A Saskatoon bar and event venue is making small and big steps to try and improve guests’ experience when it comes to safety and accommodations.
Amigos Cantina has been a staple of the Broadway neighbourhood for over 30 years, serving up Tex-Mex cuisine and hosting a variety of musical artists.
A few months ago, Amigos decided to start working with a consultant about how they could make the venue a safer spot for guests.
“We certainly don’t profess to know all the answers about different groups and different aspects of society so we hired a consultant and they’ve been guiding us very well through the process,” Amigos owner and manager Jim Clarke said.
Savhanna Joy Wilson was hired as the consultant and they said it didn’t take a “PR nightmare” for Amigos to reach out.
“It was really proactive. It was really a response to the dialogue that has been happening and a commitment to the community that they’re a part of,” Wilson said.
Wilson does consulting work for businesses, non-profits, grassroots organizations and political groups. They support and facilitate businesses and groups as they work to shift their practices toward equity.
“(I am) particularly interested in guiding groups through the challenge of recognizing the ways that they might be perpetuating injustices unintentionally and then helping them take ownership over that and to reposition themselves to develop with a more just future in mind,” Wilson said.
Wilson has also been a longtime patron of Amigos and started consulting for them a few months ago.
As part of their work, Amigos put out an online survey for patrons to fill out.
Wilson said some respondents indicated they did have positive experiences at Amigos, while some said they have had negative experiences as well.
The survey included questions about whether or not patrons felt safe going to staff if they needed help.
Wilson said for the most part patrons did feel safe going to staff members, if they knew them already.
“We heard loud and clear that if you’re not a regular at Amigos, if you’re just coming there for shows and you don’t know the staff, it can feel a little bit uncertain as to how some kind of a response of a particular situation of safety being trespassed or boundaries being trespassed, how that staff’s going to respond,” Wilson explained.
From the survey results, Amigos and Wilson came up with some short-, medium- and long-term strategies.
Short-term changes include replacing the venue’s open pitcher water system at shows with a tamper-proof self-serve water station, shows starting earlier, baffles installed against walls and earplugs available for use.
The bathrooms are now non-gendered and are marked as “with” or “without” urinals.
“That provides a little more safety for folks that experience gender marginalization to have access to a bathroom that they’ll feel comfortable using,” Wilson explained.
Bench seating is also being installed against walls near the stage to provide seating during shows once the tables are cleared.
Wilson said there are guests with all kinds of different abilities that come into the space, including people who may have physical challenges standing for long periods of time.
“The expectation that someone has to stand for five hours to enjoy a show is kind of ableist,” Wilson said, adding this is why it’s important to have an option for everyone to enjoy music and be comfortable.
Door staff will also start doing regular “floor sweeps” during shows and will be available to walk patrons to their cars.
Wilson said it’s often the case that patrons can go up to door staff and request help if needed. Instead, door staff will also now walk around the venue making sure people are safe and no one is injured or needs attention.
“Even just knowing that they’re going to be coming through will provide an extra layer of safety and an extra layer of deterrent for people to screw around and be jerks,” Wilson said.
As for next steps and longer-term solutions, Wilson said the team will look at what kind of training would benefit staff.
Specifically, Amigos is looking at a comprehensive training plan for all venue staff that includes elements of de-escalation, bystander intervention, cultural safety and anti-oppression.
Staff will also be trained on how to use naloxone kits, which will be available and accessible at all times. Sharp containers will also be installed in the bathrooms.
The bar is also planning to create a new non-alcoholic/mocktail menu to provide more options for guests who don’t want to or can’t drink alcohol.
DeAnn Mercier, director of the Broadway Business Improvement District (BID), said the area is known for its thriving nighttime economy.
Because of this, Mercier added that Broadway BID wants to make sure people feel safe and welcome at night.
“Amigos was known for having late-night shows sometimes and you want to feel safe when you’re walking home,” Mercier said.
Mercier added that many residents live in the area and may walk home from shows.
“It just, I think, behooves all of us to make sure that people who are coming to the area feel safe and feel welcomed,” Mercier said.
Broadway BID has put on its own de-escalation and naloxone training for small businesses in the area. Mercier said another date will be added in January for this training.
For people who may push back on the changes Amigos is making or think they aren’t necessary, Wilson said it’s important to realize that not everyone has the same experiences.
“You’re never going to have a business model or community that is 100 per cent safe for everyone,” Wilson said, though they say that is what society should ultimately strive for.
“That’s the world I know is possible. But in reality, what we’re trying to do is make it a little bit safer, a little bit better, a little bit more supportive, a little bit more inclusive until we reach a point where it is universally safe for folks.”
Clarke said Amigos wants to make sure they are in touch with their customers.
“It’s something that we can do and if it makes people feel safer and happier, just feel better about coming to Amigos, then that’s what we’re going to do. It’s our community and we’re just moving to sort of meet the needs that were identified by our community,” Clarke said.