Sober Monday Reflections: Should Drunk Guys Have to Pay Their Stripper Bills?

11/07/2011 12:14 PM |

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Surely we’ve all woken up hungover one morning and, checking our wallets for clues about what we did last night, found a receipt for $28,000 at the Hustler Club. No? Well, it happens. And when it does, you mostly get only the sad bastard’s side of the story, whining about how those predatory ladies took advantage of his poor dumb drunk ass. Which is why I love this examination of the ethics of letting a wasted dude spend that kind of cash at a strip club from what has to be the best stripper blog ever, Tits and Sass.

Iron Butterfly breaks it down:

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.

Fair enough. Though as she points out, it doesn’t really apply exactly in a strip club situation.

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.

Also fair. I will say that my personal experience with strip clubs is that even sober, you so much as look around and $100 flies out of your wallet. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love strip clubs. But everything—everything—there costs a minimum of $20. Rum and coke? $20. Snacks? $20. Lap dance? $20, as least. I went to the steakhouse in the Penthouse Executive Club for a friend’s bachelor party and looked at the wine list, knowing it would be overpriced but hoping we could find something decent for maybe only like a 300% markup. The cheapest bottle was $200, and it was a shitty California red that retails for less than $15, so. My point is that though $28,000 is an astronomical amount of money, it seems to me entirely possible to spend it at a strip club, even without being wasted beyond the ability to make decisions. And when you visit the Hustler Club, you really should know what you’re getting into. It’s not a place for broke people to hang out.

So I guess I’m saying I agree with Ms. Butterfly’s assessment of the situation:

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 the real lesson here is always, always pay in cash at the strip club. Always.