Upscale Bar Surveillance Case Study

By Carlton Purvis, Published Mar 06, 2014, 12:00am EST

We talked to a manager at a prominent D.C. bar about how they use surveillance and how the system has already paid for itself, by stopping a man from filing a frivolous lawsuit.

The Bar

The bar/restaurant is part of a well-known chain in the D.C. area. It is frequented by politicians and a notable happy hour spot. In fact, one of its locations is one of the top grossing restaurants in the nation.

The Equipment

The bar uses a 32-channel Nuvico recorder and although he doesn’t know the exact model he says they do have a capability for motion detection alerts. He says they aren’t used because no one knows how to enable them and the need for that type of alert is low.

“We are right near a police department and we have an alarm system. If the alarm system goes off, it’s because of motion, or it’s because someone broke in. It’s not going to matter if the camera is recording motion too if it’s just recording everything,” he said.

The bar uses around 20 bullet cameras, also Nuvico, placed at entrances and exits, several about the bars (to watch both employees and customers), in the back office, multiple cameras in the kitchen, and down some of the corridors (there is a hall that leads to the bathroom or to event rooms at the bar).

He said the bar sticks to this brand because it's been reliable for them and "weren't too cheap, but weren't some expensive stuff you would use to watch the White House" either.

Retention Time

Because they don’t have to review footage that often for major things, he says footage is kept for 10 days. They look over an incident at least once a week, but he can't think of any cases where anything has happened, and they were scrambling to find footage.

"A customer will complain a waitress was rude or that something happened on the floor, so we'll just run it back and see what they were talking about. Usually they're exaggerating and it's something that can be solved by talking," he said.

The Things You See On Tape

This bar has never had any kind of crimes or serious incidents happen where they have needed to export video. He said they review tapes more for entertainment than they do for incidents, but after certain people visit.

“There are groups of people who you already know are affiliated with bad stuff, so even though we don’t watch it live we can go back and see if those people are trying to push drugs or start trouble with people and we can know not to let them in next time,” he said, also noting that they almost never turn people away. "There are also times when famous people come, and you just review look at it again to look at it again."

They occasionally view video for “lost and found” purposes, but that’s only if they have time to do it. Those things are not a priority, he said. They had one person say they left a credit card with the bartender. The bartender didn’t have it at the end of the night. They reviewed the footage to realize the person never left a card at the bar.

He says the camera system paid for itself at least once after an incident that happened when he first started with the company. A man claimed a restaurant pan cart fell over on him in the hallway. Video surveillance showed the intoxicated man had actually been standing with his feet on the cart when it tipped. In that case there was a witness in the hall that contradicted the man’s story so the manager on duty dismissed the man’s claims.

The man came back to the restaurant the next morning with is arm in a sling, threatening to sue. That’s when they actually reviewed the video and saw the man was lying. Instead of showing the man the video, they manager in charge told the man they knew he was lying and that he was welcome to sue them. They never exported or saved the video, and the man never returned or filed a suit. The restaurant now has a policy to keep kitchen equipment out of sight of customers.

Unfortunately, the worst crime to happen to the establishment, a hundreds of thousands of dollar embezzlement scheme wasn’t something the cameras caught.

Lighting

The bar’s lighting doesn’t really impact the system, he said because it’s actually kept fairly bright inside. The bar has three levels and has several hallways so it’s important to have the place well lit for stairs for customers and for staff carrying around food.

Damage to Cameras

Despite being in a bar, the manager says people don’t try and damage their cameras.

“We put the high enough that people can’t get to them, but most the time people don’t even know they’re there,” he said. Additionally, he says they are an “upscale establishment” so they attract “a less rowdy type of crowd.”

He has, however had cameras that have stopped working for unknown reasons. They did not call an integrator or the company for repairs. They ordered a new camera and had a busboy with camera installation experience get the new camera running.

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