Monthly Archives: November 2009

Bar Managers, are they a dying breed?

Over my 18 years of running bars in the Philippines I have heard on numerous occasions how bar managers are a “dying breed” and I have come to learn this statement is true both in the literal and metaphorical sense. In physical terms the lifestyle of a bar manager is hardly conducive to longevity since it normally involves copious amounts of alcohol consumption, smoke inhalation, a sedentary lifestyle and believe it or not, an inordinate amount of stressful situations.

Referring to managers as a “dying breed” has always been a rather worrying statement for me in that it is too close to home. As a result, when it was said to me just the other night by a bar owner from Thailand, I paused for a moment of reflection and decided this subject would make an interesting column for AE.

Normally when someone says to me ‘you bar managers are a dying breed’ I pretend to brush it off as a flippant comment that I have heard a thousand times, however, given what has happened to the Blue Nile Group management team, (which until recently I was part of), the Thailand bar owners statement hit home and made me ponder the statement on a much deeper level than I normally would.

To fully understand the role of a professional bar manager it is necessary to look at how the position evolved. In the mid eighties in M. H. Pillar, Ermita, Manila the bar scene suddenly started to take off with an influx of money invested and an influx of customers availing of services the bars were offering. As the bar scene expanded it evolved from the owners acting as owner /managers to a fully blown industry incorporating individuals whose only job was to manage the bar on a day to day or should I say, night to night, basis. Back in those days it was common for the manager to drink copious amounts of alcohol, give away even greater amounts of alcohol and generally create a party atmosphere in conjunction with the girls and the customers. This in turn would encourage the customers to spend more and the end result was revenue for the bar.

A bar manager and customer both sculling shooters with no hands. In days gone by this sort of behavior was considered par for the course.

The concept of a ‘girlie bar’ manager creating a party atmosphere is in many ways unique to the Philippines. For example you will not find many professional girlie bar managers in Thailand or other parts of Asia and when you do he will normally be an owner wearing both his owner hat and manager’s hat. This situation occurs partly because in other countries the emphasis is on directly selling alcohol and sexual services rather than creating a party atmosphere.

So are bar managers a dying breed, is the position of professional bar manager soon to be a thing of the past? In my opinion the answer to this is both yes and no depending upon the sort of bar and the owners marketing approach. In many of the bigger more commercial bars (Doll House, Atlantis, Tropix, Crystal Palace, Blue Nile, Neros and Blue Nile Executive) it would seem there is a definite trend to utilize cheaper Filipino management as opposed to the more costly foreign management. There are numerous reasons why this has occurred some of which I will now examine in this article.

Firstly there is the question of cost. By not employing foreign managers the bar will cut down on OTH (on the house) drinks and the bars salary bill will be significantly less. Whilst this line of thinking may be true on paper it is in reality a falsehood because by cutting down on OTH you may minimize expenses but at the same time you also minimize sales.

The same argument can also be applied when you address the question of Filipino managers versus foreigner managers. The simple fact is the Fields Avenue -Perimeter Road bars are mainly patronized by foreigners and these same foreigners will often choose which bar to visit based on the fact they are friends with a particular bars manager. Caucasian customers naturally tend to patronize bars which are run by Caucasian managers just as Filipino customers often feel more comfortable patronizing a bar run by Filipino managers.

Secondly there is the question of the owner’s market perception. The owners who see their main market as being the Asian customers really have no need of a highly paid foreign manager. In most cases the Asian customers are handled by the mamasans and contact between the foreigner managers and Asian customers is traditionally minimal. Conversely, owners who employ foreign managers expect the managers to attract foreigner customers to their bar.

Thirdly there is the question of a bars ambiance. On the whole I think it is safe to generalize and say the owners who choose to employ Filipino managers over foreigners place little emphasis on a bars ambiance. In my opinion a good foreigner manager will influence a bars ambiance by his presence, his appearance, his personality, his implementation of the rules, his relationship with the girls, his choice of music or his approach towards the customers. To this day I have only seen one Filipino manager who considers the ambience of the bar an important factor which influences the bars sales.

This man is renowned for his outlandish apparel and unique ability to generate the party ambiance.

Fourthly there is the question of the interaction between the manager and customer. Generally speaking the owners who employ foreign managers view customer relations, (or PR as it is often referred to), as an important part of the job and those who employ locals place only a minimal emphasis on customer relations. For the owners who employ Filipino managers they place an emphasis on the girls and the mamasans relating to the customer rather than the manager. In this situation the manager job becomes more of a supervisory role.

Prince Charles a happy customer indeed as he parties with the girls in Lollipop bar.

Fifthly it is a well known fact that the political climate which effects the bars is changing rather quickly and as such no one is absolutely certain what direction things will take. In uncertain times such as these there is a prevailing logic which states who better to deal with the Filipino powers that be than a Filipino citizen. In this scenario the manager actually assumes the duties of official representative for the bars.

When discussing the value of a bar manager the most important aspect to consider is return on investment. Basically if the owners view the manager as an investment then they must look at their return on investment. In most instances the very least a bar manager should be able to produce in sales is his salary plus ten percent. By doing this he is covering the cost of employing him and his OTH expenditure. Obviously most owners will expect a lot more from the manager than just covering what he costs and as a general guideline I have found a productive manager on any single night will be directly responsible for producing sales equaling his salary plus 60%. Of course this figure will vary from night to night but over a period of one month it tends to average out to roughly this amount.

Speaking as someone who makes his living from managing a bar I feel worried by the trends I am observing in the rapidly changing Angeles bar scene. With several of the bigger bars choosing to utilize Filipino management the employment options for foreign bar managers are becoming more and more limited. Most of the bigger bars with the potential to gainfully employ a foreign manager have either decided to cut costs and go with the lower paid Filipino managers and the other big bars that like foreign managers have already employed one and are happy with his performance. As a result the only other options are medium sized bars and the smaller Perimeter Road bars. In the case of the medium sized bars they are normally operating on a tighter budget than the bigger bars so as a result, traditionally speaking, they pay their managers less than the big bars.

The next option is the Perimeter Road bars but here again the budget comes into play. Basically the Perimeter road bars operate on a very tight budget and this is why you will often find a sort of owner/manager situation in these bars. By the owner assuming the duties of manager he manages to save paying out a regular wage. In most Perimeter Road bars the main group of customers will be local expatriates and long term visitors who frequent that bar because they know the manager/owner and enjoy drinking with him. This of course places a special importance on the manager’s role yet the irony is in most cases the bars do not generate enough income to justify employing a full time professional manager.

Last but not least there is a seeming lack of new blood coming into the industry. Many have gone on record as saying bar management is a young man’s game and yet there are very few young men working as, or seeking the position as, bar manager. Currently in Angeles I can think of only four managers under 30 years of age who are employed in the bars, what’s more, in the last 18 years I have seen only a few younger men apply for the job. As the future of the business will ultimately rely on the younger generation the lack of younger men working in the industry or seeking to work in the industry, does not bode well for the positions future.

To summarize I do believe the statement “bar managers are a dying breed” has a certain element of truth in it. Basically many of the big bars in Manila as well as Angeles are turning towards utilizing the Filipino labor force in the position of bar managers. In Makati there are approximately 40 bars yet there is only one full time manager that I know of and even he is looking at leaving. In Pasay there is basically only the Firehouse Complex at EDSA which to the best of my knowledge does not employ foreign managers but rather the owners tend to act as owner managers and the emphasis of customer entertainment is placed on the mamasan. In Subic the bars do employ managers but normally this is considered a part time job or just something to do to keep busy and the majority of bars are small affairs where the owner acts as owner and manager. As the bar scene in Subic grows there will no doubt be more available positions offering a decent salary but when this will actually happen is impossible to accurately predict.

Currently the only place for a professional bar manager to effectively ply his trade is Angeles. As long as the bar owners have the opinion that a good manager will bring in substantially more revenue than what he costs then the position is to some extent secure and has a future. On the other hand if what I call the cost minimization mentality prevails and the perceived value of a bar manager declines then the statement ‘bar managers are a dying breed’ may well prove to be prophetic in the near future.

Supporting Filipinas

It was September 21, 1991 and I had been in the Philippines for about three months. This was my very first trip and I was still very much on a steep learning curve. I can remember asking a Philippine veteran what sort of Filipina is perfect for you and then with a smile he replied “an 18 year old millionaire orphan”. I just laughed at the time not really understanding the implications of what he was saying but about one year later when I found myself supporting a girl and sending money over from Australia his words came back to haunt me and I understood perfectly.

“Send me money honey”. How often have I heard this exact phrase gushing forth from the mouths of Filipinas. Even the girls with a limited grasp of English quickly learn how to say this perfectly. Yes I am a bit cynical when I say this, but the simple fact is when you are involved with a Filipina the issue of financial support will always be an important factor in your relationship. I would estimate that up to 90% of the Filipinas we foreigners meet have very little money and expect us as foreigners to give them money. In the short term the giving of money will take the form of a cash remittance for services rendered or possibly an act of charity but in the long term it will take the form of financial support. The level of support required will vary amongst individual girls but at the end of the day when involved with a Filipina it is almost inevitable and something we all have to come to terms with.

So why does the ‘support’ situation occur?

Firstly, there is what I like to call the support chain. This is where we support the girl and the girl in turn supports her family. Undeniably the vast majority of girls we meet in Angeles come from poor families and the reason they are here in the first place is to earn money for themselves and their family. I have known many guys that say “I don’t mind helping the girl but why the heck should I support the whole family” or “she must have a brother or something, why doesn’t he get a job”. The familial ties and associated responsibilities are a whole other subject and for the purposes of this article it is sufficient to note that familial support is ingrained into the Filipina psyche. As a foreigner you support the girl and she in turn supports her family because in her mind, that is her duty and that is the way it has always been and always will be.

Secondly there is what is commonly referred to as the walking ATM mentality. I remember having a meal one day and the foreigner / Filipina couple next to me, were having an argument about money. I tried not to listen but I had to laugh as the guy said to his girl “what do you think I am honey, a walking ATM”? Whilst this was a cause for merriment it did make me think, because in my experience this is exactly how many girls view the foreigners. Amongst Filipinas there is a common misconception that we are rich simply because we are foreigners and as an extension to that we should be sharing our money with them.

Thirdly with the advent of Western Union, Xoom, LBC, and other money transfer services it has become relatively easy to send money both on an international and national level. This ease of operation has encouraged more girls to actively seek the “support” and there has developed a kind of sub culture nick named the WU (Western Union) girls.

Fourthly it is important to realize that in the Philippines the wages are low and there is a general lack of income earning potential no matter how hard you are prepared to work or what level of education you may obtain. Consequently, many Filipinas find it necessary to supplement their meager income with money being sent from overseas.

Traditionally the Filipinas are renowned for their emotiveness yet at the same time they have a definite ability to distinguish between, emotions and practicality. Just the other day I was talking with a girl in Lollipop and because she was particularly attractive I asked her if I could take her photo. She replied “yes but please don’t put me on internet”. I then asked her “why not” thinking that she would express the usual fears of her family seeing it but instead she replied “Daddy I have a support”. I asked her “do you mean you have a boy friend” and she said “no boyfriend daddy, I have support”. At the time I had a quiet little chuckle over this statement because I realized she had made an interesting distinction between a relationship based on emotion and a relationship based on practicality. In her mind she had made a clear distinction between emotions and practical survival. Whoever was sending the money she viewed as support and no emotion was involved. Even though Filipinas are traditionally renowned for their emotiveness here was a girl whose entire relationship was based purely on practical need.

Why do guys support Filipinas?

There are a number of reasons why foreign men decide to support Filipinas but perhaps the most common scenario is that they want to get them out of the bar and to do this they must replace the income earned from the bar which normally translates into support.

A second reason is a genuine sense of altruism or simply a desire to help the girls make something more of their life. Recently I was telling a friend of mine about this article and since he has been down the support road many times with a number of different girls he was immediately interested. In fact he even proposed he write down the reasons why he supports girls which I gladly accepted. The following is what he wrote “I Like to get girls out of the bar that really, really don’t want to be in the bar or are especially vulnerable”.

“- Even if it goes bad and they end up returning to that, at least I kept them out of it for a little while – because in the end, if one is honest with oneself – it is not a very pleasant job and I don’t like to see them have to put up with the plethora of jackasses that think it’s cool to treat people like objects instead of people … just because they can …”.

There is of course another side to the altruism argument. When I discussed the support issue with another close friend of mine he argued that by providing support you may be doing the girl a favor in the short term but in the long term you are actually doing her a disfavor. Certainly you are taking her out of the bar and certainly you are providing short term support for the girl and her family but the reality is your support will not last forever and secondly the bar girls so called “shelf life” is a short term time span so by taking her out of the bar “you are shortening the time she has to find someone to marry her”.

Another prominent reason guys like to support a girl is to ensure sexual exclusivity. I have seen many guys who support girls because they believe that in so doing they will receive exclusive sexual rights. This is in fact a fallacy and whilst support money may satisfy the girl’s familial obligations and provide rice on the table it will not guarantee sexual exclusivity.

There are a number of questions that are associated with the issue of supporting a Filipina and to be honest there are no conclusive answers. First among these is how much is enough? To be honest there is no definite amount that can be used as an indicator because there are so many variables and each case is different. When asked I generally reply ‘well I am no expert but twenty to twenty five thousand piso per month should suffice’. Some people will say this is not enough whereas others will say this is too much. I then reply “well how much you spend is really up to you, I am just giving you a general guideline based on my experiences”.

How will the support money be used?

In most cases the vast majority of the money will be used to support the girls’ family and a small amount will be used to meet her personal needs. This is an absolute fact and if you are considering supporting a girl, be aware that one way or another you will also be supporting her family. When it comes to how the money will be spent there are literally hundreds of horror stories ranging from drugs, macho dancers and multiple supporters through to gambling, videoke bars, and Filipino boyfriends. However despite their frequency it has been my experience that the horror stories are in fact a minority and in general the money will be spent in helping her family or improving the girls’ station in life.

So now for the million dollar question, should you support a Filipina? There are a two main arguments for supporting a Filipina and they are as follows.

1: By providing support you are helping the girls who have limited means of getting money otherwise.

2: By providing support you are helping the girl get out of the bar life.

3: By sending support you are helping someone less fortunate than yourself.

4: The altruistic feeling that is engendered by sending support.

There are several arguments against sending support.

1: By providing support you actually take them off the market during their prime time and in so doing decrease their chances of finding a husband.

2: By just giving money you encourage the “hands out mentality” when it would be more constructive to help them help themselves.

3: By giving money you are perpetuating the family support system. It is a simple fact that in most cases the money you send to help your girl will actually be used to support her family rather than herself.

4: From the mongering perspective by taking a girl out of the bar and supporting her you are weakening the bars ability to provide you the monger with girls whom you and other mongers would want to meet. By weakening a bars lineup you actually hurt the bars profitability.

5: With support will come a number of expectations on behalf of the supporter. Normally the priority expectation would be sexual exclusivity but in my experience this is an unrealistic expectation. Just because you send money to a girl do not assume this will then guarantee you sexual exclusivity. The fact is in most cases the Filipina bar girl has multiple lovers.

6: Another expectation often associated with support is honesty. Most men if supporting a girl will expect their girl to be honest. Again it is my experience that this is rarely the case, indeed I have seen girls picking up two different payments from different men at the same time.

To be honest there is no easy answer to the should I or shouldn’t I support a girl question and when I discuss it with people I find it usually boils down to what their expectations are. When supporting a Filipina most people have a number of expectations or should I say conditions that go with the support and in my experience it will always boil down to whether these expectations are realistic for both parties. As stated previously there are no absolutes when it comes to supporting a girl and each case will vary according the individuals involved and the conditions involved.

If you are considering supporting a Filipina it is my sincere hope that this article will provide you with some helpful insights and practical guidelines. Whilst there are no definite answers and every situation is different, one thing is for sure, getting involved with a Filipina will be a unique experience and a ride full of highs and lows unlike any other.