Hamilton pub patrons suspect racist cover charge

05:55, Apr 23 2013
Kingsley Sam, Bar 101
RIPPED OFF: Kingsley Sam stands outside the bar that he says charged him twice the normal entry price.

A Hamilton bar doubled its cover charge for a group of patrons in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

The bar owner is pointing to the dress code. The patrons are pointing to racism.

The group of New Zealand-born Chinese are shown on Facebook that night wearing button-up collared shirts. But at the door, they were charged $10 to enter Bar101 while their white friend was charged $5.

"I'm not 100 per cent sure if it was [racial discrimination], but it feels like it," Kingsley Sam said.

Mr Sam and his friends headed to the student hangout around 1am Sunday and thought the $10 cover charge seemed high after a $2 cover at another central Hamilton bar.

They did not realise the discrepancy until the lone white friend in the group spoke up.

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"What? I only got charged $5."

Head of the Lawrenson Group, which owns Bar101, John Lawrenson did not have the details of the decision, but said Bar101 had the highest number of Asian regulars in the group, and he was comfortable there was no discrimination.

Door charges vary for big spenders, who often get in for free, to those who are shoddily dressed, who are charged more.

"There's certainly no desire to keep out one particular race. I mean, to be fair, if you did that in Hamilton with such a diverse culture as we have, you'd go out of business because we've got such a mixed-race society now."

Rival bar owner Darrel Hadley disagrees with Mr Lawrenson's inconsistent cover charges.

"There's hundreds of other ways to deny entry without cover charges," said Mr Hadley, director of the Phoenix Group, which owns House on Hood and CBD Corner Pub.

Mr Hadley said none of his bars charged covers, unless there was a special event and they could "justify it with entertainment".

"When we run cover charges we set the amount at the beginning of the night and it doesn't change.

"The only time we'd give a discounted entry is for someone that's part of a loyalty programme or something."

Last Sunday morning, Mr Sam and his friends say they watched other clubgoers gain entry for half of what they paid. When asked, the door person said she had just followed instructions.

Mr Lawrenson said staff did not have time to give lengthy explanations.

"They're trying to deal with 800 people in two hours, so they can't really sit there and get into an in-depth conversation when they've got a line of 100 people behind them that are waiting to get in.

"It really just comes down to if you're a person that comes in and spends a lot of money and supports us every week then we don't make you pay to get in.

"If we have never seen you before and you turn up looking pretty shoddy, you'll probably pay more."

People often complain when they are turned away or asked to fork out more, Mr Lawrenson said.

Sometimes minorities felt they were discriminated against, he said.

"It's not because we're racist - we've turned away Europeans for exactly the same reason."

Chief executive of Hospitality New Zealand Bruce Robertson said increasing the cover charge to encourage punters to smarten up was a "slightly unusual strategy", but the Lawrenson Group was within its rights.

"They need to have a set policy and make that policy clear to their customers," Mr Robertson said.

"They can charge whatever cover charge they like, and apply whatever conditions they like to that cover charge, as long as it's clear and does not contravene the Human Rights Act."

Waikato Times