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.
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.
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.
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.