges to overcome. You could write a book about Russia alone.

I advise everyone to look at every upcoming change, and ask the question: “what’s my opportunity to help?” Particularly focus on areas relating to your experience and expertise. There will be many ways to add value, through businesses, government and non-profit civic causes. Opportunities are there whether you favor or oppose the Trump Administration.



Government regulations of businesses are going to be loosened. That’s a sure thing with the new power structure. For my own businesses (hospitality, retail beverage marketing and event services), fewer regulations will be a catalyst for growth, innovation and profits. But while a more permissive regulatory environment will present opportunities, it also creates more openings for fraudulent operators. As regulations fall, new scams are sure to crop up. It will be increasingly important to read the fine print and do due diligence on every personal and business deal. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!



The blunt, unfiltered approach that works for Mr. Trump is 99% likely to backfire for the rest of us in our daily lives. Even if you are a Trump fan, it’s important to avoid insulting, arrogant, thoughtless behavior in business and personal interactions. You are not a billionaire TV star.

The satirical magazine The Onion was on point with this spoof:

REPORT: It Is Still Nowhere Near OK to Act Like Donald Trump

ITHACA, NY—In the hours since the Republican nominee’s stunning election to the nation’s highest office, reports have confirmed that, regardless of circumstance, it is not even remotely close to okay to act like Donald Trump. “Just to be perfectly clear, speaking or behaving in a manner similar to President-elect Trump is just as unacceptable now as it has ever been,” the reports stated, adding that in zero percent of cases is it even borderline permissible to conduct oneself either personally or professionally in a fashion akin to Trump, and that has not changed in the past two days. “In fact, acting like Mr. Trump does for even a moment will result in a wide range of negative social—and in some cases, criminal—consequences for you personally.” – THE ONION satirical media site



Eight years of divided government are over. Republicans are in control of all Federal branches and the majority of State Houses. Similar to the first term of President George W Bush in 2000, there will be a huge shift of resources toward Republican-preferred programs and away from those seen to benefit Democratic constituencies.

This shift will create two new sets of opportunities:

First and most obviously, Republican favored programs flush with new funds will offer new jobs and contract opportunities for businesses.
But also, Democratic favored programs losing funding will be searching for creative ways to continue their endeavors. This too is an opening for entrepreneurial minded people to step up with creative solutions.

Just don’t expect the government to shrink in total size and spending. Even Mr. Trump is not that radical. Rhetoric always comes in second to self interest, regardless of who rules! So count on plenty of ways to profit working with the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Our Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Whether you think Trump will “make America great” or be a “disaster,” unprecedented opportunities are on the way with the “huuuuuge” changes we’ll all be experiencing. Welcome to the uncharted territory of Trump’s America.



The best move for great #restaurant/bar #socialmedia results.

Before hiring any social media manager or company, try this for your bar / restaurant (or any retail establishment). Hire a photographer to be on location during your busy times, who will capture the action in the venue and post to social media. The problem I hear about from my clients and other bar/restaurant operators is not about HOW to post on social media, but WHAT to post. Hiring a social media agency or manager does nothing to generate exciting, original posting content! The best content for any retail business social media accounts are the cool, fun things that happen inside the venue – but you have to capture them live!  In addition to my bar/restaurant/beverage consulting firm (that includes social media consulting), I own a photo/video event services company that shoots over 400 events per year. I’ve developed quite a few techniques for utilizing photographers, and best practices for restaurant/bar content capture and sharing.  Here’s a guide for getting a good program in place to create a dominant social media presence for a venue:

  1. Personality is most important in hiring photographers. To get good photos the photographer has to be able to make customers feel comfortable and want to have fun when taking pictures. No creeps! Nobody boring or low energy!
  2. Search your staff first for a photographer. There’s a lot of creative types in the service industry. Someone who knows the venue, staff and customers is ideal. A regular may be a good photographer or know one, so ask them!
  3. Make sure the photographer fits your customer profile. As closely as possible you want the photographer to be in your ideal client demographic, so as to better relate to your concept and your best customers.
  4. Make sure the photographer is available and happy to work during the peak periods of the business.
  5. Have the photographer check in with venue private party coordinators and the hostess to learn about birthday parties and other special customer events in the venue for good photo opportunities.
  6. The work flow should be for photographer to sweep the venue engaging customers and capturing images, then go to an unobtrusive area to edit and upload images. This  should be a location where they can still see most of the room in case something exciting occurs that should be captured. This alternating work flow allows time for quick editing, instant uploading and prevents overkill of the photographer being on the floor too much, annoying people and running out of good images to capture. I suggest 50% of time on the floor 50% off, and running time can depend on what’s happening, size of crowd etc. Don’t bother scheduling photographers on slow nights, it’s a waste.
  7. Before hiring the photographer, ask them for photos of groups having fun and photos of food and drinks. If they don’t have much to show, have them come in on a night and shoot a live audition. Work with them and watch how they relate to customers, then look at their work. Personality and speed are more important than super high quality photography. The photos and video need to be attractive and eye catching, but don’t have to be masterpieces. For example food does not have to look like a restaurant chain advertisement; yummy is good enough. Skills shooting in a dimmer light level is important. Wedding photographers are great candidates for this as they know how to engage with clients but often they work Saturdays which is most venues’ best night. But winter is off season in northern areas so that creates some opportunities.
  8. The photographer needs to wear a lanyard with an ID badge so customers know it’s a representative of the venue and not some creepy picture taker!
  9. Make sure the photographer can also shoot video with their camera and is comfortable doing this. Video is equally important to photography in social media.
  10. Have a quiet area of the bar or restaurant where customer wanting to do testimonials, happy birthday messages or other positive short videos can be captured. These are priceless!
  11. Only use photographers with an active social media presence. They need to walk the walk not just talk the talk. They must demonstrate their knowledge by having a presence on every social media channel where your business is active.
  12. Have a conversation about the image the business needs to portray online to drive sales. Make sure the photographer “gets” what type of photos and videos should go on line and which should be deleted. Emphasize quality over quantity!  For those who are interested I offer an extensive list of criteria and a training guide I use for event photography and videography.
  13. Have the photographer post instantly, with no management review process. Social media sharing thrives in the moment. There’s no time for a manager or owner to go through all the images, so it’s key to have a photographer with good judgment (see #12). If the photographer can do some filters and special effects quickly that’s great, but let them know speed is priority 1. Management should look at their accounts daily and take down anything that is not appropriate. This should be rare with the right shooter and training criteria.
  14. For instant posting it’s best for the photographer to have a camera with Wi-Fi or other connectivity built in. For example I use a Canon EOS with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built in so photos go right to my smart phone for fast editing and posting. Forget posting the next day – that’s an obsolete approach.
  15. If the venue has a larger TV matrix system several TVs can be dedicated to uploaded photos from the current day and past days – an ever changing collage of photos. The social media explosion is proof positive that people love to look at photos of themselves and their friends!
  16. Give the photographer hashtags or other tags and keywords that can be included with photos, that fit your marketing needs.
  17. You need heads up, talented, dependable, good personalities for this job, so don’t cheap out!
  18. The best restaurant social media accounts I’ve seen have a lot of owner personal involvement. If possible, ownership should be personally captured interacting with customers, hosting short videos and posting everything to active personal social media sites. This is the gold standard.
  19. Whenever possible, the photographer should caption the images when posting, with AT LEAST the venue name and taggable names of the people in the photos or video. This is key for sharing and viral action. How this is done varies from channel to channel.  Customers giving their names should be entered automatically in a contest for a generous prize so they have a chance to win something for sharing their names. If they don’t want to that’s fine, don’t push it.
  20. Every customer should get a simple business card with a link to view the photos and download or share.
  21. Don’t just shoot customer and food/beverage photos. Remember the staff is a huge part of any good venue’s appeal. If the photographer has a good personality the staff will engage and you’ll get a lot of fun photos of staff with each other and with customers. Let the staff tag themselves. Don’t auto tag them as many staff members are worried about stalkers, their full time day job etc. I’ve seem many programs fall apart due to mishandling staff involvement. Owners tend to assume staff members want to promote themselves online at their hospitality jobs, and will BE the social media department for the venue. This is wishful thinking and I’ve never seen it happen. Staff can be a part of a program run by the venue; they will never be your prime social media drivers. FYI short cut takers.
  22. Have the photographer do head shots for all staff they can use on their own. Everyone needs one! Also have the photographers shoot general room shots, empty and full, along with B Roll video of the venue. These may or may not be good enough for advertising, media or private party brochures, but it’s a free throw to get some generic shots when the photographer is there anyway.
  23. Have more than 1 photographer in rotation, and have a back up every night. Work with an agency if you have to. Marketing through social media is just as important as any other job. You wouldn’t have no hostess, don’t miss a busy night with your photographer. That will be the night something amazing happens and you’ll miss it!
  24. Have a sign posted as people enter the venue that they may be recorded or photographed and entry constitutes agreement to share their image. I have some good ones just ask me if needed. If anyone contacts you objecting to their image being on social media, take it down right away, and ask them to confirm by email that their complaint has been resolved.
  25. Make sure bands and entertainers sign a waiver allowing their images, audio and video to be used for venue promotion.
  26. The photographer needs to sign a contractor waiver and agree they are responsible for their own equipment and anything that happens relating to them while at the venue. It’s best if they have insurance but most do not.
  27. Run your plan by a local attorney to see if there are any restrictions or risks in your local area that need to be considered.

If you have a photographer shooting and posting photos and video on every busy night, I am 100% sure you will have the best social media presence among your competitors. Very few are going the extra mile to do this right, so it’s a huge potential competitive advantage.

I’m happy to help design your program just contact me here. Happy shooting!


The 25 Year Story of Chicago’s Largest Nightclub

NOTE: One year ago marked the finale of the largest, longest running nightlife project I’ve been involved with.  This is my personal recap and remembrance from closing week, January 2015.  The thoughts are mine and do not necessarily represent the official views of ACE or its owners.


“To sustain longevity, you have to evolve.” – Aries Spears

In the last week of October 1989 (about 1 month after Avicii was born), Excalibur Nightclub opened in downtown Chicago. This past weekend was the finale of a 25 year run under the same ownership and management. The club owners sold the real estate to a major developer, so now it’s closing time for Ala Carte Entertainment at this unique and historic castle-like location. ACE will now proceed with developing 4 new locations set to open in the coming year, in addition to their 20+ established locations.

A handful of well-operated bars, restaurants and concert halls can last generations, but pure nightclubs (large dance oriented, sound system/DJ driven venues) are only as good as last week’s party. They tend to resemble a flame that burns hot and dies fast. Longevity is the hardest thing to achieve in the nightlife business.

The majority of nightclubs strike like a match, flaring up to light a cigarette or a couple of candles. Alive only a year or two, most clubs rapidly burn out, having contributed briefly to the nightlife pageant. A few of those matches start a fire that burns and warms the night for a while; five years is a good run for a nightclub. These clubs host the fuzzy party memories for each wave of 20 somethings. A select handful of nightclubs blaze for 10 years or more, providing a beacon to multiple generations of clubbers. These are the places people call “legendary.”
But the nightclub at 632 N. Dearborn was one of an elite group of clubs in the world, going strong for 25 years, providing jobs for thousands, entertainment for millions of people from Chicago and all around the world, and like any big fire, it burned a few of us now and then.

“Nobody goes there, it’s too crowded.” – Yogi Berra

Excalibur was never trendy, yet it evolved constantly through the years.  It opened in 1989 as half dance club and half “barcade” with 10,000 square feet of bar games including an indoor golf simulator. Funny that 25 years later in 2014 barcades are a hot trend once again.
Chicago’s hipsters and self-styled A-listers over the years chose to judge the multi-club complex solely by the first floor Cabaret, which was tourist and party oriented, playing mainstream dance music for a diverse group of average Joes and Janes out to celebrate birthdays, company events, conventions, marriages, end of the work week, and visits to the Big City. There was a piano bar for a while, that evolved into “comedy you can dance to,” with performing MCs involving the crowd in games and stunts. Yes, the first floor could be cheesy, but it was always fun and welcoming to all visitors. Not many clubs can say they successfully threw a wild party 7 days a week across 2 decades.
Beyond the first floor, hundreds of thousands of clubbers found radically different entertainment environments to explore inside this 40,000 sq ft complex. While the giant Excalibur sign was out front for most of the 25 year run, inside was a ever changing series of themed clubs within a club. In the 90s the most prominent “sub-club” was “The Dome Room,” home of bondage nights, cutting edge bands and hard core industrial music. From 2002-2012, EDM Nightclub “Vision” occupied the biggest 2 club rooms, more than half of the total space in the Excalibur building. Vision brought nearly every internationally known DJ to Chicago, and featured the Chicago debut of stars such as Calvin Harris and Armin Van Buuren, and superstar sets by Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk to name just a few. Nearly every respected DJ played the Vision space over 10 years, and the club was acclaimed internationally for its bookings, sound system and crowd.
Excalibur and all its “sub-clubs” definitely hosted the most diverse crowd in the history of Chicago nightlife. All ethnic groups had frequent theme events in the various club spaces, including Hispanic, Greek, Russian, African-American, Indian, Asian and many others. There were also frequent LGBT events.

In 2012, the building needed a major remodel after nearly 25 years of hard partying, and the decision was made to freshen things up with a new name and concept for the building, thus Excalibur was retired and The Castle opened March 1, 2013, focusing on expanding the EDM standard set by Vision, with the ever reliable Cabaret format continuing to bring the party on the first floor as it had from Excalibur’s opening day.

“The few who do are the envy of the many who only watch.” – Jim Rohn

Through all those parties and themes, there were a few consistent keys to the longevity and success of Excalibur and all its sub-clubs:

  • First and foremost, a welcoming atmosphere of friendly down to earth customer service, year in and year out, from an excellent staff.
  • The absolute best professional club management, operations and security, constantly perfecting systems to make the club safe and enjoyable for all. A unique strength of Excalibur management was the operational skill to avoid neighborhood and city problems. Incredibly, in 25 years there was never a major negative incident. Bad security and community relations are two of the biggest shortcomings that cause nightclubs to fail.
  • Developing multiple streams of business, including private events, quality casual dining, special interest promotions, live music, ethnic specialty entertainment, bachelorette parties, charity events, community/political events, and multiple entertainment theme events. For many years, Excalibur was the largest non-hotel private event space in Chicago, booking millions of dollars annually in social and corporate events.
  • Constantly changing and updating music formats and entertainment to appeal to a wide range of tastes from mainstream to cutting edge, and hiring the best DJs and MCs.
  • State of the art sound, lighting and video systems, upgraded on a regular basis.  Castle’s main room sound system technology was named Best in the World in 2014.
  • Frequent promotional events that were innovative, entertaining and tied in with current audience interests.
  • Regular redecorating and re-theming of the various clubs within the building.
  • A consistent corporate level management team over the years, very low turnover at the highest levels of ownership, operations supervisors, marketing and entertainment management.

What’s next for the historic building at 632 N Dearborn in Chicago? A major Las Vegas club in Chicago? A giant arcade bar that harkens back to 1989 and the opening of Excalibur? Another progressive EDM megaclub? Whatever comes next, 25 years as Chicago’s largest and most successful club will be a hard act to follow.

Cheers, with appreciation and gratitude to Fred and Mark Hoffmann, the owners, and everyone involved in this phenomenal success story!
— Tim Borden, “TimTheBarGuy” @tbchicago1

In 1989 I was the 20-something “head DJ” of the 5 unit bar group that bought the Limelight, which was larger in size than all of our bars combined at the time. After a year that almost killed everyone in the company, Excalibur opened, and luckily it worked! Then, as Ala Carte Entertainment expanded to over 20 locations, I served as Director of Marketing and Concept Development for all ACE locations through the 1990s until 2006. Since 2006 I have been a consultant to Ala Carte Entertainment, managing their beverage programs and special projects, including consulting on concept development of the Castle.

NOTE: I plan to add more posts with personal stories about the club and the 90s nightlife era.  Please subscribe to the blog to get notification on those posts.

— Tim

2 ex buildings
The building at 632 N Dearborn in the early 1900s and as “The Castle” in 2013.
Timeline of the Landmark Chicago Building that became
Chicago’s Most Successful Nightclub
1896 – 2015

1896 – The Chicago Historical Society building is completed and dedicated. The building is designed by renowned Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb and replaced the old Historical Society building destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
1931 – After 35 years, Chicago Historical Society moves to the Lincoln Park location it occupies today (renamed Chicago History Museum).
1931-1984 – The old building variously housed a magazine publisher, The Loyal Order Of Moose, Chicago Institute of Design and recording studios. It was vacant in later years.
1985-1988 – The Limelight nightclub operates for 3+ years in the building, the first Chicago megaclub. (Many Chicagoans say they remember “partying at the Limelight,” but you have to be at least 48 years old in 2015 to have been in there at age 21).
1989 – Fred Hoffmann purchases the Limelight and undertakes a breakneck 10 month, multi-million dollar remodeling that doubles the floor space in the building.
October 1989 – Excalibur opens to the public, featuring the Cabaret, “Club X” dance club, a restaurant, and large game rooms, capitalizing on the late 80s trend of high energy arcade nightclubs such as Baja Beach Club.
Early 1990s – Due to its unique space and exciting atmosphere, Excalibur rapidly develops a healthy private event business, becoming Chicago’s busiest non-hotel private event space, in addition to the booming nightclub business.
1990-1995 – The trend of megaclubs with multiple dance and party environments explodes after the opening of Excalibur, with Shelter, China Club, Crobar, Kaboom, Cairo and other megaclubs dominating the nightlife market. Excalibur becomes a favorite location for live radio broadcasts, TV coverage and celebrity appearances.
1991-1993 – Excalibur hosts official Chicago Bulls Championship parties hosted live by the Bulls players, with more than 5,000 attendance each year of the first Bulls Three-Peat.
1995-1998 – For the second Bulls Three-Peat, Excalibur again hosts the official Chicago Bulls Championship parties with more than 5,000 attendance each year.
1995-2000 – Megaclubs fall off in popularity, all closing other than Excalibur. Lounges and VIP oriented smaller club spaces start to dominate. Excalibur launches “The Dome Room” industrial alternative club, that is successful for several years. Later Excalibur subdivides into new variety of entertainment formats, including “Aura” in the Dome Room in cooperation with alternative radio station Q101. At first Aura features Q101 Alternative Rock music then gradually includes a mix of Trance and other early EDM as progressive dance music begins its rise.
July 1999 – Prince visits and falls in love with Excalibur, playing an unscheduled concert in the main club. He visits the club many more times over the next few years, and occasionally gives short performances.
2000-2002 – Excalibur is still profitable and popular on the first floor level and with private events, but after more than a decade, the larger dance club rooms start to fade. Raves in unlicensed spaces have their boom period, pulling business from dance clubs before being outlawed in 2003.
2002 – Vision Nightclub debuts in the building, featuring major International DJs and upcoming EDM artists. Opening night July 2002 features Paul Oakenfold.
2002-2012 – Vision occupies 2 out of the 3 main club spaces in the Excalibur building and becomes the dominant concept. Excalibur continues on the first floor and for private events and theme parties.
March 2013 – Entire building is remodeled with new world class sound system and re-launched as Castle. Excalibur name retired after 23 years.
2013 – Attracted by a booming downtown real estate marketing and the newly remodeled club, Castle owners receive an offer to buy the real estate and newly remodeled club for 12.5 million. Castle remains in the building for year 2014 and new owners opt to take possession of the building in January 2015.

Photo credits:  JenniferCatherinePhotography.com

Castle purple outside night