The boss of Raffles told us the secret behind getting into an exclusive club — and how to run one

Jake Parkinson-Smith
Jake Parkinson-Smith is famously friends with Prince William and Prince Harry and ran Boujis for a decade. Business Insider/Lianna Brinded

Jake Parkinson-Smith, 38, is just as famous for being friends with the Royal Family as well as being the proprietor at some of London’s most famous private members clubs.

After training at the Savoy, the famous luxury hotel, and a decade at Prince Harry’s favourite London nightclub Boujis, Parkinson-Smith became a partner in the private members club Raffles in Chelsea in May last year.

Incidentally, it’s the only nightclub that the Queen has visited in her lifetime. It’s also a regular hangout for model Cara Delevingne and actors Henry Cavill, Eddie Redmayne, and Jamie Dornan, who are drawn there by Raffles’ reputation for strict privacy.

Even the two owners of the establishment are not publicly named.

It costs £400 ($US612) in a one-off joining fee, and an annual charge of £400 ($US612) to be a member. Raffles is also planning to launch other clubs in the US and Europe.

As one of UK’s most exclusive nightspots, Parkinson-Smith told Business Insider on what it takes to get into the club, as well as the “science” behind running one of these establishments.

BUSINESS INSIDER: London is rife with private members clubs but what makes Raffles different to others?

JAKE PARKINSON-SMITH: Raffles is one of the oldest members clubs and has been going since 1967. It is the only club the Queen has visited. She came here in the 1970s to celebrate a cousin’s (the Earl of Mountbatten’s grandson) 21st birthday party.

Unlike most clubs, which have a licence until 3 a.m. in the morning, we have a special extension which allows us to close at 5 a.m. We also have a lot of tables and have a special area called the Black Room, which is even more exclusive. It’s sponsored by Dom Pérignon.

Cara Delevingne
Cara Delevingne is a regular at Raffles in Chelsea, London. Getty

BI: So, how much does Raffles make out of these sponsorship deals?

JPS: You know nightclubs, especially the private members clubs, don’t like to talk about revenue and how much we make from these deals. But I can tell you about how the relationship works.

Brands like Dom Pérignon help with marketing support and having their name on something like the Black Room means they also get a push for us selling their bottles. [According to leak receipts in the press, bottles of Dom Pérignon can go for at least £1,100 ($US1,681) each]. The young waiters or waitresses are very incentivised to sell the products and the service is like no where else.

It also funds having the best DJs to visit the establishment. This is part of the science of running of a successful and exclusive nightclub.

BI: What is the “science” behind it then?

JPS: There are five key things. You have to have outstanding music, an outstanding crowd, outstanding service, outstanding offerings that other clubs can’t give, and to give the customer the best night of their life — every time they visit. If you merge this altogether, you’ll get a strong following. What fascinates me is that there are a lot of operators out there that only have one or two of these in their clubs.

I run the club like a family business as I want everyone who is starting a shift to really want to be there enjoy themselves and not just think “oh no, here’s work again.” You pay them the right money, keep them happy, and create an environment where they’re excited to come to work. I need people on top of their game every night. I need loyalty and reliability.

Benecio del toro
Actor Benecio del Toro (L) at Raffles in 2012. Raffles

BI: So what rules do you have for staff and how to keep customers happy?

JPS: We have between 25-30 people working at the club every night. Everyone has to be impeccable.

We make sure that the customer gets from the door, to the cloakroom, and is at their table being served in 2 minutes or under. If we don’t hit that target, we have failed them. You can’t have people coming in to a club like this and expect to wait 45 minutes for a bottle.

We are all in constant radio contact with each other, and we are choreographed in terms of taking orders and delivering the drinks within a minute.

BI: Being an “exclusive” private members club, you obviously have strict door rules. How do you get in?

JPS: It’s simple. You have to be well-dressed, a member (which is by invitation only, or if you get in on a weekend guest list) and willing to spend a lot of money. Tables start at a price of £1,000 ($US1,529). We also never let a group of just guys in. You have to bring a girl or girls with you.

We don’t let drunk people in either, even if you are a member.

BI: As a nightclub veteran, what qualities do you need to be boss?

JPS: I look at amazing venues like Annabel’s, in which my grandfather was a founding member, and it was run very much like a family business. This is what I try to do. If you make sure there is a family atmosphere amongst customers and staff, you’ll all feel special, and people will want to be part of that. I like being part of that.

You also have to be a lover of people. You have to be patient and non-judgemental and of course be able to sleep at strange times. Also, despite working in a nightclub, not drinking really helps.

I gave up drinking two years ago. You can’t carry on like you’re a 20-year-old forever.

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