Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Earlier this month The Deck, one of the more renowned hang-out and concert spots in New Kingston where such set-ups dedicated to purely social gathering and entertainment are thick on the ground, celebrated its 9th anniversary at its Trafalgar Road location. However, 2011 is also the 15th year of The Deck, as it spent just over six years at a previous location on Hope Road.
Richard Spence, who has been responsible for running The Deck since its inception, says that "we are neither a bar nor a club. We are the happening place. Over the years we have hosted The Reggae Boyz, Miss Jamaica Contestants, Festival Song contestants, Jazz and Blues Festival Prelude, Master Chef culinary exhibitions, the American and Canadian Diasporas and family fun days". Added to that list is viewing of World Cup 2010, some of the celebratory photographs published in The Gleaner after Spain took their first title.
Physically, the current location is many times larger than the old, the extra square footage allowing The Deck to diversify its activities. "I enjoy this one because of what we can do with it - keep shows, more dancing. This allows us more depth," Spence said.
Both locations have the wooden fixtures that give The Deck its name - and indicate Spence's roots in furniture making. An accountant by training, his stunt at bauxite company Reynolds was cut short in November 1979 when his father fell ill and, along with his brother, Spence took over running the family's furniture business. Their father died a few months later.
That business became relevant to what evolved into Spence's new venture, The Deck, although it started out initially as more of a gathering spot for long-time pals. "In 1996 some friends and I decided to have a place of our own," he said. Scouting out a location was left to him and he identified the property at Hope Road. However, after several meetings, "they did not see what I saw" and he was left with one partner, Michael Muirhead. However, the other friends still support the venture with their presence.
Literal wooden deck
The name came from a literal wooden deck that Spence did for the first location and, at its Trafalgar Road address, The Deck is replete with wooden fixtures - including much of the flooring.
Having co-managed a workforce of 60 persons in the furniture business, added to his accounting skills, Spence's previous experience helped immensely in running The Deck. Plus, in the furniture-making business there was "the whole thing about customer satisfaction. You are going into the homes, talking to the wives. That taught me the importance of customer satisfaction. When you make a dresser or put down a floor you have this sense of pride. And the whole business of referral too. You make that wife happy, two days later her friends call".
Now, Spence says, "we have extremely discerning customers who keep me on my toes. Our primary task is to ensure a positive experience for our patrons and have them leave here happy that they chose 'The Deck'. We recognise that they have choices".
It was good that he had a choice in The Deck during the early years, as some two to three years after it started the furniture-making business took a nosedive under the influx of imports. "I had to take it as a business, serious business," Spence said.
So, he says, "we are challenged to create and maintain a social environment where people visit to unwind and meet and greet their peers". And part of the high standards are the amenities, the true satisfaction in the details - napkins, stirrers, bathrooms, cold Brews, Tasty Eats, sense of security, dress code, music and quality of staff not known to the industry at the time, as they operate to hotel standards.
"We constantly communicate with and train our staff as they are the ones who interface with our customers. Invariably, happy staff translates to happy customers," Spence said. "Consistency of product and service is of utmost importance. We have a high level of repeat customers and it is important that they get what they came for."
High and lows
However, repeat business did not make The Deck immune to the recession woes and Spence said "you find that people don't go out as often as they used to. They choose one night and go for that night". The summer months are usually better, as parents get a break from having to ferry children between home, school and after-school activities. Naturally, with back-to-school expenses September is normally low.
The Deck is well-known for its after-work Friday gatherings and now there is an emphasis on retro music on Tuesdays. Merritone plays on first Sundays and there is a Lodge fund-raiser on last Sundays. Apart from that, the Deck is open from Mondays to Saturdays.
Behind the Music and the happenings is also the food - curried goat and oxtail, wings, jerked chicken, pork and fish, plus the ever popular stamp and go.
In addition, Spence says he encourages the hosting of office gatherings outside the physical workspace, "as this boosts morale and leads to higher productivity". Live performances are also part and parcel of the offerings, where Spence says "we expose young talent and renew the not so young".
"The focus is on just to keep everybody happy, to have the customer coming here and, whatever transpires during the evening, they leave thinking they made the right decision to come to The Deck," Spence said.