Photo credit: Jenna Chabot

I had a gross violation of my rights a few weeks ago on a Friday night. My friends and I had gone to the bar and after waiting in line for half an hour we got up to the front. There were three friends of mine who were female that walked straight in and I was following close behind. I suddenly realized that someone had grabbed a hold of me. “There is a five dollar cover tonight,” a girl by the door told me as she clung to my jacket. “My friends just got in without paying,” I replied. She explained that tonight was lady’s night. By this time I was growing sick of having the girl pull me down from behind and I tried to pull my coat free, not with any great force. That action made the bouncer decided I was being a menace and told me I had to leave.

I usually do not have a problem paying a cover. In most places the idea of cover has very specific things it is supposed to do. Cover is what pays for the bands, it reduces overcrowding, and the most important job of a cover is to bolster the female to male ratio. Allowing women to enter the bar free gives men the feeling that there is going to be lots of women inside, even if there are not. By saying there is a ladies night bars are trying to use women to attract men to the bar, who will not only pay cover but, traditionally, buy more drinks than a woman would.

As much as the bars in East Lansing are a great place for relaxation, dancing, and meeting new friends they seem to take advantage of students more than in other cities. In many other college towns, bars and clubs do not charge cover because there is fierce competition between them to
attract students. Typically if a bar has cover students know to steer clear. But in East Lansing the scale between students and bars is so drastically tipped towards the student’s end that bars can charge whatever they like and there will still be a long line out the door. This is caused by a number of factors: firstly, the East Lansing Council is hesitant to give out too many liquor licenses, secondly, MSU has one of the largest student bodies in the country. I am not great at economics but I think it can be drawn on a supply and demand chart quite nicely. Too much demand, too little supply.

Americans seem to go along with the idea of a “cover charge,” of course there is an occasional grumble about the extra five or ten dollars. There are some countries that are upset about cover for completely different reasons, even having cases where patrons sue bars for charging unequal cover under anti-discrimination laws. In both the United Kingdom and Canada, there have been successful lawsuits banning the unequal charging of “cover”. People in the United Kingdom sued the bars and night clubs using their Sex Discrimination Act of 1974. The wording of the Sex Discrimination Act, in Britain, is not that different from equal protection laws in the United States. This gives some hope that a similar lawsuit in the United States could succeed.

A U.S. citizen may have the right to take action and sue under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act established that it is unlawful to use “racial, ethnic, or gender criteria in an attempt to bring social justice and social benefits.” More precisely, Title II of that Act outlaws “discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations.” Imagine the public disgust if a hotel listed different prices depending on if a person was male or female, black or white. Why then, is the price to enter a bar held to a different standard?

The whole act of charging cover seems under the table. Most of the time the money is stuffed into a drawer with no visible recording of how many people enter the bar, there is never a receipt issued. By law if there is a charge for entertainment they are required to pay tax on the cost of admission. It is speculation, but most bars are probably not paying all the taxes on cover they should, if any at all. Perhaps, the Michigan government should start to enforce this tax policy and help ease the budget deficit.

It is not a question of it is right or wrong to charge unequal cover but if the issue is popular enough to cause public disgust, because it is obviously wrong. However, it is not the responsibility of the government to regulate every wrong in society. It often takes a popular movement by a country’s citizens to bring about social change.

2 thoughts on “Cover Charge”

  1. more government regulation in situations such as these is not the approach to take – that would entail more paperwork, more committees, more taxes, more policing wasted on trivial issues. a more direct approach would be the most practical. consider a boycott, a protest, a public statement (i guess this article falls into that category), etc. try to be creative and proactive instead of tattling to the government and burdening an already over-burdened system. i do agree that technically these practices are by definition discrimination and are in direct violation of the law (and perhaps in more than one way, as you pointed out), but at the same time we each have the option to not enter, to go elsewhere, or to stay at home. it really is that simple. and if you truly desire so badly to go to that bar, then you must accept their conditions – they are the owners after all and you are merely a guest.

    so organize a boycott, a sit-in, a protest, a demonstration, a gentlemen’s nite, a “happen to let your glass fall to the floor after every drink until the discriminatory practices disappear” event (probably a frowned-upon approach..), any sort of activism that hearkens back to previous decades, whatever. but please leave the government out of it.

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