Smartphones Killed The Gogo Bar
They say that video killed the radio star, so are smart phones killing the gogo bar?
It was a week night, early, probably around 9 PM. I'm sitting in a reasonably popular Nana gogo. There's only a half dozen customers in the place, things should pick up later. I look around at the other customers. All farang, all alone, all middle-aged guys, starting out on a night that they've probably day-dreamed about for months as they slogged through another office shift back in Farangland.
For the girls? It's just another shift. Those on stage are checking their hair in the mirrors, looking past the eyes looking back at them. Those not on stage aren't showing any interest in the few customers. Nothing unusual for this time of night, when they're more likely to be found picking over a bowl of som tum in the ladies than they are to be bouncing on a customer's knee. Not enough customers yet. Not enough liquid disinhibitor, for them or the punters.
I pay my bill and decide to check out some other bars, feeling the mood of the plaza tick steadily upwards as each beer disappears. Walk around long enough in this place and you'll end up retracing your steps. So I pass by the entrance to the original bar. I'm not the kind to go into any bar twice in a night – looks desperate, needy. But this one girl gives me the eye through the curtain. I'm intrigued so I go back in, against my better judgement. I take a seat on the opposite side – that'll throw 'em, they won't recognise me as the guy who was here before. It's three-quarters full now, probably around 30 customers. The dancers on stage are a little more animated now. They're not looking at the mirrors so much now, they're trying to catch the eye of a punter. Predictable. But what about the girls off the stage, are they a little more social now? I gaze over toward the cluster near the door, expecting to see that 'available but not overly eager' look they teach at bargirl finishing school. I don't see it. I see 5 girls sitting alone, with blue faces. Glowing blue, smart phone blue.
They're not talking to customers, they're not even talking to each other, they're all online. Can't they play Angry Birds when they get home? Don't they know what's good for them? Shouldn't they be shaking those moneymakers, batting those fabric eyelashes? Then it dawns on me, slowly, through the haze of hops. There are potential customers being ignored in the bar, sure, but there are even more in their phone.
Rewind as little as 2 years ago, before the bargirls had smart phones. You'd see the odd girl with a Nokia jammed in her tassled boot, the occasional girl skipping to the exit to take that potentially lucrative call. But how many of them had customers who A/ had their number and B/ were in town and C/ up for it that night? Not many. And calls and texts were all the basic mobile offered – no email, no internet.
Now fast forward to February, 2012. Every girl has a smartphone – to not have an Iphone or Crackberry is social death in a nation of profound herd mentality. Now it's not just phone calls and texts from customers. It's the emails, the address for which they'll hand out to any Tom, Dick or Samart (easier to ignore an email than a phone call). It's Facebook. It's Twitter. It's TLL, it's all of them. Any girl who's been in the business for a few months has accumulated a stable of customers who can now contact them in a myriad of different ways thanks to the smartphone.
Faced with the prospect of cold calling on some drunk in the back row in his Chang singlet, or hooking up with a tried and tested customer who's just dropped her a line on ThaiLoveLinks, which is she going to choose?
There are many factors which threaten the future of the good-vibe gogo. Princess attitudes, KFC-inflated staff, escalating prices, early closing. Perhaps we should add Steve Jobs to that list.
I think it was Boss Hogg who first commented on the mobile phone phenomenon and how it had changed the industry – and he was commenting as a bar owner. Yep, it has got worse. This week I had a few drinks with a mate in Gulliver's. Without wanting to blow our trumpets, we were amongst the youngest, best dressed and best looking guys in there and the girls showed us ZERO interest because most were engrossed in their – as you say – top-end mobile phones. It didn't bother us that we were shown no attention as we were just there to catch up but as you say, this phenomenon is becoming wide spread – and it is ruining the gogo bars and beyond. I wonder if any owner or manager would be bold enough to ban the use of mobile phones by bar staff when they're own duty? Probably lose most of the girls if they did that!