Buyer’s Remorse and Intoxication at the Strip Club

by Irony Butterfly on November 4, 2011 · 16 comments

in Clients, Money, Strippers

by flickr4jazz, on Flickr

In the past few years there has been a rash of business men declining to pay their strip club credit card charges. For some unimaginable reason, a guy who racks up a $28,000 titty bar bill at New York’s Hustler Club doesn’t inspire a lot of sympathy. Are they victims of predatory vendors or are they morons with buyer’s remorse? Next to casinos, strip clubs are the businesses least likely to cut someone off as long as they are spending money. Of course, I’ve also known customers who take a pretty “law of the jungle” approach to their strip bar experiences—although usually for a few hundred to a couple thousand instead of $28K.

Journalists get too distracted by stripper-puns (“mammary mecca”? Really?) to provide us with a lot of facts, so I’m left with a few questions. What evidence does the club have that the customer knew what he was paying for? Did he sign for each round or only at the end of the night? How many drinks did he have? Did he have them all at the club? How drunk did he appear? And the obvious: Did he actually consume $28,000 in goods and services, or is that bill padded?

I can infer a few answers. A spokesperson from the club said “these guys think they can party like rock stars” so I am assuming he wasn’t sipping ginger ale all night. Because the credit card company is not involved in this suit, the club has probably collected, at the very least, a lot of legible signatures showing purchases that add up to $28,000, as credit card companies have a history of taking the customer’s side against strip clubs. And, since litigating is an incredibly expensive and risky way to avoid paying your bills, I’m going to go on ahead and assume that this wasn’t part of a master plan to score 20 champagne rooms without paying.*

So the big question is whether being really, super, totally drunk is good reason not to hold this dude to a fully implemented contract. Although this dude complains about a “nanny state,” a prohibition on predatory contracting and vending is not actually a brand new or scary-socialist concept. On the contrary, it is based on the very old, and very fundamental tenet that the two parties must have a meeting of the minds to form a contract, and for the minds to meet they both have to be working. There are probably relatively few $28,000 purchases I can make while obviously off-my-face drunk, outside of a bar or casino.

The leading case on buying expensive shit while drunk off your face turns out to be Matthews v. Baxter from 1873 (see? I told you it wasn’t a nanny state socialist thing). It seems to loosely state that a contract formed while drunk enough that you can’t understand a decision at all is voidable (although not void), so if you take steps to repudiate the contract at the first opportunity on sobering up, you can maybe get out of it. If not, suck it up, that counts as ratification. On the other side, if you reaffirm the contract when you’ve sobered up, congratulations, you are the proud, non-repudiable owner of 20 champagne rooms.

This gentleman has apparently taken the first opportunity to repudiate, but there is another problem: the exchange has been made and the product consumed. He can’t give back the booze, much less the services received. The Hustler club and the Hustler dancers who put up with his drunk ass for the night can’t be put in the position they were in before this dude came in, which is generally the desired result of voiding a contract. So in this case, the issue seems to slide a little. Instead of the capacity of the drunk dude to form a contract, we also have to deal with the good faith (or bad faith) of the vendor. And for sure, that makes sense. There are super quiet and composed drunks out there, and salespeople should be able to sell their shit to people who appear to able to make a decision without prying too deep into their BAC.

So back to the questions: was he all that drunk, and if he was, did Hustler know he was that drunk or seek to get him that drunk in order to get him drunker? When you are drunk enough that you aren’t really aware of what you are signing or agreeing to, someone else probably shouldn’t be using that situation to make a contract that is advantageous to them and disadvantageous to you, and that you probably would not otherwise agree to. That holds true generally, and makes a certain amount of sense to me. This also (at least in theory) doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” thing. There is a possibility that he had the capacity for part of that bill. Maybe he had capacity to rack up $10,000 of that bill, but lost it around the $10,500 mark.

You may have noticed that I have hardly talked about strippers at all, which may be unexpected on a site called Tits and Sass, but that is because this is not primarily a stripper question. Despite the boob-puns that journalists love to trot out, the fact that there were naked chicks around doesn’t really alter this situation. I’m (predictably) not a big believer in the theory that boobs rob men of the ability to think, so I (also predictably) don’t adhere to a theory that all the boobs around somehow contributed to the customer’s inability to make decisions. I think the issue is largely about when the bar should have cut him off. But it does lead to a peripheral question of who shoulders the loss. I assume that the bar has already paid the dancers out whatever their share of that bill was. Do the dancers get to keep their money or do they have to return it to the club so that they can (in theory) give it back to the guy?

I say they should keep it. Strip clubs go through a lot of trouble to declare strippers are independent contractors. There are a lot of reasons but mainly (I think) to make them a source of income instead of a loss. Rather than having to pay strippers and then arrange commission, the club charges strippers and then arranges commission anyway. It is the single greatest “it sucks, but changing it sucks too” issue that permeates the industry. But the whole nature of the contract, as the club sells it to us, is that the entire “thing” the club is providing the dancers is this infrastructure. That includes literal structures, like the room and stage, but also the liquor license (in some cases), other licenses, privacy, security, and the ability to make change and process credit cards.

So, these nice ladies, who pay god-knows-what to the Hustler Club nightly for the privilege of working for them have already paid for these services. They already pay for the club to serve alcohol and presumably to train its bar staff how to properly serve (or not serve) the customers. If the bar doesn’t do that, does it badly, or does it really well but just has an unusually incapable bartender or unexpected circumstances, that is the bar’s problem. They cannot claim that this infrastructure is worth however much they collect from their dancers as house fees in a night and then say that their failure to provide that infrastructure in a way that is compliant with the law is the dancer’s problem.

I think my logic is sound, anyway. Now—go ahead and ask me if a strip club manager has ever responded to my logical “AHA!” moments by saying “Wow, Butterfly, you’re totally right. I will refund your stage fee right now. I had never thought of it that way before [ed. note: I know the answer to this one].”

*This might also be a good time to let y’all know that I am not a contract lawyer, I have no speciality in contract law, my research into this consisted of Google and so none of this constitutes legal advice. The only advice I am going to give here is that you do not experiment with my theories on this matter by going out and getting drunk and buying expensive shit without planning to pay for it.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

FW November 4, 2011 at 7:56 pm

“The only advice I am going to give here is that you do not experiment with my theories on this matter by going out and getting drunk and buying expensive shit without planning to pay for it.”

Oh. DON’T do that? Well shit, there goes my weekend.

:D

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FW November 7, 2011 at 4:59 am

I tried demanding free slot machine time at the casino, since I spent so much money there already, and it didn’t work. They told me to leave. Wah! :(

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane November 7, 2011 at 8:40 am

I am outraged that they would treat you, a valuable, currently non-paying customer that way. Allow me to assure you that when the revolution comes, lap dances and slot machines will be plentiful and free, as they are in every socialist paradise.

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Piper November 5, 2011 at 4:29 am

I’ve seen many a pale expression after seeing how quickly VIP time adds up. Granted, I’ve never managed to do $28,000 in dances (man, I wish!), but occasionally after even several hundred–despite being told repeatedly, and always while coherent/mostly sober, what dance costs are, and usually reminded throughout the time we’re in the dance rooms–I’ve seen many “OH FUCK” expressions at the credit card machine and ATM.
It’s been awhile (fingers crossed) since I’ve had someone walk out on paying for dances. But if someone paid with a card that went through, the club paid me, and I went home with it…it’s mine. I agree–we pay the club to keep on top of their end of the deal (bartenders, DJs, bouncers all appropriately trained, and the legal/financial/paperwork stuff), and they ought to keep it. I’d be interested to know whether any of those dancers will have to or have had to return the money.

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bijou November 5, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I love stripclubs and dancers probably more than any other guy alive, but in these EXTREME cases, I totally fault the clubs. There is no reason in this wide world why a club should charge anyone $28,000 for lapdances except extreme greediness. There is no champagne room in the world worth 28K. I would put the cutoff at 10K. A guy comes into your club and drops $10,000 in one night? You ought to close out his room and let him marinate blissfully for the rest of the night. Why do you need to keep charging his card until he is 28K in the hole?? At that point, he is not costing you anything extra. He is probably too drunk to know whether he’s lapdancing with a woman or the bouncer.
Most clubs VIP run at $300-$500 an hour. Let’s say this is the greatest club of all time and VIP there is $1000 an hour. The dancer is still raking in over $500/hr for her cut, more than the hourly pay for 20 yr experienced lawyers. Why would the club go 28 times that? GREEDINESS!
That’s why I don’t blame the guys who refuse to pay and I have no sympathy for the club. They saw a sucker in a suit and was determined to suck him out of all he had that night. Thank goodness for the credit card company. Sorry, I blame the club 100%.

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane November 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm

By your logic, any one could steal overpriced items with the defense of “well, they just shouldn’t charge that much.” Adult responsibility needs to have a role in purchase of goods and services. The appropriate response to what you call “greediness” isn’t for people to partake in a particular service and then not pay for it because it’s too expensive; the response is to avoid that establishment. Robbery is not okay just because what’s for sale is overpriced.

I’d think strip clubs would be a little more cautious in letting patrons who are drinking heavily continue to spends money because of the loses if they later decide not to pay. But I guess most super drunk big spenders are probably embarrassed enough to not make a big deal out it or fight the charges, and instead chalk it up as an expensive lesson?

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Irony Butterfly Irony Butterfly November 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm

I’m going to agree with Charlotte – I’m writing about capacity to form a contract, not whether a contract should be allowed in general. I actually think it would be hard to rationalize putting a cap on what a consumer can spend in a strip club, like “just because”. And while it may be unethical or greedy to take advantage of someone’s lack of ability, it is not unethical or greedy to provide a service that a capable person wants just because it is expensive. That would be pretty weird, actually. “Sorry, sir, we can’t take more of your money. Yes, your credit card is fine. Yes, you seem perfectly alright. No I just think that morally I should put a cap on how much I profit in a day. Yes, seriously.”

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Kookmeyer November 5, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Well … I’ve patronized strip clubs at a few times in my life … of course the girls are trying to get your money, this is their business. $28K? Over the top for sure. But then again there’s a lot of money in NY and I guess no crime in trying to get their piece of the pie *IF* it was being done honestly.

I had an experience in Europe once where I walked into an establishment that was NOT operating honestly, I knew right away after the first 10 euro beverage left me feeling like I’d taken a handful of Valium with it. Tried their best to get me to stay but I ran, not walked, out of that place.

To me, I think it wise to leave the plastic home and go with whatever cash you can afford to spend. Or don’t go at all.

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bijou November 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm

That is where charlotte and IB and I differ. Apparently you see nothing wrong with milking the poor guy out of every last penny. That, my friend is a typical capitalistic attitude. Forget about giving VALUE for the customer’s money. Just charge and charge and then charge some more.

And instead of looking at it as putting a cap on earnings, think more positive. It’s a way to show appreciation for a customer who has already spent an obscene amount of money on an activity that is already astronomically overpriced.

How about saying to the guy, ‘Sir, you have spent $18,000 tonight in our champagne rooms. The 3 dancers you have been with have made $5,000 each, just from you. The club has profited another $3,000 from you. Thank you for the $18,000 in total and absolute profit. For the rest of the night, the lapdances are on us. We appreciate your business.”

The club didn’t have to hire additional security to service the customer. The dancers didn’t have to purchase additional outfits or put out anything other than time. They were drinking with the guy, flirting with him and passing time. For that he must pony up $28,000??

Where is your sense of fairness??

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane November 6, 2011 at 8:48 am

It’s only “poor guy” if, as Irony explained, he’s too drunk to be able to make decisions for himself, and the club knows or suspects that he’s at that point of intoxication. I just got back from seeing a client who owns his own jet. Would you really feel like “poor guy” if he were to walk into a strip club totally sober, buy everyone in the club their own champagne bottle, tip all the dancers in hundreds, and walked out six hours later about 28k poorer? $28,000 is like a sneeze to him. That doesn’t mean people can or should take advantage of him when he’s nearly black out drunk. It would still be wrong. But it also doesn’t meant that it’s inherently unfair to charge him for a variety of prices and products purchased when the price was already set when he walked in. If it were too expensive for him, he could have left. He doesn’t have an inalienable right to infinite VIP strip club dances at the club of his choice for a price that pleases him.

I think the crux of this pushback is the stereotype that 1) sexual services should be sold cheaply because selling sex is a cheap, trashy thing to do (why are you personally the one who decides that the “activity”—VIP dances, I guess you’re referring to?—is overpriced? Oh right, because they don’t have that “VALUE”) and 2) strip clubs are gross, dive-y places that don’t deserve high profit margins. Do you also expect vendors like Emirates Airlines and Porsche and any Vegas casino to tell their customers “oh gracious, you’ve already spent enough with us. We simply cannot allow you to spend anymore.”

More importantly, how is it fair for someone to come into an establishment, partake freely, and then decide not to pay? It’s not. The options for overpriced products or services is 1) don’t buy or 2) buy it and live with the price, not 3) buy a lot and hope that the people you’re working with get tired of making money so they don’t charge you. No one has the right to overpriced goods, even if they or you think the seller is immoral for overcharging. It might not be fair that I can’t afford to take an 18 hour flight in ultra first class, but the response isn’t to book the flight and then deny the charges. The presence of greediness doesn’t automatically render the other person a victim. What I’m disagreeing with is your equation that strip clubs = greedy, therefore the man doesn’t have to pay for things he purchased. I wouldn’t disagree with an equation like that strip club is greedy, so the man can spend his money elsewhere or not go to any strip club at all. But thanks for trying to portray Irony and I as monsters instead of people with logic that differs from yours. Did you even read her piece? The thrust of it was not “milk the guy dry.”

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Irony Butterfly Irony Butterfly November 6, 2011 at 10:18 am

I like to imagine I have an extremely well developed sense of fairness – but it never dictates that I, my peers or my colleagues must provide services that we normally charge for, for free. “Fairness” only dictates a full and free understanding of the cost and service to both parties. It is in no way fair to me or my peers to say that “well you’ve made enough money – although you are still providing this service, you’ve maxed out what I think your earning potential should be. Not only can you not make more money tonight, but you have to keep providing the service, for free because I judge the amount you’ve made tonight to be in excess of what you deserve.” We are not indentured servants, and our pay is not based on when we change “outfits”. What a peculiar sense of “fairness” you have.

What I am talking about this is not actually capitalist – this is not based on any advanced or complicated economic theory. If we both have the capacity to form a contract for a legal service, we have the right to form it, and no matter how much you stress that the bar and dancers have made too much money for your taste, that is what you are suggesting we should not be able to do.

I think it this is interesting actually – that instead of discussing the topic of the post – a person who is/could be/may be INCAPABLE of forming a contract, we are, in essence (as Charlotte points out) discussing when sex workers have made too much money. I think this is quite revealing, actually, of where a lot of stigma against sex workers still lies.

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TGPhoto November 6, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I brought this up with my brother and father, both lawyers. Their opinion is that bottom line being drunk does not make a difference. If you used your card to buy goods and services, you owe the money. The only way that you would not owe the money is to file a lawsuit stating you were defrauded of said money and were able to prove this to a court. This would be pretty hard to do. As the article points out, there are a lot of details missing here. However, one point my brother brought up was, say this was a casino? If you lost $30,000 in a casino gambling drunk do you think you would ever get that cash back? Nope.

The bottom line is this, barring provable fraud, this gentleman is out $28k.

To respond to Bijou, why is this a typical capitalist response? You are making the assumption that this guy did not willingly and knowingly spend this money. I could think of any number of reasons why he might have racked up that tab. Perhaps he was entertaining business associates? Perhaps it was a bachelor party? Also, we are assuming this is out of the ordinary for such a club, perhaps this is a typical of this club that high-rollers come in. Why should an establishment nanny it’s customers? If you are a bar owner and a high-roller comes in and starts purchasing goods and services from you, why would you stop this person from doing so? If you want to be a big boy and play at the deep end of the pool, you had best know your limits…

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bijou November 6, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Because I am drawing such differing reactions, and I was beginning to doubt myself a bit, I decided to read about the case again. And I am thankful that I did, because I think it proves my points.

First, one very key fact: the guy involved is no ordinary joe. His name is Mitchell Blaser and he is the chief financial officer for the American Division of the giant Swiss Re insurance outfit.

So according to the article from The Smoking Gun, the guy and his friend decide to check out Scores in New York City. The club asks for a card to open a tab and Blaser hands over his American Express card.

The article notes the club says that Blaser ran up the 28K tab by “ordering five magnums of Clos Du Mesnil Champagne, at $3,200 a bottle, and partaking in hundreds of $20 lap dances.”

According to Blaser, at the end of the night, when he asked to close out his tab, he was presented with a bill for $8,615. He complained that the bill was incorrect and did not accurately represent services rendered. Blaser says the club told him, if he did not sign, he would not get his card back.

He complained again that the charges were inacurrate and the club repeated if he did not sign, he would not get his card back.

Blaser signed and left the club.

The same night his card was charged again, after he had left the club, for an additional $4,000, making the total charged $12,615.

Blaser then called American Express to complain and was told his card had been charged a total of 4 times the previous evening, for a total of $28,021.06.

If you can’t see fraud or greed or deceit in the jungle of extortion, God bless you.

Also I never get why some people get so hot and bothered with the assertion that stripclubs are astronomically overpriced or that someone would want to sue because he wasn’t satisfied with the service he got from a lapdancer. People sue all the time because they are not satisfied with the service they paid for. Landlords and tenants, car repair shops and their customers, doctors and patients. So a guy getting a 28K bill from a stripcub has every right to sue if he feels he did not get what he was charged for.

It’s the American way.

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FW November 7, 2011 at 4:52 am

Maybe you should take more care to distinguish between the workers and the management. Especially if you’re going to use an anti-capitalist critique here. Who do you believe is being greedy – the management which allows exorbitant tabs to be run up (or fraudulently charged up), or the people giving the lapdances?

Really, it takes some nerve to cry “capitalist greed!!!” and then expect the WORKERS to pay for that greed with providing services for FREE.

A scenario you described:
“”How about saying to the guy, ‘Sir, you have spent $18,000 tonight in our champagne rooms. The 3 dancers you have been with have made $5,000 each, just from you. The club has profited another $3,000 from you. Thank you for the $18,000 in total and absolute profit. For the rest of the night, the lapdances are on us. We appreciate your business.” “”

– You make no distinction between management and non-management, and you give management total power in the scenario to demand unpaid labor from the workers. THAT sounds more like the typical capitalist attitude than a worker who expects to get paid for the time spent on the job.

You also said:
“The dancers didn’t have to purchase additional outfits or put out ANYTHING OTHER THAN TIME.”

How much time are you willing to spend working without getting paid? How much time is that lawyer in your example willing to work without getting paid?

If your beef is with the high cost, complain about the high cost if you must, but expecting workers to provide unpaid labor because of management policy is… it’s just wrong is what it is.

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Irony Butterfly Irony Butterfly November 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

Hi again,
You’re confused. This was about W.A. llg at the Hustler club, not Blaser at Scores (and in that case, obviously the facts were disputed). Currently, the issues for this issue remain whether he had the capacity to form a contract; there is, last time I checked, no allegation of fraud, just that he was not capable of making financial decisions. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that fraud is okay, so that is a straw-club; therefore it does not, even remotely prove any point that was in contention.

What you have been suggesting is not that “fraud is bad” (because, duh) but that a) there should be a limit of $10,000 that a customer can spend in a strip club and b) that after a customer reached a spending limit of $18,000 that dancers and the bar should provide free services for the rest of the night. I also don’t think anyone has suggested or argued that strip club services are NOT overpriced – I mean, there are lots of guys who think stripclubs are overpriced and they deal with that by not going to them, and power to them. We don’t care if people think stripclubs are overpriced. The objection comes out when it is suggested that a) because you think they are overpriced it is okay or less bad to to purchase a service and decline to pay your bill, b) that because you think it is overpriced that we should work for free and c) because you think it is overpriced, other people should have a cap on what they spend.

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