Like clockwork, each week when I run out to my mailbox, I can almost always count on an invite to another restaurant opening. Most often, the invites are glossy cards, wrapped and sealed in a beautiful envelope with my name in calligraphy across the front.
It's not that I'm on an exclusive list of invited guests. In truth, it's more of an issue that because so many restaurants continue to open up, the restaurant owners want to ensure they have a good turn-out for their grand openings. I'm simply one invited guest of likely hundreds in a city that often appears to cater to the same demographic of diners.
In fact, the most coveted guests are PR agencies, media, celebrities, 'influencers,' and Instagram heavies. Not being any of these, I suppose I'm quite fortunate to actually be invited.
Each restaurant opening often follows a similar format: lots of selfies, lots of pictures with friends, a couple of high res canapé shots, lots of images of people with drinks in their hands, lots of photos with a backdrop, lots of photos by a professional photographer, free flow spirits, and surprisingly, a fashion show. No opening in Thailand is complete without the necessary fashion show.
These restaurant launches are magical, fun, full of familiar faces, lighthearted, warm, and usually very tipsy.
Can't really knock them -- these opening parties are successful in getting the word out for a new restaurant. For the 2 days that follow an opening, every time we open our Facebook page we are covered with images of the particular restaurant opening party. The same is true for Instagram to the point we feel overwhelmed with the hashtag "#Opening."
Between the guests, media, and word-of-mouth, Bangkok restaurant openings are bright, bold, and well, LOUD.
Then, once the 48 hours of social media posts of the opening night begin to fade, media coverage then helps to keep the buzz going.
Well, at least for a couple of months, anyway.
The opening 3 months of a restaurant, while frequently an operator's nightmare, are also many new restaurants' "glory days." Full of optimism and leftover opening-night excitement, it's 'high-time' for restaurant owners.
Yet, with the Thai economy struggling, after this initial opening period, it becomes a serious game of getting guests in seats and maintaining a strong word of mouth.
And sadly enough, in striking contrast to the boisterous openings, we see many of these restaurants that opened loudly just a couple of months earlier, start to close-up shop.
Very discreetly, however.
In fact, rarely is the word "closing" even used. Rather, the terms "under renovation" or "seeking a new location" are used instead.
Granted, there are times when these terms are legitimate. We have seen several restaurants in Bangkok close for a period of renovations or move shop. However, many of these "renovations" are simply covering the unfortunate truth that in the ultra-competitive F&B scene in Bangkok, there are going to be numerous casualties.
Global restaurant numbers indicate that 60% of restaurants fail in their first year and 80% fail in under 3 years. For Bangkok, I have to wonder if these numbers are significantly higher.
Recently, BK Mag covered a list of venues that were either closing, moving or renovating. Some of these, just like the ones I've been invited to this week, opened with a bang(!!!) only to unfortunately close months later.
Further, in both new Bangkok guide books Monocle and Louis Vuitton, it's surprising how many venues are highly touted, but are no longer in existence.
Bangkok's restaurant scene has clearly become "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow." This City of Angels must be a guide book editor's worst nightmare.
Why a particular restaurant may close is usually a combination of factors -- location, ambiance, chemistry of owners, staff strength, Trip Advisor comments, timing, and even price points amongst many others factors.
But perhaps most telling for Bangkok is that because a new restaurant is far less expensive to open than the same restaurant in say Los Angeles or London, for example, restaurant owners, especially new restaurant owners, are willing to take a gamble knowing that it won't be as much of a loss compared to other cities if the new restaurant fails to work out. Bangkok is a great Restaurant Opening Safety Net, in other words.
Additionally, the Thai economy at the moment isn't exactly booming. Tourist numbers are way down and there's a general feeling of uncertainty in the air. Couple this with zealous desires to continue to open restaurants and the results can often be challenging.
For those restaurant operators able to remain financially abundant and open, my guess is they are adhering to the Golden Rule of Hospitality: Anybody can get guests into a new venue when you offer free-flow booze. The only venues that survive however, do so because of the blunt mathematical equation of revenue being greater than the expenses.