The Decline Of the Go-Go Bar Experience
With apologies to Ishiro, who probably wrote his tirade accusing those who write about the diminishing standards in the bar business as of little interest to readers of the Stick Chronicles before Stick wrote on Sunday that the subject filled his inbox as never before. He admits to mongering in the past and then he lost interest in it because he entered a long-term relationship. That is reflected in his submission, but it doesn't mean that everyone has also lost interest. If you aren't interested in the subject, Ishiro, then don't read those submissions. There are many alternatives. In my personal view some can be a little tedious, but others are quite magical. There are travel reports, from both within Thailand and elsewhere, so perhaps Ishiro should stick to those and not read my following thoughts on the subject. By the way, I do question why Ishiro continues to read a site that is centred around nightlife news if he is not interested in the subject.
Stick's interview with the owner of Club Electric Blue underlined that there is no possibility of the go-go bars becoming more customer friendly, either in service standards or pricing. There are no longer enough girls entering the industry. I don't buy the argument that it is because they can make a decent wage now in more mainstream jobs. A half-decent bar girl can still potentially make as much in two or three days as a non-bar girl makes in a month. That, combined with a party atmosphere and the possibility of finding someone to 'take care' on a long-term basis is a powerful incentive to take up pole dancing. Add the sight of girls returning home to the village from their 'waitressing' job able to build a house and buy a new SUV for the family, and the temptation must still be strong to join the world's oldest profession. A far more likely reason for the 'staff shortage' is that people now have smaller families than in the past, so there is a smaller pool of girls available.
With bars desperate for staff we now get one of the most experienced and savvy managers in the business admitting he is helpless and that there would be a riot and the girls would walk if he banned the use of mobile phones during working hours. We have the ridiculous situation of the workers making the rules and dictating to the boss. What other business would allow that? The girls can do almost anything they want and the boss has to accept it, or have no dancers. At the same time, the introduction of the mobile phone has turned the industry upside down. The girls no longer have to turn on the charm every night to draw customers as they have their own 'little black book' with any number of favoured customers just a push-button away.
And, with salaries more than doubling in a comparatively short time, the girls no longer need to supplement their income by interacting with customers. You could say that the bars have dug their own grave in that respect, as wages began rising while there was still a steady supply of new girls. Why? What they should have done years ago was form a bar owners association and worked for the self interests of the group, instead of working for the self interest of themselves by trying to outbid each other and paying dancers higher and higher wages.
Now they have created the situation where girls feel little need to interact with the customers in search of a decent living wage. They already get more each month as a basic wage than many in mundane jobs where years of study might be needed to earn a degree. The girls also know they can come in late or not at all some days and they are unlikely to be fired. And if they are, the bar next door will take them on in a heartbeat (again, no association to warn of the bad apples). I am aware of at least one girl in a Soi Cowboy bar who was often arguing with the mamasan, getting drunk and fighting with the other girls. She was eventually fired and simply got another job three doors away.
With the rise in wages and with the ground therefore laid for the girls to have a couldn't care less attitude, the bar owners then have to raise the prices, in effect punishing the customers for their own poor management. They can't do anything about the massive rents they pay, which is another and major factor in their expenses. Or can they? Yet again, a decent bar owners association would surely have some kind of bargaining power when up against those who own the properties. If I'm correct there are people who own many properties, and the bar owners might be able to collectively Just Say No when the latest rent increases are demanded from greedy owners. If several bars threatened to walk in the face of extortion then the property owners would lose a massive amount of money. And, as Big Andy says, only a fool would take on a bar now so they would be little chance of anyone stepping into the empty premises.
As has been stated elsewhere, the bars might still be good value when compared to what is often available overseas. But many places in Europe offer Asians to 'play with', and there is no airfare and hotel to pay for. I haven't experienced them for myself, but Germany has some huge and very successful entertainment places open 24 hours at a very reasonable cost. Perhaps someone has tried them and can write a submission comparing them to the Thai experience. If Thailand thinks it offers unique entertainment it is very much mistaken.
As Stick has suggested, many of the bars need to stop complaining about the lack of customers and instead think of ways to attract them instead of having them turn away due to surly and disinterested staff. That staff attitude, though, is a major obstacle, and it will persist as long as those staff can get another job the same day if they are fired. People do not come to the bars to spend money, only to be greeted by rude service staff and indifferent dancers. Why can these struggling bar owners not recognise that arguably the most popular bars – in Nana, Spanky’s, in the Cowboy area Crazy House and in Patpong Club Electric Blue – are the ones which provide a fun, hands-on experience. How about being imaginative and giving customers want they want. Is that too difficult to understand?
Nice idea about the bar owners association but I think we have to remember that this is basically a dirty business, that a good few of the bar owners are not really interested in doing what might be considered "the right thing", and really only interested in lining their own pockets under whatever circumstances.
The idea of banding together and challenging the landlord on rates charged is nice in principle but with the current economic environment it just won't work. The demand for prime retail space in downtown Bangkok is massive and other businesses will happily pay more than the bars will, even on the ground floor of Nana Plaza which has the highest rates in the industry. I don't know what the current rents are but I can tell you of the rates paid by three British pubs in the Silom Road area 4 years ago. Two paid 600,000+ baht per month and the third paid 750,000 baht per month! The issue of massively rising rents for prime real estate in Bangkok is a major contributing factor to why the cost of eating out has jumped in Bangkok over the past several years.
With the state of the industry and the general downward trend, naughty bars just cannot afford those sorts of rents and as Andy said in the interview, the value of real estate in downtown Bangkok is probably what will eventually kill the industry, at least those venues in their present location.