Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Free is not necessarily good

As I've mentioned before, with regard to the horrendous "free vodka cocktails" promotion run by doomed Village nightspot Club Le Zazou during its 'soft opening' around the turn of the year (the place had to rebrand itself as Club Le to try to extirpate the disastrous impressions it made during its first couple of months; as if adopting an even more ridiculous name is going to help its chances!), I think 'FREE drink' promotions are generally a bad idea.

Chinese businessmen don't see the value of promotion, and don't like to 'lose money' on such events. So, any place with Chinese owners or investors advertising such an offer is almost certainly going to be cutting corners, pulling as many dirty tricks as possible to reduce its costs - providing drinks that have little or no alcohol in them, and whatever alcohol there is probably being nasty (and often quite toxic) ersatz booze (as was the case with the Le Zazou opening - despite Absolut ostensibly being a sponsor/co-promoter).

And, of course, it tends to encourage reckless overindulgence - and consequent bad behaviour - from the punters. You want people to get a pleasant buzz on; you don't want to get them falling-down/throwing-up/come-outside-and-say-that drunk. Free drinks tend to get people hopelessly drunk - and ill, and violent - very fast.

Moreover, I believe there's very little chance of a free drink promotion encouraging people to purchase any more expensive drinks or to stay longer at your bar. Where there's a special offer on certain drinks, some people will always think, "Well, I don't really like those drinks. I might have one or two, because they're so cheap. But I think I'm happy enough to pay regular price for something else, so long as my friends are having a good time drinking the specials." But when the special offer is FREE drinks, that rationality almost always breaks down: the price differential is too great. People will drink any old shit if they think they can get drunk without spending a cent. There's a similar phenomenon too, I think, at the end of the special offer period. With a cheap drinks promotion, people are usually willing enough to start paying regular prices when it comes to an end after a few hours. But when the drinks have been FREE, it's too much of a psychological hurdle to go back to paying - paying anything - for them. With 'free drinks' events, most people cane them for all they're worth, and then go home immediately afterwards (or to hospital, or to prison); they don't stick around in the bar for the rest of the evening.

Worst of all, free drinks bring out the worst in human nature - in the punters especially, but also sometimes in the staff. They destroy the reciprocity - and the respect - in the staff-customer relationship. It's an unfortunate truth that most people don't show a lot of respect to people who are giving them something for nothing - they don't have to, if the people are obliged to give them what they're asking for without any reciprocal obligation on their side to hand over some money. And the unhappy corollary of this is that people tend not to respect people who expect/demand something-for-nothing from them (particularly when the people demanding their freebies are being arseholes about it - which they usually are, especially if they've already had a few drinks).

'Free drink' events, I find, always generate a bad atmosphere. People get too drunk, too fast. The staff get over-stressed. Everybody gets impatient and irritable. And, almost inevitably, a few people will end up getting abusive and violent.

With a 'cheap drinks' event, that hardly ever happens. People enjoy getting drunk - perhaps very, very drunk - but they don't go crazy and behave like teenagers at their first keg party.

Chad Lager at Fubar perhaps had this in mind when he decided to have a nominal charge for the special cocktails at the 'First of the Month Madness' parties he's been running for the last 6 months. The trouble was..... the 1 kuai charge was purely token; and it wasn't even really enforced that strictly (once it got busy, punters were expected to dump their loose change in a jar on the bar under an 'honours system'). It was far too little to obviate the 'bad behaviour' problems I just outlined. Those drinks were in effect FREE. And murderously STRONG!! Naturally, bad things ensued.

After last Wednesday's shenanigans, Chad has decided to discontinue the event. I hope he'll eventually reinstate something similar - if he charged, say, 20 kuai for cocktails like those (well, maybe something a bit nicer, and a bit less potent), I don't think he'd have nearly so many problems.

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