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Bar & Club Security Urban Legends Answered

September 17, 2013 By: Robert Smith

Nightclub Security Over the years, I’ve met some pretty smart bar and club professionals.  These are intelligent hospitality people, who, in some cases have accumulated over their years, what I like to call “Cliff Clavin” type knowledge.  You remember Cliff from the hit television show Cheers don’t you?

Having Cliff type of misinformation isn’t a bad thing and can be funny at times.  But, when that misinformation gets mixed into the daily operation of a bar or club and is used to make operational decisions, this is where it becomes not so funny and can actually be dangerous and counter productive.

Here I hope to clear up three of the most common bar and club urban legends.

Myth: Everyone must have their ID on them (in public and in your bar). 
False: The only thing you, as an operator must remember is that you can’t serve alcohol to anyone who is under the age of 21.  So, if you want a house policy that everyone must show ID, fine, but this isn’t a legal requirement.

Most cops know the law, but it wasn’t long ago when you always had to have a form of identification.  Like other laws that gave excessive power to law enforcement, this area of law was eventually brought to our highest court and they sided with the free citizens.  If you’d like find out more about this law search the following Supreme Court cases: Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville and Kolender v. Lawson.

Finally, remember that we work in the hospitality industry.  We aren’t TSA or Customs & Border Protection.  We create a great environment where guests feel invited and wanted, yet we ask every guest for ID, regardless of their age or what we know about who causes the most trouble in our bar or club.  My rule of thumb is to worry about the guests who appear to be under the age of 30.

Myth: You can’t search the pockets of a guest in your bar or club. 

False:  I understand your first thought when I use the word “search”.  To clear this urban legend up for you and in some cases, to help you teach your local law enforcement official who told you different, I think it’s important to understand a basic point.

Remember the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.  It says that a citizen is protected from warrantless search from the government; typically law enforcement.  Well, guess what, you are a private citizen, not a government agent.  Seems simple to understand doesn’t it?

As with the first myth, you can research more on this point but the Supreme Court has made the same statement I’ve made.  Even when the search might have been unreasonable, the 4th Amendment did not apply to private citizens.

I’m not putting this information out so we can have a free for all and start searching everyone we want.  Not at all, but when a guest has been violent and the police are on the way, why not check their pockets for any weapons?  Better safe than sorry.  Additionally, when you’ve made a lawful detention of a guest for whatever, wouldn’t it be great to know that if you absolutely had to get their ID out of their back pocket, you could.

Myth: You can eliminate your entire bar and club liability. 

False: You are always liable.  Every type of business, including bars and clubs are always liable when they are open for business.  And, there may be some level of liability even when the doors are closed and locked. It doesn’t matter if you do everything in your power, operators must get it in their heads that they are never free from liability.

So, what is an operator to do?  Be as prepared and pro-actively ready as you can for any form of liability.  Here’s a simple list:

-       Have all necessary basic safety needs (lighting, fire extinguishers, exit signs, safety plans)

-       Have all necessary employee training (responsible server training, security training, equipment training) 

-       Have employees correctly document simple and major incidents (turning over-intoxicated guests away, getting guests out of the bar, assaults, major injuries)   

It’s important to remember that when you think something is true, it may not be and it’s important to search for the correct answers to important questions like these.  


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