January 19, 2009

The MK dance: fun or embarassing?

If you eat out in Thailand much, chances are you've eaten at MK, the ubiquitous and beloved steamboat (a.k.a. suki) restaurant. It's found in virtually every shopping center. It's so popular, the larger malls have more than one.

I've eaten there loads of times, but only recently did I see ... the MK staff dance.

At the stroke of 7:00 p.m., the entire wait and bus staff began to dance in unison. Part classical Thai dance, part YMCA, no employee in sight escapes its reach. I wondered if they were also dancing in the kitchen.

It turns out YouTube is teeming with videos of this. Have a look for yourself:

I understand the theory behind it. A little show to entertain the patrons. Back home, the waitstaff birthday song is a staple in chain restaurants of the variety that give kids coloring crayons. (I don't enjoy that either, by the way.)

The MK dance is a bit much for me, I'm afraid. At dinner the other night, the look on the face of one girl was so pained that she may have been passing a kidney stone at the same time. I can't be sure.

So for me, this doesn't enhance the customer experience. Looking around, not a single employee was showing that genuine Thai smile we're all familiar with. There were a few embarrassed half-grins, but most were stone faced. It was just all too obvious that this is compulsory and not enjoyed. Maybe they enjoyed it the first 1,000 times. :P

According to a recent article in the Nation, some patrons find the MK dance so much fun that they have formed a club to join along. Now that I want to see.

Call me a boring westerner, but I filled out a comment card telling them that I don't think they should force their employees to dance. It wouldn't have bothered me so much if they didn't look like they were hating it.

The dance changes from time to time, too. Search for "MK dance" or "MK restaurant" on YouTube for loads more clips.

MK is one of my favorite chain restaurants in Thailand, though. But they should stick to the hired performers for song and dance routines, as seen in their now classic TV commercial:

Have you seen the MK staff dance? What did you think?


  1. I didn't think they were still doing this dance. It used to be performed on the hour, but last few times I've eaten at MK, I haven't seen it.

    Maybe some branches have done away with the practice.

    A couple of times I've noticed the male workers really getting into the dancing more than the female employees. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just thought it was funny.

    I do enjoy the MK commercials and are all consistently pretty good quality.

    My favorite filmmaker Wisit Sasanatieng did one a few years back. The link I had to it is dead now, but it involved a little boy giving a speech at school about his father's work as quality-control inspector for MK. So dad is getting up close and personal with ducks, fish and produce. As you can expect from Wisit's work, it was vividly colorful and very whimsical. I think Wisit might have also had a hand in this commercial, which introduced the "Gin allay, gin allay ... bye gin MK" song into Thai pop culture.

    Darn, now I'm hungry, but I don't think there's an MK open now.

  2. I have also seen that many of MK employees don't enjoy the little dance. But I don't think it's that bad. I don't think their normal tasks are much more fun than doing the dance and they are also not smiling all the time when doing their normal work. There are many things people do which are not very useful. For instance, when people enter or leave the Hachiban restaurant over here the employees scream (thank you/goodbye) so loud that it looks scary. It think the MK dance just breaks the routine and it's fun for some first time customers. What was much worse was the 60 seconds action in Mac Donalds (I think that was about 2 years ago). Every cashier had a digital countdown clock which was started by the customer. Employees were screaming and running like mad so they wouldn't need to give you a free burger if they didn't get your order finished within 60 seconds.

  3. Was out for dinner at MK earlier this month and they were doing the routine.

    Kinda enjoyed it. And all the patrons gave an appreciative round of applause when it was over.

    Yes, some of the staff were noticeably more embarrassed while some took it in their stride.

  4. Agree, that job must kinda suck to be forced to dance like that, with a smile on your face to boot. Maybe the management who thought it up should be made to dance like that in front of the customers too.
    PS had a steamboat in Isaan once and got food poisoning. Make sure it's cooked properly! :)

  5. That was my first thought too--whoever thought this up obviously doesn't have to do it every day. :P