The trials and tribulations of running a Bar on the Darkside
(The following article was also published in Yesterday’s Thai Visa Internet Forum in Pattaya)
I must admit that since the grand wedding/opening party last Friday, business has been somewhat slow.
June business was 50% up on May business, but so far this month, apart from the party night, it has not been going very well at all.
I know Mobi’s is not the only one that is suffering from a lack of customers and my few loyal clientèle tell me that just about every bar on the Darkside is very quiet at the moment.
I guess it is a combination of many residents heading back to Europe for the summer and the effects of the World Cup, as many are staying at home to watch the football. (Many people are adjusting their sleep/wake habits so that they can watch the matches in the middle of the night)
A long time successful bar owner – whose opinion I respect – told me last night that July through September are really bad months for the bar business and he reckons that up to 50% of the ‘Darkside’ residents are making trips back to their home countries at this time of year. He told me that I will have to hang on until October before things get going again.
I hope he is wrong but know in my heart that he is probably correct. After all, I knew the first six months would be a struggle when I opened the bar.
Every night I sit in the bar – which is occasionally devoid of a single customer – and try to figure out what it is that makes a customer go into one bar rather than another.
Many have told me it is all down to the girls. Well we now have 9 girls, most of whom are under 24, and they are all pretty, extremely friendly, without being pushy. They will never ask a customer to buy them a drink and are only too pleased to sit next to them and chat unless the customer(s) indicates he(they) wish to be alone or just to chat with friends.
Every customer who enters our bar gets a warm welcome when they arrive, receives solicitous attention while there, and a friendly ‘good bye’ when they leave. Most will receive a personal welcome from ‘yours truly’ which is often followed up with a friendly chat, should they want it.
The music is played at a tolerable volume levels and is mainly from the 1940’s through the early 2000’s – both pop and jazz/swing. However, I do try my best to tailor the music to the age and tastes of the customers and occasionally we have a bit of a rave up to the latest pop hits, (excluding hip hop), and also sometimes show full length live pop concerts.
One night I had an old-ish group in and I was playing some jazz when they arrived. I wasn’t sure what kind of music they might appreciate and on a whim, switched to ‘bluegrass’. Then one of them asked me for some Bee Gees and I played an entire live concert for them which went down extremely well.
On another occasion I played the ‘Concert for George’ which was staged in memory of George Harrison after he died, and included everybody who was anybody (including 2 Beatles) .This concert proved to be so popular that the customers stayed until after 1 am to see the concert’s conclusion.
We have also played full live concerts by Neil Diamond, Simon & Garfunkel, Michael Bublé, Frank Sinatra, Witney Houston, Grover Washington and many more.
So we try to cater for all manner of music tastes.
Then there is the food. We have a simple but very cheap menu of jumbo hotdogs, chips, chicken nuggets and now, chicken curry.
Many have asked me how on earth I can make a profit at the low prices I charge?
The answer is that I’m not in the catering business and I have no desire to get rich on selling meals.
The whole idea is to keep my customers to stay there when they get a little hungry, and hope that the snacks and curries will tide them over and that they will stay a little longer and spend more money on drinking.
In other words, it is an extra service that I am providing.
Then there is the sport. I have been showing the EPL, Formula 1 and two grand slam tennis tournaments live and I hope to extend the sports coverage in the future, to include some of the golf and Rugby world cup matches when they are played in our time zone.
So you would think with all these little ‘extras’ that I might have a slight edge over my rivals.
Well, on some days this has been true, but on others – the next bar but one in particular has more than outdone us on customers, and even the bar next door is occasionally the chosen ‘drinking hole’ for more punters than are sampling the delights that can be found in Mobi’s. (Although there is little doubt that in the overall, the bar next door is hurting even more than us.)
So it is good luck to them and I wish them all well in their endeavours, but it doesn’t stop me wondering why a particular customer chooses to go in one bar rather than another.
The reasons for this are undoubtedly great and variable.
For example: ‘Bar loyalty’, close ‘friendships’ with a particular girl, or maybe with the bar owner, a dislike of Mobi and what he represents, ignorance as to what ‘delights’ can be found in Mobi’s, (as they have never sampled them), and so on and so forth.
Parking is definitely an issue.
Mobi’s has parking space for about 5 cars, whereas the two adjacent bars only have enough space for 2 cars each. You would think that would give Mobi’s the edge, but what happens in practice is that many customers park in the large public area alongside the 3rd bar and then take a short walk back to the bars.
The first bar they reach is the next bar but one to mine, then to the next door bar, and finally to Mobi’s. In other words, they have to ‘run the gauntlet’ of two other bars to get to Mobi’s, and suffer the indignity of enquiring ‘looks’ and welcoming shouts from the girls working at the two other bars as they pass.
Many will cave in and enter one of those, even if their original intention was to come and visit Mobi’s. I know this because some customers have subsequently told me.
Inadvertently upsetting customers is another business hazard.
I know that I have probably lost at least three of my regular customers since I started – all on the evening of last week’s party
The first, a gentleman who used to come in most days but absented himself during the World Cup, kindly came in on the night of the party, drank for a couple of hours and then departed in high dudgeon.
Before he left, he came over to me, shook my hand and said: “That’s it! I’m done” , before quickly exiting the bar. I could tell he was upset but had no idea of the reason until I asked Noo who told me that that she had mistakenly told him the wrong amount to pay.
I had a quick look at the till and saw immediately that she had keyed in the wrong’s customers running bill which was still being displayed. The customer had stormed out, leaving the correct amount of money in his bill pot
I have no idea how to contact him to apologise for the mix –up and am resigned to losing him as a customer. The incident occurred when there was still a big crowd in the bar and my inexperienced cashier, (Noo), made an error. Mistakes were bound to happen, but unfortunately I wasn’t on hand in sufficient time to put matters right, and the customer probably assumed we were trying to rip him off.
Then there was the farang/Thai couple – both regulars at my bar, (and long-time friends) – who decided to have a row at my party, which was not an uncommon occurrence for these particular two ‘lovers’.
The farang stormed off leaving his Thai girlfriend ‘stranded’. She then started crying and one thing led to another before long some of my remaining guests became involved in trying to comfort the girl, who by this time was quite inebriated.
I needed all this like a hole in the head.
This was supposed to be a happy wedding/opening party, but two of my friends had turned it into a drunken fracas, dragging in Noo and my staff in trying to calm things down. Just when it looked like the drunken girl had agreed to take a lift home with a friend, she inexplicably took a violent lunge at one of my girls and all hell was let loose.
I won’t bore you with the resultant mayhem, but it succeeded in turning our happy little evening into a bit of a nightmare.
By this time we had closed the bar but the girl still refused to home and her friend came and asked me if she could buy her drink while she was waiting for her friend to calm down and go home with her.
I’m afraid I was a little angry – after all, she had ruined the end of my party – and I told the girl’s friend in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t the first time her friend had made trouble (which is true) and I was fed up with it.
Of course my angry remarks were fed back to the drunken girl friend the next day and now Mobi’s is off the list of their places to drink at.
The other day I ran into them in another bar and they wouldn’t even say hello to me……
Apart from upsetting the customers – and it is always going to happen – trying to figure out what makes a customer go into one particular bar rather than another, and what might persuade him come into Mobi’s is probably an impossible task.
I just have to keep on what I am doing – as I have received very little criticism that I am doing anything wrong – and hope that over time things gradually improve.
This doesn’t mean that I am in any complacent with how the bar is being run and I welcome any practical suggestions that may help improve my business.
I always said I would give it 6 months, and I am fully dedicated to that end, so I will see where I am, come the end of October.
Last night’s business was a lot better than of late, so let’s all keep our fingers crossed….