Advice on keeping pubs safe during the festive period

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Tis' the season: How pubs should make sure they are safe at Christmas time
Tis' the season: How pubs should make sure they are safe at Christmas time

Related tags: Security, Staff, Christmas

Christmas may traditionally be the time for goodwill, but combine a busy time of year with a rising number of threats to public safety and opportunist crime and you have the potential for problems.

Here, we look at how publicans can increase their security in this crucial trading period.

This year has been a particularly awful one due to the number of terrorist attacks. There have been at least five in the UK, one of which in the London Bridge area, saw both pubgoers and staff among those affected.

With random attacks, no one knows when, where or even if they will happen. However, the current threat level for international terrorism in the UK is severe, so while we are all hopeful that the festive season will be peaceful, being aware of what could happen and ensuring staff know how to react to potential threats could be the best gift you could give yourself, your employees and customers this Christmas.

The first step to protect yourself is to seek official guidance. Armed with information from the relevant authorities, you can adapt it for your business and then pass that plan and knowledge on to staff.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s guidance on staying safe in the event of a terrorist attack is a good place to start, says Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR).

Crowded Places Guidance

Licensees and managers can also consult the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, which offers tailored advice for pubs in its Crowded Places Guidance. It has tips on how to
protect your premises, what to look out for and how to react in an emergency.

Nicholls adds: “Local authorities may also have advice for businesses in their areas and specific contact details to use in the unlikely event that they are needed.

“Make sure you take the time to consult expert guidance and ensure that a plan is in place and that all members of staff are aware of it and their responsibilities.”

While terrorist incidents remain a threat, as Simon Gordon, owner of Gordon’s Wine Bar in Westminster, London, and founder of crime report-ing and networking platform Facewatch points out, customers and staff are more likely to be targeted at Christmas time by ‘opportunists’ looking to steal cash, credit cards and other possessions.

A certain number of Christmas revellers won’t be regular pubgoers, which makes them an easy target, says Gordon, who has analysed hours of CCTV footage since launching Facewatch in 2010.

“They go out from the office, they are all relaxed, so it’s ideal for thieves to steal stuff,” he says.

A crowded bar area can also spell trouble for customers who use card terminals to pay for drinks and food, he warns. Criminals are known to loiter behind a paying customer to spy their pin and then make every effort to steal the corresponding card.

“Contactless, in my view, is a lot safer because thieves can’t see you put your pin in. If they’ve got your pin and your card, you are liable,” he says.

A basic understanding of criminal behaviour can make a big difference.

“Bars should be watching out for people who look completely normal – they don’t look any different to you or I, and those who would fit into that environment.

“From all the CCTV footage I’ve viewed, they don’t tend to buy a drink, they walk around and pretend to be looking for somebody and walk up and down. They might pretend to be on their phone, or use distraction techniques and then will sit down on an empty table behind a busy one and go through the bags while people are unaware. They are really brazen.”

Gordon believes that pubs should teach security awareness to staff as part of their training.

“Make it part of their job to keep their eyes open for this kind of behaviour. Ask them to warn customers who are leaving bags sprawled all over the place and remind them to use Chelsea clips on the tables to take bags off the floor,” he says.

“When it comes to taking payments, be careful when handing the machine to the customers. Advise them to put their hand over the keypad, so a customer standing behind them can’t see you putting it in, just as you’d do at a cash machine. It’s very simple changes.”

Anthony Neary, managing director of safe.co.uk, who works with hospitality and retail firms to supply security systems, agrees that building security into the wider operation is key, particularly ahead of Christmas.

“Business often peaks during the Christmas period, which makes it even more necessary to be prepared ahead of the season,” he says. “Security can sometimes be an afterthought but, with overcrowded establishments inevitable at this time of year, there needs to be a minimum level of security in place to protect premises and staff.”

Key trading periods

At Stonegate, pubco security at Christmas is treated in the same way as for other key trading periods.

“The festive season is no different to any other high-profile events like Halloween or big sporting occasions where we will be working flat out and to capacity,” says Rob Hawkesworth, head of risk at Stonegate.

“We do, of course, treat the safety of our staff and customers as a priority. We will often step up our door security and increase searches and ID checks.”

As Hawkesworth says, employing door staff at busy times can be beneficial because it can help stop problematic customers entering in the first place. It can take the onus off bar and waiting staff to be vigilant.

Gordon advises premises to have only one door serving as both entrance and exit, which he says deters thieves who like to enter by one and leave via the other.

“If you do have two doors, either close the other exit, which we did at Gordon’s Wine Bar, or put a security or welcome person there,” he suggests. “It’s worth paying for a couple of people on the doors at busy times. They can keep an eye out when other staff are busy and are also there for an emergency.”

When the business is closed

If a shift passes without trouble that’s how it should be. But, says safe.co.uk’s Neary, security checks shouldn’t end when the business is closed. Keeping the premises and your takings secure are another important area to think about when festive takings are good.

“Publicans need to ensure that entry doors are fitted with mortice door locks of BS3621 standard, to comply with insurance.

“Beyond this, advances in smart technology mean that CCTV can be fitted wirelessly in communal areas, providing round-the-clock surveillance that can be accessed via a Wi-Fi connection and even controlled via a smartphone.

“With increases in cash takings during the festive period, it’s important that publicans have a robust safe that’s resistant against fire and flood damage, to keep cash and valuables protected overnight. Fingerprint recognition can be found on some of the latest models, providing that extra level of security. The cash insurance rating of the safe needs to be carefully considered to ensure the takings are well protected against theft.”

Much of a pub’s security levels are reliant on staff members remaining vigilant and acting appropriately, so making sure staff are engaged is crucial during this busy period. But staffing can be an issue if employees want to take time off to celebrate Christmas.

So how do you strike a balance be-tween having enough people on shift and spreading goodwill by allowing staff the time off they want? Emma Mitchell, business development director at em-
ployer consultancy 10Eighty, says managers shouldn’t assume everyone wants the same time off. She advises asking staff about their preferences early on to work out a fair balance for all.

“Some people like working at Christmas and the buzz of working busy shifts,” she says. “Their family situation may be that they want to work, so have those conversations now about rotas.

“For me, it’s about being fair and making sure there’s a good balance so that everyone has the opportunity to have fun time away, but they also have to know that they are part of the team and, therefore, they do their bit too. You could say ‘if you work Christmas Day you might want to have new year off’, or ‘work Christmas Eve and have Christmas lunch off’. It’s about finding that balance for people depending on their situation.”

Employing extra staff

Stonegate manages the situation by employing extra staff during the busy period and offering existing employees the opportunity to work more hours if they want to. Students returning home to their families for Christmas provide a ready supply of keen part-time workers.

“It is a balance, but family time is as important to our team members as it is to our customers so we hopefully get this right for everyone,” says Hawkesworth.

Mitchell suggests that if you do need your staff to work more hours when they would rather be out partying, you could try to make the shift special in some way.

“I would offer some kind of incentive, like offering a drink to everyone or a having a secret Santa at the end of a busy shift. It doesn’t have to be much, just something that makes it feel different from the norm and makes them feel valued. Isn’t that what we all want to feel at Christmas?”               

Related topics: Events & Occasions

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