Clubbers hit by booze mooch

Watch your bottle at nightspots. There are freeloaders who have no qualms about helping themselves to your liquor

They walk up to your table, strike up a friendly conversation and help themselves to your alcohol, only to disappear when the bottle runs dry.

Meet what clubbers call "boozing freeloaders" - male and female partygoers who hover around VIP tables in the hope of getting free drinks from people they are meeting for the first time.

Turn away for a minute and you might find entire bottles being swiped by your new acquaintances.

Clubgoers tell SundayLife! these opportunists are a common sight in nightspots, encouraged by the fact that more club lounges and dance clubs now offer "premium bottle service". Nightclub patrons are encouraged to open bottles of premium spirits and champagne to secure tables and spend at least $1,000 to $2,500 a night on alcohol.

Copywriter Alex Lim, 29, who comes across "freeloaders" once every two or three times when he goes clubbing, describes their modus operandi: "Some girls pretend to strike up a conversation and familiarise themselves with you... then their hands hover around you and reach for your bottle."

His friend, fellow copywriter Daniel Foo, 29, says he has encountered many people who have no qualms helping themselves to his friends' drinks while partying at clubs such as Mink, Zouk and Fenix Room.

He recalls: "Once, this guy came along and said, 'Wow, someone like you who is wearing a Rolex watch and all should be ordering Moet champagne at least. Why are you ordering Mumm?'

"He then helped himself to the bottle of champagne, which led to a mini shouting match before a bouncer came to get him out of the club."

Spokesmen for nightspots such as Zouk and The Butter Factory, as well as clubs managed by Massive Collective such as Mink and Royal Room, say free- loading happens but do not see it as a big problem.

Mr Dennis Foo, 60, chief executive of St James Holdings, which runs a stable of nightspots including Shanghai Dolly and Thai disco Neverland 2, says: "It's true that there are now more bottle drinkers and they tend to attract people who freeload, but it's probably sporadic rather than a rampant problem."

Patrons usually settle such incidents themselves as they often involve "friends of friends of friends", he says, and people "usually give face to friends".

In one recent episode, Mr Foo says a guy sat down next to him in Mink and began making fun of him "for drinking beer at a champagne place". The interloper then promptly poured himself a glass from the champagne bottle belonging to Mr Foo's friend.

"I said, 'Why are you drinking our drinks?' and he said, 'I'm so-and-so's friend, who are you?' The guy he was talking about was my best friend, by the way. He lied."

As nightclubs are places where one goes to relax and socialise, Mr Lim says it is okay to give free drinks if "you just want to go out and meet people". But there are only so many free drinks you can give out, he adds, and describes chronic freeloaders as "gross".

Bottle culture, which is popular in nightclubs in Taiwan, Hong Kong, London and the United States, has taken off in recent years here, say clubgoers.

Mr Yohei Ueno, 32, director of a logistics company who parties every weekend, often buys bottles of liquor with his friends. He says it is a "face thing", especially among young clubgoers who want to flaunt their wealth. "You see a few types of people at the club, such as those who spend big money and offer drinks to strangers to show off."

Naturally, that would attract opportunists, he says.

Clubs say they step in only when patrons ask for help or when they notice that things are getting out of hand, such as patrons arguing over drinks being taken.

Freeloading is less common at Number 5 in Emerald Hill as most of the patrons are regulars who know one another quite well, says bar manager Tina Chang, 45. "Both guys and girls do it, and it's not because they can't afford it. They're just trying their luck," she says of the incidents she has seen. "If I have to speak to them, they will offer to pay for the drinks they've taken."

In most cases, clubgoers say they close one eye to freeloaders if they take just one or two drinks, or tell them off if things get out of hand.

Mr Timothy Chia, 32, Zouk's head of marketing and events, says the club receives occasional complaints about freeloaders. There have also been instances where customers stole bottles that were left unattended. "If we catch these culprits, they are either asked to leave the club or buy a new bottle. In extreme cases, we might consider calling the police."

Similarly, The Butter Factory's chief operating officer, Mr Wu Zong Quan, 34, says the club will ask freeloaders to leave the table if patrons complain.

Mr Phillip Poon, 36, one of the directors of Massive Collective, which operates nightclubs Mink and Royal Room in Pan Pacific Singapore as well as Fenix Room and Dream in Clarke Quay, says all the clubs have managers and bouncers to keep an eye out for such incidents. They may move the offending patron to another area or escort them out of the club.

But not all partygoers mind boozing moochers though. Mr Ueno says with a laugh: "If it's a hot girl, I don't mind. I wish there were more hot girls talking to me at the club."

melk@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES