Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dirty Frank's quiz in jeopardy; might switch only to nights "financially viable"


Like or hate this little dispatch from the dark side, I see no point in being anything other than totally honest with you.


I had a long, ominous incoming phone call today discussing the financial viability of the Wednesday night quiz at Frank's. It seems that the owner is questioning the profitability of maintaining the quiz, and this has trickled down the pyramid to me. I would imagine part of this has to do with the generally sucky economy - worse on many counts than any other time we've been alive (unless you're over 70). It's hard for a small business to make it with rising energy and stock costs. Actually I would imagine Frank's is still making some money, just not nearly as much as usual. In tough times a lot of business extras get cut, and in fact a lot of crucial elements that are mistaken as "extras" but are actually vital get cut too.

On the other hand, I've mentioned before that the Frank's crowds any night are half the size of what they were a decade ago. Hey, other bars are crowded. Even six or so years ago the place had two Wednesday night bartenders; now there's even one some weekend nights. In my opinion this is directly attributable to the awful behavior of a small percentage of patrons which would get people flagged for life from nearly any other institution - not just bars - including, perhaps, say, the French Foreign Legion. You can only make safe haven for so many obnoxious folks before the non-obnoxious are just driven away permanently. You know a bad sign to me? That you don't see many single (as in lone, as well as unattached) women hanging out at the bar. You scare them away, the nature of a place takes a dive, no pun intended.

It's very difficult for me to promote the idea of people coming to a place to play a quiz where an employee throws a barstool across the room, smacks a customer in the head, and not only remains an employee but hangs around to mock me on the odd off-duty night. It's difficult to get people to come back to a place where sometimes people who need to be in the drunk tank are still being served, or where it's hard to hear me over the terminally rude, who decide that question 3 of round 4 is the perfect time to sing "Happy Birthday." What can I do with that? Those are tough selling points for people who love a quiz. It doesn't need to be library-quiet, we just don't need to have bedlam. I have expressed this opinion more than once, and I'm as bored with it as you are. More so.

I can only encourage new people to come to the quiz once and check it out. I think my questions are world-class,and I try to come up with interesting, all-new material four nights every week. If you like the quiz and don't feel safe or welcome in the venue, what more can I do? I knew eventually the ape behavior would scare enough people away that we would have to question the viability of continuing from a business standpoint, and all along this has driven me being visibly upset by jackasses who ruin the night. People who largely go uncontrolled are screwing up my ability to make a living. Oh joy. (Note that I'm expected to "lighten up" and "have a sense of humor" about this...)

The vicious irony that I could be driven out of work by a bad employee and few rotten customers has not escaped me. I know there are people out there who like my quiz, but don't want to try and play at Frank's specifically.

Just this past Wednesday two female customers walked into a scene of one regular holding a barstool up as a shield while another flicked a towel at him. Towel-flicker then made a booze-addled, hamfisted attempt to sweet talk the ladies, who turned around and left without ordering a drink. I don't blame them. The bar then had a laugh over that, which made me a little ill inside. "Ha ha ha - our bar is dying! We chase away new customers - ha ha ha!" And I watch my little business I've worked so hard at circle the bottom of the toilet bowl ...


Your bartendrix Sheila and I would like to make things better and keep the quiz going. Some weeks are very good ones, both from the standpoint of numbers and from the feel of the room. Small crowds hurt us all. Nothing is set in stone, but a few of the following things might happen soon:

* We might just not do the quiz nights a certain number of people aren't participating. That number is yet to be determined; math needs to be done and honestly none of us were tracking this. We've discussed the fact that this is the approach most likely to kill any event, as people are less likely to show up to something that might not happen. It's a really negative feedback loop. Obviously avoiding this means more people showing up, that simple. Incidentally, if you only drink water, you're welcome to the quiz and always welcome to the bar... but you're not going to count as a "customer" for these purposes.

I've pointed out that we can't work this out by counting the number of teams. There were eight teams last week and also eight the week before, but two weeks ago that appeared to be twice as many people. It's going to be a headcount thing. I've looked at slow nights as an expense incurred to ensure people come for busy nights, knowing the quiz is always there, but of course it ain't my capital and it's always easier to say that about someone else's money.

* We might, some nights, scale down the quiz to me doing it on one side of the room without amplification, and scale down prizes and my pay accordingly. I'm willing to do this as a necessity, my same approach to that time I needed root canal. At least this way if you show up for a quiz you'll still get one, and my questions won't change any.

* We might look into offering special themed quizzes and/or I might be placing additional fliers specific to each Wednesday in the bar. I'll also send out more regular emails and Craigslist posts, although honestly I trailed off because that seemed to have almost no impact, large or small crowds seeming from my perspective to be almost random. None of this can hurt (other than requiring more of my time and investment), and arguably I should've been doing that all along. I floated the idea of tournament giveaways of bar premiums in the style of Drinker's but this seems unlikely.

Finally, I could honestly use your help as a quiz player in controlling things. If you're reading this, you're "into" the quiz. Too often I have to be "bad cop" when someone is being an ass, and have to be the one to act as a bouncer or the person who tells someone that they've had one too many and needs to go home. This seriously destroys any sort of fun mood and turns some against me. Unfortunately, I have to say I would appreciate it if some of you would step it up and shush someone who's shouting answers or otherwise being a prat, ruining your night too. In a lot of other Philadelphia quiz venues, let's face it, some of the behavior of a few Frank's patrons would get them smacked in the head long before I got around to saying something. Honestly peer pressure tends to shame bullies and louts considerably more than having a public argument with the guy with the microphone. That's just entertaining for the jackhole, emotional mother's milk for the alcoholic, and I can't "win" in those situations.

For my part I'll attempt to remain as calm, upbeat and entermational as possible. Deal? Also, I will update you all here as news worth sharing happens. Tomorrow night's quiz is scheduled as normal.

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John said...

Hearing about the quiz being in jeopardy is indeed upsetting. I have (roughly) drafted a letter to Jay. I would like you to read it Wednesday night(not over the P.A.) I don't know if it would even help. The quiz is your livelihood. It is only my hobby. This is why I would like your opinion. (I know you have lots of them.)
Maybe a petition would help. There are 13 people I can think of who rarely even miss 1 week.
I love your quiz! I love the humorous asides! I know certain...individuals make your job nearly impossible. I know they hurt the quiz, your job, by shouting answers and/or being violent. I know they don't deserve patience. Telling you to just "lighten up" is ridiculous. The establishment should intervene, but never will. I have but one criticism: Don't attempt to belittle people over the P.A. It really does escalate the mood- killing and the problem-causers don't really have a sense of shame anyway. I know you are in the right. I know I don't have an answer to rectify the obnoxious behavior of...individuals. I figure talking to them on the side probably won't help, but maybe it's worth a shot. What usually seems to happen, is the problem-causer/s, who are very drunk, get provoked. Then you have a guy shouting more things, more loudly and a guy with a microphone who is pissed off and adding to the negative vibes. It would be marginally better to have one person shout answers than to have one person shout answers followed by another person shouting back in retaliation. (I think you should be pissed; however, the drunks just don't seem to appreciate your argument.)
I apologize if I'm talking out of turn. Again, I love your quiz. It is the best I've ever played in the nine years I've been playing quizzo. Your not the one who should have to change your ways. They should, but won't.

Your friend,
John Heinz

QuizMasterChris said...

Hey John -

Thanks for the comment and the suggestions. I'll read your letter tonight. I'd say offhand that maybe we should wait until something is actually cancelled before contacting Jay, although I'd suggest talking with bartenders if you'd like it to continue.

People who DON'T like the quiz are making themselves heard. The thing is I don't believe for a second that the number of people staying away every week outnumbers or comes close to outnumbering the number of people who DO come every week.

What's more, the "stock" (if you will) of people who play the quiz is a really good base for building a decently behaved clientele, whereas I think some of the people who don't like the quiz are also actively scaring away more normal customers a bar would hopefully want.

Anonymous said...

"You know a bad sign to me? That you don't see many single (as in lone, as well as unattached) women hanging out at the bar. You scare them away, the nature of a place takes a dive, no pun intended."

As a woman who goes to bars often by herself I would NEVER do so at Franks. I dont even really feel comfortable there with my male friends, which is again why I stopped attending the quiz. And honestly the staff is creepier than the drunken patrons in most cases.