Readers' Submissions

Memo To Bangkok Gogo Bar Owners

  • Written by Anonymous
  • March 26th, 2014
  • 4 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok



Stick, you asked for it! Here's some free advice to bar owners and managers as to how to improve revenues.

Many will point to increasing prices and decreasing quality of girls, and they'd be right to do so. Drink prices, barfine increases and the asking price of the girls themselves are all a symptom of the well-documented Thaiconomics, where you lift prices to compensate for lower demand i.e. to sustain profits through higher margins while volume decreases. It’s absurd, but entrenched. A lot of bars will go to the wall without trying the western business models of loss leaders and taking a short-term profitability hit in the interest of stimulating demand before gradually increasing prices.

Decreasing quality of girls is a function of both an improved economy which provides more diverse job opportunities to girls with even a high-school education; the Shinawatra policies which have put a lot more money into the hands of Isaan families and thereby lowered the necessity to send their kids to the big smoke to make money, and simple demographics in which the number of girls per mother has more than halved over the past couple of generations. However, that's not to say the bars themselves are totally blameless. They haven't adjusted to the new realities. It takes more than sticking a sign outside your gogo or distributing some flyers to attract staff, and yet they think that's still enough, that they can sit on their freckles and wait for the girls to come to them.

It's a similar situation to the big football clubs of Europe, who used to have ready supplies of local talented kids turning up each year, but as that dried up, they had to cast their nets wider and wider, to all four corners of the globe to find new talent. In short, the Bangkok bar managers (you're right to say the problems in Bangkok are far greater than those in Pattaya) need to establish better scouting networks. They should have contacts all over Isaan and beyond who can earn a commission by getting some local girls to come down to Bangkok, plus pay attractive bonuses to their existing staff if they are able to bring in new staff members. I'm sure just about every dancer, DJ and doorman would know half a dozen girls they used to go to school with or live near or are third cousins, and if you offered them a 5 – 10K bonus for getting them to the bar, there'd be a glut of arrivals. Alas, the concept of spending money to make money is lost on most Thai business-people, and that is the major impediment to their progress.

But aside from the problems of prices and girls, one less identified but just as critical failure among the Bangkok gogos is the incompetence and fecklessness of the mamasans. I find it stunning that mamasans who are proven failures not only continue to be employed but seem to have no difficulty finding jobs at new bars. Let's just look at some of the bars in Nana Plaza. The mamasan of Spellbound was the one who ran Playskool into the ground, overseeing a bunch of lazy and disinterested dancers, and now Spellbound is a notable failure, never more than a quarter full, with spirits prices jacked up to the highest in Bangkok to compensate. Replacing her at the remodeled Playskool was the ladyboy formerly in charge of Mercury when it was a grubby irrelevant cubbyhole with few girls and even fewer customers, and has since gone on to prove that no amount of remodeling and redecoration is going to bring in punters if the girls and the service are bad. Lollipop, the best-positioned bar in the city, struggles for customers and is going nowhere under the stewardship of the two long-serving ladyboy managers – one OTT camp and the other as lazy as s/he is fat. They are intent on making the place in to a Jap trap in which any Asian customer is given the red-carpet treatment and whites merely tolerated. The same problem afflicts Mandarin table dance in an even more exaggerated way, with the mamasan steering girls on to the laps of Asian customers while whites are put in the corner and studiously ignored. Your point about expats is well made, and yet bars like this treat them like bad smells. And a memo to Lollipop and Mandarin – we can actually see that some of your dancers are ladyboys. The mamasans at Rainbow 3 and Chilli have been there a long time and should be ashamed at how few customers they get compared to the adjacent Spanky’s which is crammed most nights. Their failure to learn from why their bars perform poorly and Spanky’s thrives shows them to be unforgivably incompetent.

I could go on, but the broad issue is these are lucrative businesses who are employing manifestly incompetent mamasans, that utterly refuse to compete on the basis of prices, and have spectacularly failed to adjust their business models to the new staffing realities. I hope they're not expecting sympathy….