Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cover charge - NO!

It was nice to catch a visiting French free jazz duo (Olivier Roussel on electric guitar, Fréderic Pasqua on drums) at MaoMaoChong last night.  These two gents are very talented, and have been tremendously proactive in soliciting bars to host them on almost every night they're in town here: tonight, I gather, they're playing at CD Blues over on the East Third Ringroad, and on Thursday they'll be at What Bar, the tiny rock'n'roll dive at the north-west corner of the Forbidden City.

My one gripe last night was the unfathomable decision to try to impose a cover charge.  I love S & S at MMC to bits, but.... this was just DAFT.

There are three (well, four) main reasons why you have a cover charge: a) to pay the band; b) to discourage punters, if you're worried that demand may exceed your capacity; c) to make sure you get some money out of every customer (particularly a problem with the Chinese, who will happily nurse one drink for hours at a time; or avoid buying anything at all, if they can); or d) to fleece people.

None of these seemed to be applicable last night.  The band was, I believe, playing for free (and the door fee being asked was too trivial to cover any significant remuneration to them anyway).  Monday nights are quiet in the hutongs, and there was never much danger that - for the early show, at least - there would be any more than a handful of people there; so, there was absolutely no need to be driving people awayMMC's custom is probably about 95% laowai, and it's just not the kind of place that attracts the curse of non-paying customers (of whatever nationality).  And they weren't making any money off it themselves - not enough to be worth the hassle, anyway.

I've complained before that cover charges tend to create a very negative impression, and are particularly inappropriate for restaurant/bars that depend primarily on casual walk-by trade (music bars can get away with it because punters don't go there for any other reason than the music).  The cover charge idea seemed particularly inept, iniquitous last night because a large birthday party group was expected during the second half of the evening, and it was obvious that the charging system would break down - or be waived - for them.  Even worse, it wasn't just a straightforward door fee: they were offering a 'free drink' in return - but only from a limited range.  So, they were boosting their revenue by only 5 or 10 rmb per person, but at the cost of baffling and irritating people, and wasting scads of time trying to explain to their punters the terms of this insanely complicated and pointless deal.

It was a fun show.  The peeps at MMC have proven they can host live music (though it was a bit of a squeeze to fit the drum kit in beside the door).... and not enrage the jingcha directly opposite!  I hope they'll do it again from time to time.  But PLEASE, no 'cover charge' next time!!!


Hopfrog said...

I love a good jazz duo. Monk and Gales ftw. Do the French duo have a website or videos anywhere? How is the jazz scene in the jing?

Froog said...

The jazz scene is, alas, extremely limited. There are a handful of very good Chinese musicians, but just a handful (the majority of performers here in this genre are foreigners, I think). And there's now only one dedicated club, the East Shore Jazz Cafe on Houhai.

80% of the "jazz" here is hotel lounge stuff. Although there is a marked tendency in the past year for upmarket Chinese bars to start featuring jazz acts. It's nice that local musicians are getting more opportunities to play, but the quality isn't always that great. And these bars are AWFUL - wouldn't be caught dead in them!

My favourite little hutong bar, Jianghu, was running jazz jams on Tuesday nights for a while, but that initiative seems to have withered.

Not sure if these French guys have a website. They don't even seem to have a band name, but I imagine you can find them individually on MySpace or Facebook.

I think I'll go to catch them again tomorrow at What Bar.

Froog said...

That 'cover charge' nonsense is still niggling me!

I suspect they actually lost money on it. Certainly they did in my case: by forcing me to have a - slightly overpriced - cheap drink that I didn't really want, they prevented me from ordering one (or more) much more expensive drinks on which they would have made more profit. Daft, daft, DAFT.

Hopfrog said...

I've seen some videos from Jazz bands over in China and the quality seems to be.... shaky. Good jazz can be great, bad jazz amounts to white noise. Not much in between with jazz. I hope the band playing in your building is decent. I love Take Five, but for your sake I hope they were using a guitar and not a sax for the main melodic voicing.

Hopfrog said...

Ah, just reread that again, it was YOU playing Take Five. My bad, was in a rush this am.

The British Cowboy said...

A rule I learned in Nashville was no cover charges. I am sure you agree there were plenty of good music bars that didn't charge a cover. Those that did were tourist traps (hence I didn't take you there).

The only one I grudgingly went to was the only non-country bar, and that was only worthwhile paying a few bucks for to see Brett Michaels drunk off his ass stumbling through Every Rose has Its Thorn drunkenly at closing time with the house band.

Froog said...

I have happy memories of some of those Nashville bars, Cowboy - especially Lonnie's! I should write about that on here one day.

In the Beijing environment, I think cover charges are OK for the dedicated music bars... because they rely exclusively on their music events for their income. They're not well-run enough to become sufficiently attractive venues that people would go there just to drink. And people don't drink that much while watching a show (well, the local Chinese punters mostly don't drink anything!).

For a regular bar or restaurant, though, where live music is just an occasional 'special event', I think cover charges are completely out of order. Even if you do this kind of thing every week, you have to treat it as a promotion: it's attracting in punters who might not otherwise try your place out, it's giving them added value, hopefully giving them a good experience of the place - which may encourage them to come back as regular customers and recommend you to others (it always bugs the crap out of me that Chinese bar owners - and not a few of the foreigners operating here too! - tend to calculate the 'value' of a band to them purely in terms of that one night's takings, without considering the intangible benefits of expanding customer base).