A cursory Google Search of Gangs in Nightclubs will give you a myriad of search results and as such reveal that this is indeed a serious issue that is dealt with by many bar and nightclub owners. The common thread to many of these stories is that the gangs had already set up camp within the establishment or were regular Patrons when issues arose. I have heard many people offer solutions to this particular problem, but in my experience the best and most effective way to deal with a gang problem in a venue is to prevent it from becoming a problem in the first place.
There is not a gang in existence that does not display its “colors” in one way or another. This is done as a form of identification both within the gang and to its rivals. It is important to note that in some circumstances a style of dress can also be a form of uniform. And that is where Dress Code comes into the equation. It is important to remember that your establishment is private property and as such you can adopt any dress code you wish. As mentioned previously on this blog, your Dress Code will dictate your crowd. An associate of mine once noted that, “People will act to the level of their dress.” This is an incredibly accurate statement. You will very rarely see people acting badly when dressed nicely. Why? Because people don’t want to ruin their nice clothes. Will there be exceptions? Always. But for the most part: nice clothes = nice behavior.
By instituting and enforcing a Dress Code you are removing the most visible (pun intended) option that gangs have in terms of identifying themselves, something that very few gangs will want to do. Remember, that if you are going to institute a Dress Code you MUST enforce it equally across all of your Patrons. If you do not, I can guarantee that you are opening yourself up to angry Patrons in the short term and lawsuits in the long run. “Out of Dress Code” means just that, regardless of whether the Patron is a college kid or the owner of the bar next door. Post the Dress Code at the door and stick to it!!!
Enforcement of Rules
I’m big on enforcing rules in any environment that has the potential for massive liability. Rules keep you, your Staff, and your Patrons safe from themselves, others, and lawsuits. Occasionally, venues will bend the rules for one reason or another and that may or may not be fine. Remember, you have to always consider the worst case scenario if you do decide to bend a rule. When it comes to removing problematic Patrons – in this case, gangs – from a venue, strict enforcement of the rules is the next step in the equation. Let’s say that a gang decides to comply with your Dress Code but when they enter the bar they constantly get into fights or harass the Staff. Enforce your rules. Fights = ejection. Harassment = ejection. Over intoxication = ejection. Not only do these things equal an ejection from the bar, they should also equal permanent expulsion from a venue. Once a few people in a group start to be denied entry to an establishment, the rest of the group will follow.
I worked with an establishment that had a few problem Patrons. These Patrons would generally behave well, but their “friends” would regularly start fights. The establishment started banning the troublemaking “friends”, but the regulars would always bring new friends or cousins or brothers. What did the establishment do? They 86’ed the problem Patrons with a very simple explanation, “Your friends ALWAYS cause trouble and unfortunately we are going to have to deny you entry.” The Patrons were not happy with the decision, but the bar didn’t have any more issues. Remember YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE TO ANYONE.*
What if you have enforced Dress Code and your Rules, but still have a problem with gang members in your bar? Well, for one, if they are well-behaved and well-dressed, it doesn’t sound like you have a gang problem. But for the sake of argument, let’s say your well-dressed, well-behaved gang members are just plain intimidating your customers. If they have been willing to comply up to this point, have a direct talk with them and let them know what the issues are. Should this go no where, a very direct response is to involve Law Enforcement.
I am not talking about threatening to “call the cops” or “file a report”. Act in more subtle and effective ways. Let the police department know that you believe you have gang members in your bar and you would appreciate some advice on dealing with them. Next, ask law enforcement to do a nightly walkthrough of the bar. IF you are dealing with gang members who are involved in illegal activity, seeing police officers several times a night will definitely make them want to switch locales. Another option is to hire off-duty police officers to work your security. Known gang members will NOT want to be around off-duty police officers. The rules in your particular State regarding hiring of off-duty police should absolutely be consulted before you take this step.
THE LAST RESORT
If you somehow find yourself ignored by law enforcement or they don’t see the issue as major and you have exhausted all of your other avenues…CLOSE THE VENUE. It seems like a drastic step, but if you are already losing money and clientele, a short closure (2-4 weeks) can’t be much worse, right? During that time, reformat the bar: new dress codes, new rules, new seating arrangements, and if necessary: all new Staff. You need to hire people who are on board with your Zero Tolerance towards gangs stance. When you re-open, you must state in no uncertain terms, that the individuals who were frequenting the bar previously ARE NOT WELCOME. Period. End of Conversation.
Dealing with any unwanted Patrons is a matter of cautious patience. You must be very aware of your attitude and technique as the wrong approach can land you in very hot legal water. Take your time, figure out what the problem with your unwanted guests actually is (dress code violations, rule breaking, intimidation, etc.) and take a slow, measured approach.
Until next time…
*More on this in the next post!