Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Bar Flight, Part 3

I’ve been thinking some more about the Bar Flight game. To review, there are two phenomena to be explained: (1) When two roughly equivalent bars are located a short distance from each other, why is one bar crowded while the other is virtually empty? (2) Given the first phenomenon, what would cause a shift in popularity so that the formerly empty bar becomes crowded and vice versa?

The first phenomenon is easily explained. The primary reason people go to bars is they want to be around other people. As a result, bars are subject to network externalities (i.e., a consumer’s satisfaction from a good rises with the number of other consumers using the good). That means consumers are playing a kind of coordination game, in which the object is for everyone to end up at the same bar. The situation is closely akin to the Sides of the Road game, in which drivers decide to drive on the left or the right; it really doesn’t matter which side they choose, as long as they all choose the same side.

The second phenomenon is more difficult to explain, given the “lock in” effect associated with many coordination games. In my first post on the subject, I attributed the shift in crowds to an indeterminacy arising from crowds large enough to fill both bars (on weekend nights). In my second post, I presented another explanation: that some customers, “the hip,” want to socialize with each other but not with another group of customers, “the unhip.” But the latter do wish to socialize with the former. The result is a kind of “chasing” game, which I likened to Dr. Seuss’s tale of the Sneetches.

But now a third explanation has occurred to me, which seems more likely than the other two. Like the Sneetches game, it relies on the existence of two customer groups – not the hip and unhip, but women and men. For the most part, men want to be where there are women, and women want to be where there are men. If that were the whole story, we’d have a simple coordination game. What throws a wrench in the works is that women only want to be around men up to a point. For men, there’s no such thing as too many women. But for women, that’s not the case. When the ratio of men to women gets too high, many women start to feel crowded, perhaps even threatened. Eventually, the gains from coordination are swamped by the losses from fighting off gangs of men, and they start to leave (or go somewhere else next time).

The next step is an unraveling effect. As some women leave, the male-to-female ratio rises for the remaining women, putting pressure on them to leave as well. And then the ratio gets even worse. Eventually, the men find themselves in what is sometimes called a “sausage fest.” They eventually leave as well, hoping to find women at the other bar.

The outcome is a naturally recurring cycle. The cycle may occur within a single night or over a much longer period. In the early stages of the cycle, we have a coordination game, with both men and women hoping to visit the same bar. But in the late stages of the cycle, women gradually desert the bar for better (less threatening) climes. They begin to congregate in another bar, and the cycle begins anew. With this hypothesis, we can explain a third phenomenon as well: the velvet ropes and selective bouncers in front of the more popular bars, which may represent the management’s attempt to short-circuit the cycle by limiting the influx of men.


Anonymous said...

That's funny. Upon reading this initially, you make it seem like men are the pariah of nightlife that ruin an otherwise nice evening with 'just the gals'. But girls like attention, although they may want nothing else but just that.

But what you say probably has some truth in it. A lot of the times women go to these bars with their girlfriends just to have a good time with each other. It's true that it's flattering when guys hit on us at bars, but we're not looking to leave with anyone. I've only known one girl (aquaintance) who left our group to go home with a guy and we were all upset with her for being stupid; it can be *really* dangerous!

So I guess it's one thing if a guy buys them drinks and has casual conversation but it's another if they are wanting more. For example, I live in a house full of mid 20s, good-looking women. One of them is even an aspiring model, so you can kinda gauge where they place in the beauty scale. From what I hear she has to beat down guys with a stick. And she says she hates that type of attention she gets at the restaurant where she waitresses. But I doubt it's attention from *all* men. It's probably a different story if it came from someone totally hot. Old men or less attractive tend to suffer the short end of the stick at bars (it is afterall a meat market).

Another thing is by the end of the night, we don't want drunk horny men breathing down our necks. That's totally gross and we've left for that reason before.
But threatened or overwhelmed? I don't know if I would entirely agree.

Also 'hip' and 'unhip'. What does that really mean? I just assumed that the general demographics of the patrons of these bars are young and attractive urbanites. I've been to both these bars as they are near my house but I don't remember seeing dweebs. But I never pay attention...

Oh for the men out there, I'll be pimpin' out my single roomates at bar "X" at "X" hour this weekend for a b-day celebration. =P haha


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DADvocate said...

This theory may hold up for the single, twenty something crowd but many men go to bars to drink with buddies and get away from women. Thus, you could have movement for just the opposite reason you outlined. I haven't gone to a bar to meet women since I was in my mid-twenties.

Anonymous said...

On your statement about the "velvet ropes and selective bouncers"...Las Vegas nightclubs are interesting "phenomena" to look at. Most clubs in Vegas have promoters (usually college kids or young socialites) that get their attractive female friends to visit the bar and get free drinks. The girls just have to hang out for an hour or so and over the course of a couple weeks a club will become a hotspot, attracting tons of young guys (both hip and unhip). The girls don't mind being there because they're drinking for free (while not having to put up with obnoxious men and a deluge of come-on's, as they would in a normal place) and they only have to stay for an hour or two (thus leaving before the saturation of men threatens them). The promoters keep a steady flow of girls visiting in this manner and the club stays hot. It's basically an artificially created environment. It's an interesting market to check out.