Nightclub Bar Security
by Chris E McGoey, CPP, CSP, CAM
Bouncers are often the most visible aspect of security in a nightclub or bar. Bouncers in city-clubs often stand out as the huge guys dressed in black. Bouncers and doormen are an important part of a comprehensive nightclub and bar security plan. However, employing overly aggressive bouncers and doormen with little training and inadequate procedures can contribute to the Death of a Nightclub.
The doorman or door-host is the first person the patron sees and sets the tone for the style and attitude of the club. Some clubs employ burly-looking guys who set the tone of the “Barbary Coast” days in San Francisco where bothersome patrons would be forcibly thrown out into the street. Other clubs use well-dressed ladies and gentlemen to make patrons feel like they have entered a nightclub with dignity and class.
The true function of a doorman is to provide access control for a busy nightclub and screen those that enter. A doorman is traditionally the person who stands at the door and checks IDs to assure that each patron is of age to legally enter the establishment and is dressed appropriately. In some urban clubs, doormen use metal detectors and pat downs procedures where the format attracts mostly young people and has an expectation of finding weapons. Another function of a doorman is to prevent admittance to those that are obviously intoxicated or who have previously caused trouble inside the club. Most clubs have an “86” policy where objectionable patrons are barred from returning to the club for some designated period of time. Depending on the club, a doorman can be used to collect cover charges, tickets, or direct patrons to tables.
In addition to normal doorman duties, some nightclubs use the door staff to monitor patron conduct on the sidewalk as well as inside the club. The nature of this additional task can lead to confrontations with aggressive nightclub patrons if not handled professionally. Obviously, more training and experience is required as the doorman becomes more assertive and begins to assume more security-like duties. Most busy nightclubs begin to have problems at the door when too many duties are heaped on to an inexperienced and poorly trained doorman.
Bouncers are an enigma. The term bouncer presents an image of a brawler who will break up fights and forcibly eject obnoxious patrons. Bouncers are often portrayed in movies as tough, thug-like scrappers who love to fight, like in the movie “Road House”. Many nightclubs foster that image by hiring over-sized ex-jocks, wrestlers, or martial artists to handle drunken or out of control patrons. Usually these bouncers have little experience and receive no real formal training in criminal or civil law that they must apply. See my web page Bouncers Need Training. In a crisis, these inexperienced bouncers will be forced to rely on their own common sense and instincts to solve a problem. This can be a scary concept.
The duty of a bouncer is to monitor the crowd to see that everyone behaves. The goal should be to see that everyone has a good time, but within established limits. The best bouncers are personable, friendly and can talk to patrons without appearing threatening or intimidating. The best bouncers don’t bounce anyone…they talk to people. The mere presence of a well-trained bouncer will remind the patron that their conduct is being scrutinized and that their patronage can be revoked.
A better job title for a bouncer might be floor man or floor person. In the UK you often hear the titles of Head Doorman or Cooler. A nightclub is about the business of providing hospitality where people can come to relax, unwind, and have a good time. A good floor man will manage the patrons inside a club and will see to it that no one becomes overly aggressive and spoils the party. A well-trained floor man will circulate throughout the club, be highly visible, and be easily identifiable as a club employee. The floor man should continually evaluate the conduct and attitudes of each patron and watch for changes behavior. Let’s face it, drinking alcohol in a nightclub setting is designed to remove inhibitions and subtle behavior changes are expected. A floor man’s job is to recognize the negative behavior changes and begin to manage the patron. Good floor men will use eye contact and body language to let troublesome patrons know that their conduct is reaching the threshold for unacceptable behavior.
It is up to the nightclub to set conduct limits and then require the floor man to evenly and fairly enforce those rules. The best run clubs enforce rules and do so immediately. A well-timed and discreet comment from the floor man about offensive language or noise level is all that is necessary, in most cases, to resolve objectionable behavior. Sometimes, second reminders are necessary followed by warnings that further conduct will result in being asked to leave the premises. Any patron who aggressively rejects a reasonable request to behave should be asked to leave. Remember though that rule violations are not the same as crimes. You can’t manhandle patrons or physically take someone into custody for violating a club rule.
The biggest mistake a floor man can make is to ignore a patron who has become a nuisance and hope that they will either calm down or leave on their own. The worst case scenario can occur when another patron is forced to confront an overly aggressive customer on their own because the floor man was oblivious to the situation. Ultimately, the situation becomes explosive, a fight breaks out, and the floor men are forced to physically separate and eject the brawlers. This is not only bad business, but can become dangerous for everyone involved.
Having to eject a patron from a nightclub doesn’t always mean that the floor man did not manage them properly earlier in the evening. Sometimes people come into a nightclub just looking for trouble, or can’t handle alcohol, or can’t interact socially with others. Sometimes, patrons bring their outside anger inside the club and no one knows about it until violence erupts. These people need to be asked to leave the club by the floor man as soon as their hostile conduct becomes evident.
No one likes to be asked or told to leave an establishment, especially if they paid a cover charge to get in. If a floor man has reminded the guest several times about their conduct then it will come as no surprise when finally asked to leave. If the patron is taken aside and discreetly told about the decision, the likelihood of an aggressive exchange is reduced. There is nothing worse than having a big bouncer-type approach a young man, in front of his friends, and tell him to leave. After embarrassing this young man, you are guaranteed to get a verbal barrage of insults and foul language that may escalate into a physical fight.
If it becomes necessary to escort an aggressive patron to the door, floor men should be well trained to do so. For safety purposes, a rule of thumb is to have at least one more floor man present than the number of people being escorted out. Unless a patron has committed a crime, floor men are generally not allowed to use physical force. This is not to say that you cannot slightly touch a patron to guide, direct, or block re-entry. Force should only be used in self-defense or for the purpose of detaining a criminal for the police. Punching, kicking, tackling, dragging, or putting someone in a choke hold are all inappropriate methods for floor men to remove someone from a nightclub. Unlike the movie “Road House” it is never appropriate for a floor man to punch a patron out of anger or because of a challenge to fight.
Escorting a patron out of a nightclub involves the use of professional verbal commands and a polite explanation of why they are being asked to leave. If a patron has been dutifully warned previously, then it will be of no surprise. If the conduct of the patron was obviously inappropriate, then likewise it should be clear why they are being escorted out. If the patron has been over-served and is intoxicated the ejection request may be more difficult.
If a floor man is expected to consistently enforce the rules, there can be only two ejection choices for the patron. Either leave the premises quickly and quietly or be arrested by the police. Once a patron has been asked to leave by the proprietor, they become subject to trespass laws if they fail to leave. In some states, trespassers can be removed from the premises using minimal holding force. Typically this involves one bouncer holding each arm while leading the trespasser from the club. Floor men must be prepared to take a little verbal abuse if a patron is asked to leave. Likewise, floor men should consider a refund of the cover charge, if any, for ejected patrons to remove that point of contention. If the patron becomes combative they may become subject to assault and battery charges and it goes downhill from there.
The floor man should be certain that the ejected patron understands that they must leave the premises immediately or be subject to arrest by the police. If the ejected patron attacks a floor man, reasonable force can be used in self-defense. Reasonable force can also be used to take an assailant in to custody for the police. If you do this, it is important to actually file criminal charges or risk for false imprisonment lawsuit. Under no circumstances should excessive force be used. (See my webpage on Use of Force Continuum for more details on use of force). Headlocks and pain compliance techniques (i.e. arm twisting, wrist locks) are not appropriate ways of escorting a rule-violator from a club. Chokeholds and sleeper holds should never be used except in life threatening scenarios. Floor men should also use care when taking a patron down to the floor, handcuffing, and piling on top. Intoxicated or overweight persons have died from positional asphyxiation from too much body weight pressing them to the floor.
If two or more customers mutually get into a fistfight, they must be removed from the club immediately for everyone’s safety. The question is how to do it safely? The old fashioned method was to throw both parties out into the street and let them duke-it-out for themselves is wrong. The correct method is to delay the ejection of the more passive offender, if possible, until the more aggressive co-combatant has completely vacated the property. The reason for this is that it is foreseeable that two people who were engaged in a fight inside will continue the assault outside. The nightclub floor men have no legal basis for detaining someone unless a crime has been committed and cannot hold someone who wishes to leave voluntarily and continue to fight. However, the floor men has a duty to be reasonable and see that known offenders have left the property and to call the police if they know a fight is about to occur or if one combatant requests it.