The Korean practice of “booking”

by on December 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm in Economics | Permalink

Typically, around four or five men will sit down at a table and be served expensive whiskey and fruit.  They are assigned a waiter, who will go around the other tables to find a group of women, whom they bring over to the men’s table…The waiter does this in return for a tip.  The larger the tip, the prettier the women he will bring.

…Waiters maintain lists of attractive women’s phone numbers and will call them up and offer free, or very cheap, tables and drinks for them and their friends.  This is more than compensated for by the price men will pay.  Men will happily lay out 150,000 won (almost US$150) each in table fees and tips.  Despite the cost, some men go very often.  In fact, there is an expression, night-jukdoli, for a man addicted to booking and nightclubs.  The female equivalent is a night-juksooni.

That is from Daniel Tudor’s very good book, Korea: The Impossible Country.

Gabriel Rossman December 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Apparently in the US this is called “bottle service”

http://nymag.com/news/features/65238/

Geoff Olynyk December 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Damn, came here to post this exact article. The world of high-end clubs catering to celebrities, professional athletes, and Wall Street traders described in that article is fascinating!

Eric December 12, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Having done a lot of booking in Korea, I can say it is still very different than what is described in that article.

First of all, booking is something completely common, and not reserved celebrities and the wealthy. The clubs in Korea span a vast range of cost and exclusivity. Of course, the more expensive the rooms, the more attractive the girls that go to the club. But you will probably find booking between $150 and $1500 a night in Seoul alone.
To even get into the more exclusive clubs, you have to personally know a head waiter. The staff has a strict hierarchy of normal waiters who do all the work, and head waiters who oversee everything, talk to customers, and take all the money. The tipping thing doesn’t work exactly like it’s described either. You basically only tip the head waiter, and since he does know you anyway in the better clubs, he will already know what kind of service you will get.

Booking clubs are basically drinking and speed dating combined. After the waiter brings in a girl, you chat a bit to see if there is something there. If either of you doesn’t feel like it, the girl leaves and the staff will bring in new. It is important to say though that after a polite annyonghaseo the girls are free to leave immediately if they don’t like you, and no amount of money you pay the head waiter will change that. They really just do the initial matching.

If the two of you hit it off it is just as if you had met in a “normal” club. In fact there are normal clubs in Korea as well that offer optional booking service, but where you can go to just have drinks without having to order a “set” (bottle, soda, and fruits).

Generally booking is in a sharp decline though in recent years, probably due to more Western influence, and easier social standards. It used to be a very effective method to match partners, but now the same happens in regular clubs very similarly to the West. Nowadays even the better booking clubs are rather empty during the week, and only packed on the weekends, what used to be a seven days a week things just a few years ago.

Cliff December 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Yes, Korean booking seems much more normal and less sleazy and ridiculous.

Saliency December 12, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Yes Gabriel is on the mark. In NYC, and other large cities I am sure, night clubs do mostly the same things. They may be a bit less vulgar about it, but they are related.

Ray Lopez December 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm

What struck me as a westerner in Asia is how much hard liquor the people drink. I’m not talking tough guys either–I’m talking regular ‘housewives’ and students and ordinary folk during celebrations knocking down hard liquor like it’s going out of style. This I observed first hand in Thailand, Korea, Philippines, Japan, and India. Amazing. I think Johnny Walker loves Asia.

Peter December 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Even before the “bottle service” this has been known forever as a Gentleman Club. You show up, buy drinks, and the waiter/bartender/opportunists wills how up and drink for free in exchange for eye candy, conversation, and an illusionary promise of take home.

Sorry if this double posts, my browser died.

Ray: You need to hang out with other people in the west. At least in the USA hard liquor is pretty commonly consumed, especially among women though often mixed. It’s also extremely common in (depending how you define the “west”) all of eastern europe.

Ray Lopez December 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Yes I know: posting in Greece where even the old crones will knock back shot after shot of ‘chiporo’, a kind of Turkish raki/ouzo without the flavoring–wait, that’s vodka no? I’ve never been a fan of drinking vodka like it’s water. I’ve seen Eastern Europeans drink a liter of vodka in one sitting without any apparent side effects. But in Asia they get drunk faster. Self-medication IMO. I’ll pass.

Go Kings, Go! December 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm
Peter December 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Some women in Korea used to get surgical hair transplants so they could look more flavorful. Needless to say, this practice has fallen into disuse as more and more Korean women succumb to the false allure of the Hideous Pedophilic Bald Eagle.
God damn it.

Miley Cyrax December 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Men exchange resources for female beauty and sexual access? Damn, who would have thought.

Rahul December 12, 2012 at 4:19 pm

What is the allure of whiskey and fruit. Seems like a wierd combination? Why not nuts or something salty?

Eric December 12, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Virtually nobody drinks the whiskey straight. You get it in an array of soda, water, beer, and ice tea, and usually everyone mixed with something.
You can order different snacks like fried finger food too but fruits are just more common. And I guess more appreciated by the girls.

jollyjl December 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm

I guess there is also the side effect of the men giving the women fruits being more symbolic?

Foo December 12, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Why not just use the $150 to pay for sex with an escort?

I believe that in most countries, that gets you an half hour sex session at least.

Alex' December 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm

A lot of men don’t like sex they straight up paid for. Men enjoy the hunt.

Alex' December 12, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Or rather, men prefer the idea that the women they’re sleeping with like something about them. There’s a difference between “she likes that I’m rich and successful” and “she’s with me for an hour because I paid her to.”

Anthony December 13, 2012 at 1:35 am

One gets richer selling the sizzle instead of the steak.

Eric December 13, 2012 at 5:07 am

Why don’t men who buy girls drinks in regular clubs buy prostitution instead? Who don’t men who even go out to a club in the first place buy prostitution instead?

Booking is about meeting regular girls and having fun. The concept may seem a bit strange and institutionalized in Western eyes, but really it is more speed dating than anything else. And really, in a Western club people tip the bartender to bring a girl a drink and tell them who sent it. It’s the exact same thing, except with booking everyone is honest about it.

For guys who don’t care about genuine girls there are a wide variety of services in Korea anyway, most prominently room saloons. It basically looks similar to a booking club in that a group of men get table and a set of whiskey, soda, and snacks. However all the girls the staff brings in work there and most of them are excellent at pretending they like you.
That is still not straight up prostitution though, in most of those places you simply pay for the girls to hang out, flirt, and drink with you, and that is it. Some of the places and some girls offer “2-cha”, which literally means “second car”, where you can pay extra to take the girl home.

There are room saloons all over Seoul, and they vary greatly in prices and classiness. There are rather cheap places where the whole drinking and flirting thing is just a front for 2-cha services in the connected hotel, and there are incredibly expensive exclusively non-2-cha places as well. Generally room saloons are expensive compared to other types of clubs though (something like $2k to $4k a table) and they are usually a Mon-Fri thing as they are most frequented by businessmen who take their clients out. Depending on the place 2-cha can be anything between $250 and $1k on top. The girls in more expensive room saloons are probably the most attractive girls in Korea. They have this term “10-pro” club or something similar which is supposed to mean the top 10% of all room saloon girls are only at those places.

Then many norembang (karaoke) places offer optional partner service as well. You can get a karaoke room with your friends, but you can also ask them for singing partners if you go there with guys only. The procedure is similar to room saloons, only that it is way more affordable, and the girls less out of the world attractive. The places usually don’t offer 2-cha, but some of the girls might (the same is true for room saloons that officially don’t offer 2-cha).

Of course, there is also just straight up prostitution, most commonly in the form of “anma”, which literally means massage, but is synonymous with whorehouse. Even though prostitution is officially illegal, there are openly advertised anmas everywhere. Street and window prostitution exists as well, but that is really hidden out of sight in the more shady areas. All the other things I mentioned are completely common in downtown Gangnam.

Between regular clubs, booking, karaoke, room saloons, and anmas there are services for basically anything. It is something Koreans will be hesitant to admit, but money can virtually buy anything in this country.

Lou December 13, 2012 at 11:28 am

This also happens in Koreatowns, at least in LA. It’s very different from bottle service and trippy to see it done US.

TR W December 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm

You can bet all the pretty girls had extensive plastic surgery to look white. Looking at East Asian media it is clear that East Asian features are roundly considered ugly while European features beautiful.

obvious December 14, 2012 at 4:45 am

yes, white features (or rather features found on some white women but also some asians naturally, if we’re talking about the eyefolds), but WHICH white features? i’m not seeing glamor-seeking asian women getting body hair implantations, or allowing themselves to balloon to the average white woman’s weight. obvious white-supremacy troll is obvious.

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