The Ratio…

Sometime the question of Ratio arises. In regards to nightclubs and bars, some of you may be thinking, “Which Ratio?” Am I talking about the ratio male to female Patrons? Bartenders to guests? DJs to turntables? Actually, I’m not thinking about any of the above. What I am thinking about is Security Staffers to Patrons. As of now, THERE IS NO LEGAL, STANDARD STAFF-PATRON RATIO. Some bar and nightclub owners will tell you that there is. “Oh it’s about 1 to 35 or 1 to 50 or 1 to 570. Something like that.” Well, I can tell you from my experience (and humble opinion) that setting some sort of guideline of X Staff per X patrons doesn’t usually work. In some instances it can even lead to disaster. And that is what we are trying to avoid…right?

So how does one decide on the proper number of Staffers for any given night? While a bit time intensive, there are some considerations to take into account. Some of these may not pertain to your establishment, but they are generally useful for the majority of bars and nightclubs.

1) TYPE OF ESTABLISHMENT – Are you running a rowdy biker bar, known for its out of control crowd and constantly drunk clientele? Or are you running a quiet cigar lounge for the 40+ age group? Both demand a specific type of service and as such, a specific number of staffers.

2) TYPE OF EVENT – Does your quiet cigar lounge hold a College Night once a week that draws a capacity crowd of overly intoxicated individuals? Live music venues can bring in different acts 3-4 times a week, each act with its own specific following. How would you staff a classical quartet as opposed to a punk band? Always consider your event type before staffing.

3) TYPE OF CROWD – Are you hosting a high ticket entry fee wine tasting for the local country club? Or are you holding a wet t-shirt contest for the fraternity down the street? Different crowd, different staffing demands.

4) STAFF RESPONSIBILITY – Are your Staffers handling ticket sales and wristbands or just watching the crowd? Have they been asked to be as laid back as possible or does the promoter want them to be “hands-on” at all times? More responsibility will stretch a small Staff. Make sure they can handle the job at hand with relative ease.

5) FOOD/DRINK/WEATHER – Will your crowd be wining and dining on canapes or chugging beer with hot dogs? Is your outdoor event going to possibly have to move indoors if it rains? Make sure your Staff can handle food service and possible change in venue.

6) VENUE SIZE & PARAMETERS- Are you trying to squeeze 400 people into a tiny space or spread your crowd of 50 through at 5,000 sq. foot venue? How many exits, entries, or floors are you dealing with? In the event of an emergency (minor or large scale), you will need enough Staff to handle problems that may arise.

7) QUALITY OF STAFF – Does your Staff consist of all new recruits or have they all worked in the field for years? In many cases, a smaller, more experienced Staff will serve you better than a bunch of newbies who need supervision.

8 ) AMOUNT OF ALCOHOL – Open bar or pay per drink? Venues with open bars tend to get people drunker, faster. And as a result, will probably need more staffers on hand.

I’ve found that a good starting point in setting a Staff-Patron Ratio (for a common bar with few incidents) is about 1 Staffer per 35 Patrons. This generally allows for good Staff circulation and coverage. But there is a simple way to figure out your Ratio: what do you need covered?

As a bare minimum, I would suggest that you have the following Staffers on hand for a decent sized (100-200 person) establishment:

HEAD OF SECURITY – Someone has to be in charge, right? For special events, the H.O.S. should be involved in all stages of planning and execution. On other nights, he should be the 1st or 2nd person to arrive to help set up. He also acts as the liaison between you, your Staff, the Patrons, and if necessary, Law Enforcement.

FRONT DOOR – ID checks, ticketing, wristbands. On a slow night (and depending on size of venue) you can generally get away with one Staffer at the Front Door. I always suggest that this Staffer has a Back-up should he encounter any difficulties or need to leave the Front Door for any reason, which he more than likely will.

REAR DOOR – This not only to keep people from entering without being ID’d, but to keep people from letting in friends or wandering outside with drinks.

ROAMER – A Staffer to circulate, check on Patrons, do bathroom sweeps, pick up extra glasses, etc.

So going by our basic 1-35 Ratio, this would probably work for a crowd of about 140 Patrons.

But let’s add a few factors, such as a Patio, a Dance Floor, and multiple Levels. In this case, you would want your basic Front/Back Door coverage supplemented by a static post on the Dance Floor, at least one Staffer on Patio, and 2 Roamers to work the multiple Levels. Perhaps even a Door Outs to back up Front Door, and a Cashier post to keep an eye on the Box Office. Now you are up to 6-8 Staffers which should (theoretically) cover you up to 200-300 Patrons. Add a live punk band and an Open Bar…well, you can see how the numbers will probably start jumping.

I have worked a venue on a Halloween night with only 1 other Staffer, a live band, and 400+ guests. I survived. But I would not suggest you do the same in your bar. Having the minimum of 3-4 Staffers is a good start for any venue, but you must realistically map out your venue and take into account the list above. In anything, OVERSTAFF. It is far easier to cut Staff than it is to make panicked phone calls at 12:00 a.m. to get back up.

So, cover you basic areas (Front Door, Back Door, Roamer) first and add Staffers accordingly. Remember that your static posts can (and should) always become Roamers/Back-up in case of any trouble. Consider your crowd and event type and don’t be scared to bring on more Staff than you think you need. In the long run, it may just save your butt.

’til next time…

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