In the world of Thailand’s gay gogo bars, offing a bar boy means that you are taking him away from the bar. What the two for you then do together is not of the bar’s concern, as obvious as what you will be doing may be. That’s how gogo bars avoid the issue of prostitution. It’s really no different than how escort agencies get away with the same trick back in the U.S. It’s about companionship between two adults, not sex. Wink, wink. Since there have been quite a few questions about the process and fees involved recently, and since that tradition still impacts the process today, I thought a brief explanation of the historical basis of offing a bar boy might be in order. But I’m going with a not-so-brief one instead.
Before there where gogo bars in Bangkok for gay clientele, there were gogo bars for the hetro set. Fish for sale has been a staple for visitors to the Kingdom for decades. The modern version got its start during the Vietnam War when Thailand was a popular spot for military service personnel on R & R. In those days, like today, the bars made money off of selling overpriced drinks and for surrounding customers with hot naked flesh. And made even more cash from supplying willing companions to those who wanted a fuller experience.
Working for a Thai employer is a bitch. They don’t pay well. And employees are completely at their mercy. Being the cheap ass most of them are, anytime they can get away with not paying a satang to an employee is a good day in their book. So the bars quickly developed a set of rules that kept employees in line and helped keep their bottom line in the black. The rules, which did and still do change from one bar to the next, are all backed up with monetary fines. Show up late, you get fined. Don’t show up at all, that’s another fine. Some of the straight bars today have even begun fining their stable when a girl gets a short-time off and then does not return to the bar when she’s done. Even outside of the bar world fining employees is a popular pastime among Thai employers. And because it is part of how business is done in Thailand, employees go along with the system that deducts wages from their check as often as possible.
It’s always best for a gogo bar to have a large stable of employees on hand whenever a customer walks through the door. Sometimes I wish they cared more about quality over quantity, but there ya go. But when a gogo bar worker lands a customer, that means one less employee to entertain the clientele. So the bars decided that employee should be fined. What we typically call an off fee in the bars that gay men frequent is called a bar-fine in the gogo bars that cater to the straight crowd. They are the same thing. Whatever the amount set by the bar for this fine is, it is owed to the bar by the employee.
Of course gogo bar employees are poor, and customers are rich whether that’s true back in his home country or not. Traditionally, customers have been expected to pay the bar fine on the employee’s behalf. And that’s cool with the bar. They don’t care whose pocket the money comes from. They are still gonna make a profit out of it. Plus most bars pay a very small wage to each employee for showing up to work – but if that employee lands a customer, they don’t get their normal night’s wage. Because it is assumed they will earn even more from the tip they get off their customer. That’s another fine that isn’t even considered a fine. This tradition is slowly changing but is still practiced at many bars. I only mention it here to demonstrate how much bar owners love their cash. In case you never noticed.
So the off fee, or bar fine, is owed for a bar boy who spends time away from his place of work during regular working hours. If he leaves the bar three times in a night, going for short-time offs with three different customers, he owes the bar three bar fines. All of which will be paid by the customers who decided to off him. Which is both about tradition and deep pockets. If a customer decides to off him for more than one night, the bar boy is fined for each night he is away from work. And unless you are a total asshole, as the customer you will pay that fine on his behalf. Not that you have much choice these days ‘cuz that fine is usually added to your check bin.
The only time I have ever argued over the amount of a bar fine I was asked to pay was a night after having offed a guy the night before and after having paid for that night’s off fee. The next night we went back to his bar around 9pm so I could pay an additional bar fine because I decided to keep him with me for another night. The bar wanted their usual off fee, plus another 100 baht, which was what their fine was for employees who showed up late for work (he was supposed to be there by 8pm). Both the boy and the bar thought that made perfect sense. And in the world of Bangkok’s gogo bars, it did.
My wallet disagreed. And actually won that one. Which still amazes me today. I paid the bar fine, but not the fine for being tardy. I claimed that he wasn’t late for work that night but rather was early for the next night. Meeting bullshit with bullshit of your own works well when face is involved. Plastering a stupid smile on your face and insistently repeating your same dubious claim of truth over and over again no matter what the other person says is the proper way to debate any issue in Thailand. The loser is he who blinks first.
So if you are confused about when and how much you owe on off fees, thinking of them as bar fines levied against the employee for not being at work should clarify the matter. For every night your boy is not at work – or is late getting there thanks to you, I guess – a bar fine is charged. Which you are supposed to pay. Thinking of them in this manner may also help explain why you should not expect a discount on the bar fines when you off a guy for an extended period of time. It’s like the fine you pay for speeding back home. You don’t get a discount for getting multiple speeding tickets. Fines are seldom treated like frequent flyer miles.