7 ways to prevent gun violence at your bar or restaurant

In early April, there was a rash of news from Chicago that involved injury, destruction and even a murder that concerned security staff at a local bars. Since most of you don’t likely have a security staff, you end up being the defacto ‘bouncer’ in your place. Of all the roles a restaurant manager plays, this was always my least favorite. Not just for the obvious reasons, but because it meant we had made mistakes long before the confrontation.

In recent posts we have discussed the various roles a manager can play in the security of your patrons and staff. These include counselor, protector and even authority figure. None of them however have covered, target of gun violence. That’s because it’s rare but unfortunately, it still happens. 

In my many years managing security at the various bars I owned and operated, I had a few easy rules of thumb that kept my staff (and me) safe. If you think in these terms, you will always be certain you are doing things to be proactive and not waiting for the worst.

1. If someone comes drunk, you don’t let them into your place!

It’s far less exposure to keep someone out than try to throw them out. If they show up looking for trouble, this may be the thing that saves you.

2. Post a 'No Weapons' policy at your door

This may sound obvious, but depending on where you are this is really relevant. Some states have open carry laws, others don’t. Either way, insuring there is never a weapon in your building gets you step closer to not having to deal with one

3. Always invite an angry guest to step outside to where it’s quiet to speak

“It’s loud in here, can we step outside, so I can hear you better?” Often, an angry person just wants to be heard. By convincing them that is best done outside, you not only give them a chance to cool off, you also separate them from whatever problem was brewing.

4. Require that all servers attend and pass a ServSafe Responsible Alcohol Service program or equivalent

This may cost you a little in the short term, but I know from experience it’s cheaper than not requiring it. Many insurers demand it as a condition of underwriting, but more importantly it’s just smart. The better educated your staff, the more proactive they will be in supporting you with security. Remember, if you are the only person who is managing this, it gets lonely very fast.

5. Take a few minutes every hour to survey your restaurant looking for signs

This little bit of prevention can be pounds of care. If you are trying, you will see things as they unfold. This way you can get ahead of sticky situations. It might be as simple as seeing someone beginning to get heated and calming them just by your presence. 

Stick your hand out, introduce yourself and make eye contact. It simultaneously distracts an angry character, connects them to the restaurant and makes them feel like they are being paid attention to. It works most times to dissipate the anger that could grow into something much worse.

6. If you have security staff demand that they be well spoken, patient and pleasant

You may only have “security” for big events. Things like PPV’s, St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo can make it necessary to have a presence at your door. These guys have to be pros. Don’t just pick a big guy or the boyfriend of one of your servers. 

Most importantly, no angry men looking to prove themselves.

7. Don’t be afraid to dial 911

Too often this is a last resort. If the police come to your establishment often, then you will also be inviting more scrutiny to your place. However, they are also there to protect you against those characters that would cause mayhem just to see it unfold. 

It’s a trade like anything else. But don’t wait too long. Once it’s too late you can’t go back. I suggest you make friends with your local constabulary. It’s really cheap insurance to make the patrol officers in your area feel welcome. They will respond when they know you and feel a connection.

In the end, if someone wants to make a scene or do harm, you won’t have much say. The good news is that most full service restaurants don’t manage these circumstances very often. That being said, it’s one of your many responsibilities, so have a plan of your own and share it with your team. Many eyes and minds are better than one and then you won’t have to go it alone.