Nightclub Industry Interview: Shaun Lager

Shaun Lager is a Bar and Nightclub Industry veteran and current Head of Security for EOS Lounge. He is also the creator of the ID Sleuth, which I recently reviewed. I had the opportunity to sit with Mr. Lager, discuss the current state of Nightclub Security, and get his take on where Security is now compared to when he began in the 1990’s.

How long have you worked in the Bar and Nightclub Industry?

12 years so far.  I started at an all-age venue called the Yucatan. It was gigantic, with a basement, a middle level, and an upper level. Live bands and music. I started bouncing without any prior experience. I just needed the money and I couldn’t bartend because I wasn’t 21 yet. I also did some bar backing for a little more cash, and when I turned 21, started bartending. But I would still work as a bouncer for the bigger shows. By the end of my stint there I wasn’t necessarily the Head of Security, but was more of the “right hand man”.  When it closed, I went to a placed called “Q’s” and did a couple of “tours”, as I like to call them.

How has Nightclub Security changed since you started?

When I started, it was basically big meatheads asserting authority. The attitude was, “If you mess around, we’re going to thump you.” The police never really got involved and no one got hurt, but bouncers would drop the hammer on people if they needed to. Today’s standards are completely different. More of it is customer-service based. Everyone’s got a lawyer, everyone knows a lawyer, especially in sue-happy California. When I started there were very few bars here. Now, you throw a rock and you hit three bars. With competition and litigation, you have to clean up your act. People want to go where they are treated properly, not where they get thumped.

With more emphasis being placed on customer-service, do you think Security has improved in clubs?

I do, for several different reasons. For one, we have more technology now. We didn’t have camera systems or radios back then. If something happened you took some witness statements – which usually contradicted themselves – and it was left at that.  Cameras change all of that. Improvement is a process, just as in any industry. Technology, police presence, competition, everything plays a part in it.

What about the quality of Security Staffers? Any improvement?

A little, but not much. Most of the time it’s still a lot of babysitting. It’s really hard to find good replacements, even for a position like mine (Head of Security). Someone who won’t lose their cool, someone who can deny an individual entry and still make them feel like it’s okay…especially in a small town.

You’ve worked as a bouncer and bartender, but you’ve also worked as a Manager. What do you see as the differences between the Managerial approach to Security and Security’s approach?

Here’s the way I like to look at it: a bar staff is kind of like a football team. A single player can’t pull everyone; you’re all parts of a whole. For example, back in the day, bartenders were the glory boys. They could do no wrong: get drunk, act like fools, whatever. Now, not so much. You can’t drink on the job for liability reasons. And that effects the bar as a whole.

I try to emphasis to my team that you have to work as a whole instead of just doing “your” job.

What are the kinds of things that you’ve argued about with Management?

(chuckles) I’ve always gotten my way. But seriously, I come into conversations saying,  “I’m doing things in this way, for this reason, because of this experience in the past.” I have a huge pool of situations to pull from, which has helped to form my knowledge base. And because I know management, I know the money side of things. I can say, “Well, this is the way to save money in the long run, or the business needs it.”

Case in point, in one of my jobs, part of my demands were new radios, new headsets, security cameras installed. And hey, that stuff is expensive, but it is also necessary. Fortunately, I can point out why.

What do you think gets overlooked the most by Bar/Nightclub Managers?

Cameras. Most places are busy 2-3 nights a week. I worked in a club that was filled to capacity 5 nights a week. The cameras I had there not only helped to keep an eye on employees, but made an impression on customers. If someone got into a situation, whether staff or patrons, the witness stories were always different. But you could go to the video and there are the facts, in plain black and white. They were really beneficial in slip and fall or assault cases.

But a lot of managers don’t think that way. They say, “Why do I need to see the video?”. Because it lets you catch doormen taking money, bartenders giving away drinks, basic but important stuff.

What are the challenges of an all-ages night?

18 and over night is a pain in the butt. They’re kids. They come drunk, they don’t know how to drink, all the guys are tough guys. And you have to let them know, “No, you can’t do that. This is the way things work.” You literally have to train them how to behave in a bar. It’s the same thing for working the beginning of the University school year. You’ve got a bunch of fresh 21’s who have never been in a bar and don’t know how to act.

What are the challenges of working a city this size (Santa Barbara)?

Your life is an open bubble to everyone. Especially when you add social networking sites. Your picture can be up on Facebook before you even get home at night. Nothing goes without being checked by the public. It’s like a game of politics. You really have to be on your toes in terms of dealing with every situation. It’s almost more PR than anything. If you throw someone out or don’t let someone in who is, or thinks they are somebody, the repercussions can be huge.

What is the size of your Staff now?

Fifteen. Usually the most I run is thirteen, including busboys. All of them pretty rookie, with under a year of experience. But I pick them like that because I can mold them. A lot of places they train their staff a certain way, but not the small town way. You have to really train them to understand that there is a lot of grey area in terms of how they need to deal with people.

"I tell my guys that it is their job to make a big situation small. The job is to make sure that everyone is having a good time. "

How do you train a new guy?

I have the club broken into sections. The least likely section for trouble is where I stick the new guys. I tell them what to look or and how to deal with certain things. And then I move them around when they start to understand things. When I roam the bar, I try to get in their head a little bit, see things the way they do. I’ll ask a lot of questions. See how they do in certain situations.  For example, I might ask, “Is this guy too drunk? Well, let’s find out” and show them by example how to deal with the issue.

A lot of the time, you don’t know what the new guys are thinking or where they are coming from. Are they freaked-out by some guy acting weird on the dance floor or do they realize that he’s just drunk and not a problem? The new guys need to know that people come to a nightclub to have fun. They’re allowed to get a little stupid.

I also make them call me if there is a situation they can’t handle or don’t understand. I will let them act as back up while I take care of the issue. And when I see that they are getting the hang of things, the roles will reverse and I will be back up. It’s all about baby steps.

Do you find that the newer staffers are confused that there is more to the job than just throwing people out the door?

Oh yeah. I sometimes put it to them like this, “You seem like a nice, tough guy, but try to throw me out of the club.” And I’m not a tough guy by any means. Add the twelve buddies that I brought with me to the mix, and they’re going to thump you.

I always try to take the new hires out of their element and make them see things through the customer’s eyes. Not only is that good for business because you are getting in their head, but it’s a good training tool.

And in terms of ejections, you have to make them know that they never know who they’re going to grab. I could look like nothing and be a Navy Seal or BJJ Black Belt. You never know who you are approaching in any situation. It ain’t Roadhouse.

I tell my guys that it is their job to make a big situation small. The job is to make sure that everyone is having a good time. A big disturbance changes the vibe in the nightclub. If you can contain a situation to five people, you did your job. Keep it to one person, even better. No one notices, excellent.

What is your most important function as a Head of Security?

Honestly? Being able to talk to people. Being able to understand the customer. You have to. You never want anyone to leave mad.

Thanks for your time.

No problem. Thank you.

10-4, Little Buddy…or How To Use A Radio In A Nightclub

“Breaker 1-9, there’s a Smokey in a plain white wrapper at your back door, so you better put the hammer down.”

If you just read that sentence and did not understand it, that’s a good thing. Why? Because you should not be using a CB radio for anything work related unless you are a trucker.

However, there is a proper protocol for radio use in the nightclub environment. And it is this protocol, along with good situational awareness, that can help prevent any number of disasters from occurring or safe your butt when you need it most.

WHY RADIOS?

Let us first address the issue of communications in general. An open, clear line of communication is essential in any environment where one needs to transmit information over large distances or where an individual is not within the sight line of another individual. This helps to promote safety, decrease liability, and add another layer of situational awareness. Radios allow Staffers and Management to keep tabs on each other, warn one another of potentially dangerous situations, and ask pertinent questions.

Every nightclub should have a set of radios, preferably a radio and headset for each Security Staffer as well as one of the Bar Manager. Depending on the size of your establishment you may want to consider equipping each of your Bars, your Hostesses, your VIP Host, and even your Cocktail Waitresses with their own set up. At the very least, your Doorman and Head of Security should be wired up, as well as a Roamer. It will help keep people in touch and in case of emergency, allow them to transmit valuable information about any incidents taking place.

TYPES OF RADIOS

You want to pick radios that are light, have multiple channels (at least 5), and contain quick-recharging batteries. I will not push a particular brand of radio. As they say, “Different strokes for different folks.” And I won’t get into the relative merits of VHF vs. UHF radios. For that you can look at this link. But I can say through personal experience that Motorola makes a solid line of radios and I haven’t had any issues using them.

STORAGE

Radios should be kept in one safe, secure location. Preferably this is an office with a lockable door. This will prevent unwanted access and make it easy for Staffers to get to their gear should they need a replacement earpiece or radio. I would suggest one or two radios kept as backup as well as several spare (charged!) batteries. It is also a good idea to have a sign out sheet with the gear. One Staffer may be in charge of sign in/sign out as well as making sure that the radios and batteries are plugged in at the end of the night.

RADIO USE & ETIQUETTE

To begin with, everyone gets excited when they get a radio and an earpiece. For some reason, Staffers suddenly feel like James Bond or a Secret Service agent when they first put on the gear. And very quickly, they realize that the earpieces get uncomfortable, it is often hard to hear in a crowded, noisy club, and that radios make your pants sag (hint: wear a good belt). Another realization that Staffers come to is that they have no idea how to actually USE a radio correctly.

Some basic rules for radio use:

Consistency is important!  Everyone communicating in the same way reduces mistakes. That means everyone talks using the same codes in the same manner. More on that in a second.

Pay attention. Just because your name or location wasn’t spoken DOES NOT mean that the communication isn’t important to you. The message may indicate special instructions needed in your area.

Avoid stepping on other transmissions. Allow the speaker(s) to finish their transmission before speaking.

Channel Use – Depending on the size of your club, each department/section/job should have their own designated Channel. It could  look something like this:

Channel 1 – Security

Channel 2 – Front of House (Management/Hostess)

Channel 3 – Bar/Waitresses

This cuts down on radio interference and chatter and makes it easy for people to switch back and forth depending on who they need to talk to.

Radio Silence – Good radio etiquette demands that all users limit their communication to essential radio calls only. Unless you have something important to say…don’t talk. That means no idle chit chat. Which means no discussions about the young lady/young man at the back of the line or that evening’s basketball score.

How to Speak – Hold down your PTT button (push to talk) for 1 or 2 seconds before talking. Most radios will cut you off if you begin to speak immediately. When you do speak, you want to keep your messages brief and to the point. For one, it lessens the chances that someone will misunderstand what you are saying. And second, it keeps conversation to the bare minimum.

1) Announce yourself. State your name and then the name of the  person to whom you are directing your call (i.e. “Mike for Jerry.”)

2) Wait for acknowledgement, “Go ahead Mike.”

…and then state your message.

Radio Codes/Slang – There are differing opinions on the use of “coding” in radio transmissions. For example, “Code Red, Front Patio” or “Blue to Section 3”. In stressful situations, it is difficult for individuals to remember a list of codes for different types of emergencies in different locations, unless they have been trained regularly in the use of these codes. That being said, there are some basics that can save you trouble or misunderstanding.

Abort – Stop what you are doing or disregard that last transmission

Affirmative/Negative – Yes or No

Over – I’ve finished talking. “Do you need the chair in VIP? Over.”

Out – I’ve finished talking and don’t expect a reply. “I will take care of that immediately. Out.”

Go Ahead – Send your transmission. “This is Mike, go ahead.”

Say Again – Repeat your message. “Say again Mike.”

Copy/Roger – It helps the transmitter to know that someone actually got their message. Copy/Roger can be used as a confirmation. (“Mike, bring the trashcan to the 2nd floor.” “Copy that.”)

20 – Location. “What’s your 20?”

Words to Avoid – Oops, What, Huh, Yep, Oh God!, Wait a sec…,Yeah, Are you there?, Got it. The main reason to avoid these is that they serve no purpose whatsoever. Again, don’t waste airspace.

In Case of Emergency – Keep the transmissions short and to the point. It is also VERY important to not yell out what the emergency is in order to avoid what could be a possible panic situation (i.e. a fire). If you are dealing with an out of control altercation or are in immediate physical danger, the easiest way to ask for assistance is to announce your location 3 TIMES (“Dance Floor! Dance Floor! Dance Floor!”) This tells everyone where they need to head.

Radios are one of the most useful tools that you have as a Security Staffer. Train your crew how and when to use them and make sure that everyone know the rules of use before they begin wearing a radio. If necessary, correct improper usage (I suggest after a shift) and teach your crew the radio etiquette that will work best for your location.

Until next time…

Product Review: The ID Sleuth

As promised, I will be posting product reviews here on the Tao on a regular basis. These reviews will hopefully guide you to equipment that you or your establishment may find helpful in the reduction of liability and improve your customer service. So without further ado…

THE ID SLEUTH

For a little over a year now, Shaun Lager (a Nightclub Industry veteran) has given me glimpses of a prototype he has been working on. I was impressed and intrigued by the initial models and asked him to let me know when the final product was ready. Well, it’s ready and it is a winner.

THE ID SLEUTH

THE ID SLEUTH is the first of its kind: a self-lighting, handheld, ID checking device. The frame is made of a tough polymer, which surrounds a 2x magnifying window with a 4x magnifying bubble.  Two small buttons set into the frame are used to activate one of two sets of lights: 2 LEDs or 4 UVs.

Front View with Magnifier and Power Buttons

Rear View showing LEDs and UV lights

To use the ID SLEUTH, you place an identification card 2-3 inches beneath the magnifying lens and press the button to turn on the LEDs. The LEDs put out a clear, bright light, easily illuminating any nicks, scratches, or alterations that may have been made to the identification.  The magnifier gives you an enhanced view of the ID, and the 4X bubble allows you to zoom-in on any questionable marks or imperfections. Once you’ve checked the identification for imperfections, the magic really starts.

LED lights in action

When you turn on the UV lights, the ID holograms – which adorn everything from Driver’s Licenses to Passports these days – pop into view. This is a huge plus, as most fake ID’s do not have holograms, and the fakes that do are easily trumped by solid UV lighting.

UV Lights and Holograms

Over the course of a weekend, myself and 3 other doormen used the ID SLEUTH. The initial reaction from both Doormen and Patrons was, “What is that!?” The ID SLEUTH worked like a charm. We were able to detect 2 fake IDs immediately and deterred a couple from trying to enter when they saw us using the device. One of the benefits of a visible, hand held device is its deterrence factor. Underage Patrons are far more hesitant to approach the Front Door if they see the Doorman holding a futuristic-looking ID machine.

When a young woman dropped her ID, the LEDs did an excellent job of substituting as a flashlight. It was fun spotting ID holograms from different states and hearing people’s reactions as well. The ID SLEUTH worked fine after being dropped and we noticed no loss of light quality or power over the course of its approximately 12 hours of use . By the end of the weekend, using the ID SLEUTH had become second nature. One of the doormen even asked if he could keep it!

Not much bigger than a Droid!

The ID SLEUTH is lightweight, measures 5 1/8”L x 3 1/2 W x 1”H,  and fits right in the palm of your hand. It also comes with a wrist strap or can be attached to an included suction cup stand for placement on a wall or table. And get this: the ID SLEUTH takes rechargeable RCR123A LI-ION batteries. I’ve also been told that the frame will be customizable so that you can put your establishment’s name on the front.

Those with small hands will find the ID SLEUTH a little bulky, but when compared to a large ID scanner, it is miniature. The only downside is the lack of a belt clip or holster,  but these issues are easily overcome by using the stand.

The ID SLEUTH has everything you need to check an identification in one basic, easy to use, cool-looking package. This device would be beneficial to any individual or establishment needing to quickly and easily verify any form of identification and I highly recommend it.

PROS:

Simple, sturdy design

Easy to use

Rechargeable batteries

Visual deterrent

CONS:

Bulky for individuals with small hands

No belt clip or holster

PRICE:            $99

WEBSITE: www.theidsleuth.com

Drugs and Alcohol…

In the past few weeks, I’ve heard a few stories about drunk Bar Staff. Word spreads when you know a lot of people in a small town who work in the Industry. And if they were either drinking during shifts or acting like fools while out on the town, sooner or later someone will hear about it. But, we are dealing with adults here, and what they do in their off-time is up to them. However, what they do during work can be problematic…and costly.

Let’s be honest for a minute, shall we? If you work in the Bar and Nightclub Industry, at some point you will have an encounter with Drugs and Alcohol. Yes, I know, alcohol is served in a Bar. But that is not what I mean. I mean your fellow employees and Patrons using Drugs and Alcohol. There, I said it. Your co-workers could be drunk or high. And so could your Patrons. I can already hear the denials, “None of my Staff drinks!” or “We don’t allow drugs in our establishment!”, and to some extent I believe you. Well, maybe I believe about 1/4 of you.

The Bar and Nightclub environment breeds, sustains, and to some degree encourages substance abuse. Whether it is trying to get Patrons to buy more drinks (2 for 1 specials, anyone?), having the Bartenders be social (“Let’s all do shots!”), or needing a little extra energy to get through that Double Shift and Inventory (“We’ll do a tiny line of coke. No one will know.’), it happens! So, instead of working ourselves into a lather and vehemently denying that it occurs while 3 Patrons come out of the bathroom with powder rings around their noses and your bartender is slurrin’ and stumblin’, let’s look at the dangers from a  liability standpoint.

Use of Drugs and Alcohol by Security Staffers during a shift is incredibly negligent. Should anything happen during your shift, while you are drunk, not only can the Bar/Nightclub be sued, but you can as well. Why? The shortened legal definition of negligence is: “The failure to exercise that degree of care that…the law requires for the protection of other persons…that may be injuriously affected by the want of such care.” In other words, if someone in your establishment is hurt because you fail to notice a problem or issue, IT IS YOUR FAULT. They may have been acting stupid, but if you didn’t try to stop them or failed to stopped them, it’s on you. If Aunt Sally tries to dance on the bar and falls, breaking her arm because you were too buzzed to notice and stop her…you do the math. When the EMTs show up (probably with Law Enforcement in tow) and they smell alcohol on your Security Staffers’ breath? No bueno.

Any individual working Security under the influence of drugs or alcohol is an idiot. Plain and simple. At the most basic level, alcohol impairs your judgment and coordination. If your job is to consistently use your best judgment (“Does this person pose a threat?”) and possibly need to have excellent coordination (i.e. catching the drunk guy), why would you want to do the job drunk or high? I’ve heard the usual excuses, “It makes me more social/relaxes me/makes the time pass.” and while you might think these things, you are fooling yourself. Think about it this way: when you see a slightly intoxicated Patron, your first reaction is probably to keep an eye on them and see how they progress. Now what if that Patron was you…and you were trying to do a job? Again, no bueno.

We live in a litigious world. Why not take every step possible to shield yourself from litigation? If you are in the courtroom and the question, “Were you drinking during your shift?” comes up, you better be darn sure the answer is “No.” Some of you might say, “But drinking and drugs go with the territory!” Wrong. It only goes with the territory if you allow it to. I’m sure those of you who are regular readers and work in Bars know of at least one establishment that has been closed due to drug sales. Or have known a Staffer to be arrested for DUI after their shift. Why take the chance and have it be your establishment or Staffer? Sooner or later the laws of statistics WILL catch up to you.

SOLUTIONS

The easiest solution for a Manager/Owner is to make a set of Bar Rules. They can be as simple as “No drinking on shift!” or as extreme as “No off-duty patronage of the bar.” Whatever you decide to make the rule, you must stick by it, and enforce it. With drinking, I generally recommend a warning (along with being sent home for the night) for the first offense and termination if the act is repeated. Drugs are automatic termination. Period. You have to let the Staff know that you are serious about your approach. And yes, that means that you can’t drink while working either!

Another option is to write a Drug and  Alcohol Policy into your employee manual. A quick Google Search (see how easy I make things for you?) will give you a plethora of options. At the bottom of each page of your Drug and Alcohol Policy, you should have a line for your employees to sign stating that they understand the Policy and repercussions for breaking it.

Finally, you MUST enforce your rules. Let me repeat that: YOU MUST ENFORCE YOUR RULES!!! It is pointless to come up with rules and policies if they are never enacted. Not to mention that you will find yourself in a legal mess if you have a stated set of policies and you are found to be violating them. If you are the boss, act like the boss. If you are a humble worker bee, make sure your fellow employees are keeping it together. If they are not, let someone know. It could end up saving your job.

Until next time…