Have a look at this card which came into my possession the other night when I was out bar hopping in Fuzhou.
For those of you whose eyes are as bad as mine, here’s what the writing says:
外籍卡使用须知 The foreign card usage beard know
This card is a foreign card, only for foreigner. 此卡外籍卡，限外国人使用
Can get to present 3 bottles of beers for specify everyday with this card. 凭此卡每天可获赠３瓶指定的啤酒
End explain power to return the prada bar all. 最终解释权归PRADA BAR 所有
The “Prada Bar,” a popular watering hole in Fuzhou, employs a marketing strategy which has been growing in Second Tier cities across China where foreign faces still number in the hundreds. It works in three steps. 1) Attract foreigners to the bar with free beer. 2) Next will come the Chinese girls, who are interested in foreign guys as well as English practice. 3) Finally, the wealthy Chinese businessmen will swoop in after the Chinese girls. The bar owner will lose money up front, but ultimately makes his buck when the Chinese businessmen spend hundreds of RMB on expensive bottles of imported whiskey.
In China, bars are costly, out of the price range of an average working citizen’s salary. A Fuzhou bar owner told me, “If a bar’s prices are too cheap, Chinese people won’t go to it. They will think it’s a second-rate bar. They might lose face if they take their friends there. If the prices are expensive, it will give customers a better impression.”
With Westerners the logic is reversed. In a city like Fuzhou, in which the foreigner population is only large enough to support 1 or 2 “laowai bars,” the crowd of foreigners usually follows the drink specials. Whoever is selling Tsingtao’s for 10 RMB has a shot at attracting the crowd of white, black, and brown faces. More expensive than that, and only Chinese patrons will show up. Since the foreigners generally will only pay 10 RMB for beer (some bars sell them in upwards 30 RMB), there isn’t much profit to be made off this demographic anyway. Instead, bar owners are oftne better off using the foreigners as loss leaders to attract the high-rolling Chinese businessmen.
In Wenzhou, a Taiwanese businessman who goes by the name “Cowboy Eric” has opened three night clubs around a country Western theme. Cowboy Eric speaks fluent English, dons an oversized cowboy hat, and can be seen leading patrons in drunken renditions of “La Bamba.” In each bar, foreign patrons are greeted with free 6 packs of Tsingtao and occasionally complimentary steaks. All three of his bars are filled to the brim every weekend, with droves patrons often spilling over to the outside.
As China’s foreign population increases, special priviledges for foreigners are likely to become less prevalent. Whereas in small urban centers like Fuzhou and Wenzhou, using foreigners to attract Chinese patrons has proven succeessful, in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, these marketing efforts have little effect. Foreigners there are an every day occurrance, nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly no reason to patronize a bar. For me, although I have seen the “free beer for whitey” strategy practice for several years, the Prada Bar is the first bar I have known to have an official policy, not to mention one backed up by membership cards. I can’t help but wonder if I were Chinese whether I might feel a little knee-jerk resentment knowing foreigners get free beer simply on account of their nationality.