Sunday, March 9, 2008 | 3 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Come with John and Tina Henderson as they take you through the powerfully expensive night they spent last month at LAX nightclub in Luxor. Warning: It is not for the faint of wallet.
Henderson, 53, is a businessman who has lived in Las Vegas with his family since 1989. He and his wife took their daughter, Marissa, and her friends from Santa Clara University to LAX to celebrate her 21st birthday. He summed up the experience in an interview with the Sun on Thursday: “I was insulted. I felt financially raped.”
THE BEVERAGE TAB
IN THEIR WORDS
“Everybody who wants to be tipped jumps on you right away, and I believe if you’re a taker, they stick with you. If not, they move on to the next table.” — John Henderson on the couple’s experience
THE ESTIMATED TOTAL
The party of 10 did enjoy the dancing after getting into the club Feb. 16, the weekend before Internal Revenue Service agents paid visits to two nightclubs, including LAX, run by Pure Management Group. But the Hendersons were not happy about the surprises along the way.
They concede they had known little about the nightclub scene, but sought advice in advance from a daughter’s friend who worked at LAX. The recommendation was to get reservations.
They said they did. When Tina Henderson made the call, she said she was told that for a party of 10, the couple would have to buy two bottles of liquor at $375 apiece for the two tables they would occupy, plus pay a 28 percent gratuity. Based on that, John Henderson said, he expected to spend about $1,000 on the evening.
The couple arrived at 10 p.m. They found their daughter and her friends waiting in line outside the club.
Knowing that the group had a reservation, an angry Henderson pushed his way through the line to confront a doorman standing behind a rope that blocked the entrance to the club.
“I said, ‘What gives? We have a reservation for my daughter and her friends from school,’ and he put his hand out and said, ‘It starts here. That’s how you get in.’
“I pulled my money clip out, and I said, ‘What do I need to do?” And he said, ‘A hundred dollars will get my attention.’ ”
Henderson said he handed over $100.
The doorman pointed to the hostess and the maitre d’ inside the club and said, “They’re next.” He walked the group inside to the hostess’s podium. Henderson said he gave her a $50 tip to look up his reservation and gave the maitre d’ $100 to lead the group a few feet farther into the club, where they were told to wait. He kept his money clip out, thinking, “Let’s get this over with.”
“I wanted to be treated properly and didn’t want to make a scene in front of my daughter and her friends,” he said.
About 10:30 p.m., another host with his hand out showed up to escort the Henderson party through the club. Henderson gave him a $100 bill, and the man took the group to two tables in a corner of the club. The group was seated on an L-shaped cushioned couch surrounding two small 2-foot-high tables.
Henderson said he voluntarily tipped the waitress $50 after she brought the group a bottle of vodka, a bottle of gin and a half-dozen cans of Red Bull the girls had requested.
While the girls were on the dance floor, the waitress brought the bill, which the Hendersons said showed the club had charged their credit card $500 a bottle instead of $375. Complaints to a manager went nowhere.
Soon a burly man appeared, identifying himself as the group’s “security guy.” For $100, the man told the Hendersons, he would ensure the safety of the group at the club. Henderson said he paid him. The “security guy” never returned.
“Everybody who wants to be tipped jumps on you right away, and I believe if you’re a taker, they stick with you,” Henderson said. “If not, they move to the next table.”
As the evening progressed, the Hendersons noticed that every time their daughter and her friends got up to dance, the busboy would cart away their drinks, which often were full. The waitress poured new ones.
Henderson said the busboy told him he had orders to “keep the booze flowing.”
“I got the busboy by the arm and got the cocktail waitress, and I said, ‘I do not want to see you touch another drink. We’ll tell you when it’s time to pour another drink.’ ”
As the night wore on, the lines of men and women waiting for the restrooms grew long. Those who paid an attendant a tip could go to the front of the line — thereby making the wait longer for those who refused to tip. The Hendersons said their restroom tips for the night came to about $120.
Eventually a manager showed up, and the Hendersons said he told them that because there was such a demand for tables, they needed to buy two more bottles of liquor to hold on to both of theirs. The Hendersons refused. They said the manager then brought another group to occupy one of the tables the couple thought they had reserved for the night.
The Hendersons said they left LAX about 3 a.m. with a $1,378 tab for beverages alone. Counting the cash, the couple estimates they spent about $2,000.
“It’s really not about the money,” Tina Henderson said. “It’s about the treatment.”
She said she wonders how the tourists who go to LAX or other nightclubs on the Strip feel when they encounter these kinds of hidden costs.
Pure Management referred a call from the Sun about the Hendersons’ story to the company’s public relations company, Kirvin Doak Communications.
Kate Turner of Kirvin Doak said LAX officials didn’t find a reservation under the Hendersons’ name Feb. 16. (The Hendersons provided a copy of their credit card receipt to the Sun.) But she said the club goes to great lengths to satisfy its customers.
“If for whatever reason that didn’t happen with this group, we’d like the opportunity to make it right with them,” she said.
One thing John Henderson said the club should look at is the blatant way its employees solicit tips.
“I don’t think it’s a shakedown,” his wife added. “I think they do it because they can, and because if we don’t pay, there are five people behind us who will.”