Should Savannah bars be forced to hire additional and costly latenight security?

If you’re looking for broader background on some elements of the draft of the City of Savannah’s new alcohol ordinance, click here. That post focuses on Savannah’s proposed draconian restrictions regarding anyone under 21 being inside a restaurant that serves alcohol after 10 p.m. That post also includes some broader outlines — some good, some not — of the draft ordinance as a whole.

The proposed ordinance — you can read the city’s summary here, read the full draft here, and give online feedback here — would also mandate additional security measures from midnight to 3 a.m. at latenight establishments.

Here’s an excerpt from the relevant portion of the draft ordinance:

Sec. 6-1229. Security staffing.

(a) Late night entertainment establishment personnel shall be responsible for operating the establishment in a safe and orderly manner. Between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and closing, the number and type of security personnel on duty at all times shall be determined by the licensee’s occupant load (hereinafter “OL”) or voluntary occupant load (hereinafter “VOL”) and designated on the application for a late night sales license as follows:

(1) less than 49 OL/VOL: one door person and one security person. The security person may also serve as the licensee’s manager who shall be permitted to concurrently handle front-of-the-house duties.

(2) 50-100 OL/VOL: one door person and one security person. The security person may also serve as the licensee’s manager, so long as said manager has no other duties that could reasonably be found to limit his or her ability to function as a security person.

(3) 101 – 200 OL/VOL: one door person and two security persons, one of which may be a manager so long as said manager has no other duties that could reasonably be found to limit his or her ability to function as a security person.

If you go to the actual ordinance, you can see that more security is needed as the total OL/VOL increases.

UPDATE: At the end of this section, the language limits the requirement for extra security for many establishments to Friday and Saturday night. Here’s the language:

(g) The provisions of this subsection shall only be applicable between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, the holidays of Memorial Day and Labor Day, and between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. on the day following New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July, Halloween and designated Saint Patrick’s Day festival dates and when special concerts or promotions take place at the late night entertainment establishment.

The draft policy seems pretty clearly to target live music establishments. Places like The Jinx and Hang Fire probably have “special concerts” on average about two weeknights per week, give or take. So clubs like those would still have to hire extra security at least four nights per week, plus the various holiday dates detailed.

CONTINUING WITH ORIGINAL POST, WITH SLIGHT EDITS TO INCORPORATE THE LANGUAGE ABOVE:
Let me pause here and quickly recount, for those of you who don’t go out often to clubs, what nights frequently look like in Savannah’s smaller joints late at night. I’m going to use The Jinx for my example because it’s a place that I go a lot and that frequently has live music until 2 a.m. or so. I’m sure other bars around downtown have similarly worked out security plans that work just fine for their establishments and their legal clientele.

On a recent Saturday, The Jinx — which falls into that 101-200 capacity — was hosting a couple of pretty great young bands: Modrag from Austin and the local garage rock duo Wet Socks. (Two shots below; click here for a full gallery at hissing lawns.)

Wet Socks

Wet Socks

Modrag

Modrag

I got to The Jinx sometime just before 10:30 p.m., I guess, and Modrag probably started around 11. Wet Socks probably took the stage about 12:30 a.m. — ballpark times.

There was a great vibe in the room all night, and I had long conversations with several friends and said hello to any number more. At any given moment, the capacity probably wasn’t over 65 or thereabouts, and we all pretty much knew each other — I’d say there was one degree of separation for the entire room.

The Jinx had a door guy, as usual, and Scotty and Tony (big guys!) were behind the bar. Gil was around too, but I don’t even know if he was working or not. And there was a sound guy. Maybe James was working behind the bar too. That was plenty of employees to adequately serve and oversee the bar.

I’m guessing that I’ve been to The Jinx 250-300 times — maybe more — since Susanne Guest Warnekros opened the business 11 years ago, and I’ve seen perhaps one or two times when staff had to escort someone out. I’ve never seen the police be called for any reason.

But The Jinx falls into that 101-200 capacity, which requires three security personnel (door plus two others) after midnight. So on the Saturday night that I’m talking about, the club would have had to hire at least one additional employee for three hours, even though there was absolutely no concern about security and even though the club has essentially no history of security problems that necessitate police services.

This is no small quibble. Even if The Jinx or a club like it could define current staffing in such a way that the club only needed to hire one additional security person, the minimum weekly payroll increase would probably be $200 [maybe closer to $150 depending on how many “special concerts” are being held that week]. The real number would likely be higher, since it’s probable that the new ordinance would sometimes — perhaps even always — necessitate hiring two employees rather than one. (And, really, how many trustworthy bar security people are there in Savannah who would be willing to work only from midnight to 3 a.m.?)

$200/week = $10,400/year against the bar’s bottom line.

Let me mention another night at The Jinx. The club was fairly busy — at least considering it was a weeknight — for the recent appearance of the Portland, Oregon-based doom/black metal band Agalloch. [This one would definitely be a “special concert”; Agalloch has over 100,000 Facebook fans and played a 1,000+ capacity Irving Plaza in NYC a couple days later — the show was even reviewed in the NYT.] The show at The Jinx was amazing — stunning musicianship and some elaborate staging. (One shot here, but a full gallery at hissing lawns with shots by Tom Cartmel and me.)

Agalloch

Agalloch

Agalloch drew a sort of cerebral crowd — most of the night was marked by reverential listening to some pretty powerful stuff. There were lots of people I didn’t know on hand that night, as happens from time to time. I don’t know where they all came from, but it was one of the most engaged, respectful audiences I’ve seen in a while.

As usual, The Jinx had a door guy, sound guy, a couple of bartenders, maybe a barback. And that was probably more than enough.

And that was a pretty big weeknight. Many Savannah bars struggle to make any real money at all on weeknights, especially after midnight (some in fact close at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. but they would still have to hire extra security if they have “special concerts” or “promotions”).

In other words, it is utterly nonsensical to assume that every club needs more security than it currently has, and businesses across the city will face a huge financial burden if they are forced to expand their payrolls to meet the unnecessary and arbitrary demands of this draft ordinance.

Here’s the rationale from the city’s page dealing with latenight sales:

A small number of late-night establishments are causing a disproportionate number of calls for Police service. In recognition of this, the City is proposing the creation of a late-night sales license, which replaces and repeals the current hybrid license.

The late-night license would be required in addition to the alcoholic beverage license for any business that serves alcohol by the drink after midnight. The late-night license requires businesses to submit a security plan designed to prevent incidents in and around the establishment, as well as keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. The establishment of this license enhances safety while providing officials with more enforcement options by allowing the suspension or revocation of the late-night license while keeping the alcohol license intact.

This begs the question: if “a small number of late-night establishments are causing a disproportionate number of calls for Police service,” why do we need to create onerous and expensive requirements even for bars and clubs that already have adequate security plans, as demonstrated by their track records?

I assume that most owners and managers of latenight establishments would have no objection to filing some sort of written security plan for public safety personnel to have on file and be able to consult quickly, but forcing them to expand their payrolls and spend thousands of dollars per year unnecessarily? That’s simply idiotic — and will further cement Savannah’s existing reputation as a city that is actively antagonistic to small entrepreneurs.

2 comments for “Should Savannah bars be forced to hire additional and costly latenight security?

  1. September 1, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Some interesting discussion of this post on the Savannah Unplugged Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/SavannahUnplugged

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