Brennan Titus is the Manager and VIP Host of TONIC Nightclub. I had the opportunity to interview him about running a Nightclub in a smaller market, his approach towards managing a Security Staff, and the Industry as a whole.
I’ve been working in bars and nightclubs now coming on 12 years. I pretty much got started as a promoter. A local bar brought me in and I did a graduation party for my graduating class. It went well and they called me back to do their College Night Thursdays and then their 80’s night.
How long before you moved into the Management end of things?
It actually took a while. I was promoting for a bit and then took on a position with Rockstar Energy Drink down in L.A. I was there for about 3 years, moved back to Santa Barbara and worked as a bartender, then VIP host, and eventually shifted to Management. I’ve been doing it now for 3 years. My position is really more of a combo VIP Host/Manager so the stress level is definitely higher than before. Liability concerns, the nightly craziness, and some of the issues with Staff that can be aggravating, but I still really enjoy it.
There are nights when I feel a little like Stretch Armstong, getting pulled in a hundred different directions. Everyone feels like their problems are mission critical but they don’t realize that I have three other fires to put out, so that can be a bit of a juggling act.
What percentage of your job do you think is Security related? How much are you involved in the Security process?
Well, that’s changed over time. There was a time when I was involved with Security issues on a regular, nightly basis. As we transferred over to a new Head of Security a couple of years ago, I was still involved but did more shadowing: making sure we had enough guys on shift and that coverage was appropriate. When we lost that individual, I was A LOT more involved in everything from scheduling to assigning positions. With our new Head of Security it’s become something where we’ll talk on a weekly basis about what we have coming up in terms of events. Nightly, we’ll check in and touch base with what’s going on and we’ll have multiple check-ins throughout the night. My involvement has gotten drastically reduced recently with the new system we’ve put in place. It’s been ever-evolving, but it’s also gotten much better.
How do you think Nightclub Security has changed since you started?
At least in our market, something like the “Bouncer” at the Front Door is becoming more of a “Doorman” position. Or even inside where you used to have the biggest guys, the most intimidating guys, guys who if things got out of hand then they would handle it. Whereas I think now there is much more of a service side and a professionalism that’s come to it. Not only are they a presence, they are actually watching and taking preventative measures: whether stepping in before fights break out or taking care of things like broken glass.
With the shift to more “customer-service” oriented Security, have you seen a shift in the way your Security Staff does their job?
What I’ve seen is that if you have polite Security, the Patrons’ experience inside the venue tends to be better. If Staff are too nice, then you have the issue of Patrons walking all over them or the Staff not paying attention to other venue-related liabilities. But I think at the end of the day, the customer service side is very important.
Especially at the door, it’s really important to be service-oriented. In this town, it being a small market, you have a lot of regulars as opposed to a place like Los Angeles where you’ve got a posh, hip venue and the Doorman is saying, “Not gonna happen.” There, it doesn’t matter if you’ve waited in the line or have some girls with you, if he says, “No”, it means no and there are not if, ands, or buts about it. That works to their advantage sometime because it is harder to get in and get a bottle and have a good time. Whereas in Las Vegas they just have the sheer cash available to them and they have a ton of guys working [security] that just kind of stand there. They may be watching a couple of things, but sometimes I think they’re just bodies.
As clubs change their emphasis to more customer service, do you think Security is improving?
I think in the back of (Security’s) minds it helps. They tend to pay more attention. They can’t just throw someone out for mouthing off. I think the guys need to take an extra step now as opposed to it being, “Hey bro, you out of here ‘cuz I don’t like you.”It has turned into more of a “venue” decision to do things with a Patron. Someone in charge is making a decision for the venue, it’s not the Staffer’s personal decision or personal bias to let someone out. Obviously, if it’s a case of intoxication or something dangerous that’s a different scenario. There has been a definite shift in how Security is perceived. But I also think that there are times when Security goes too far in terms of service or are too accommodating and they need to revert back to just being Security.
Everyone has a position to fill. Bartenders don’t need to be getting into Security’s business, just as Security shouldn’t turn into VIP Hosts. I think the defining of the rules helps.
What are some of the challenges you see running a club in a smaller market?
It’s a tricky job. The one nice thing about being a local nightclub is that you get familiar with faces, you know people. You don’t necessarily have to check every single ID that comes in the door. You can take care of people, get them in the door, and give them that “VIP” feeling that you can get in L.A. or Vegas where you are buzzing by a long line and getting in the door. Those of us that have been in the business for a while tend to forget how special people feel when that happens. On some nights, I get thanked by Patrons quite a bit when we extend courtesies and make people feel welcome and wanted.
On the negative side, because we are a small market people tend to look down on us. You’ll get the attitude of, “We’re from X, Y, or Z and this is how we do things there.” And yeah, I get it, but those places are often huge markets where there is a huge fluctuation in the type of Patron from one side of town to another. We have a tight concentration of bars just on one street and people bounce from place to place. We can’t try to uphold a super high standard in terms of say, fashion or style and dress code; after all we are by the beach.
It’s an interesting balance, especially on different nights, because what you’ll get from out of town on say Friday compared to Saturday can be vastly different. We might get an awesome group one night, but on another night people are complaining because of our prices or dress code or whatever and they’re saying, “But this is Santa Barbara, what’s the deal?”And our response is “That’s true, but we still have our individual venue standards to uphold.” It’s funny, because a lot of people tend to think of us as a big bar with a dance floor, they don’t think of us as a nightclub. There was a time when us and a few other places in town kind of stood above the fray as “nightclubs”, but then you had restaurant/bars starting to convert and adding dance floors and dj’s, so we all got lumped together. And trying to separate back out has been a challenge. Not to say that there is anything wrong with those other venues, but trying to stand out in a small group as a “nightclub” where people come in dressed a certain way, with no specials or happy hour, and serious customer service whether at the door or with bottle service, is tough.
What do you see as the public’s view of Security versus Security’s take on their job?
I think it goes back to what I said about people’s take on “bouncers”. A lot of people want to just spit on Security. It’s a figure of authority that people automatically assume is going to tell them what they can or can’t do. But if they’ve ever worked in a bar or been trained in the field or are open-minded, they have a very different notion of it. I mean, you have guys who want the “Bouncer” position. They say, “I’m a bouncer.” And there is a different mentality between “bouncer” and “security guard” just as there is a difference between Door Host and ID Checker. I think that through training, and attire, and attitude you can differentiate between to two very easily.
Do you think there is a difference between the expectations that you have of your Security Staff and what they believe their job to be?
Sometimes. I think we’ve gone through a ton of transition here in terms of what we expect of our Security Staff. People used to think that they could just come in, kind of keep their eye on things, talk to girls, watch for the fight, and just kind of hang out. With the changes we’ve put in place things have definitely changed. But there are conflicts. My job is to be super nice to people, Security’s job is to keep our venue safe, and sometimes those lines don’t necessarily meet.
But a big part of resolving issues is communication. The guy at the front may not realize that the Patron is a friend of the owner or has a table reserved or whatever. Sometimes these Patron’s don’t have the best attitudes or take issue with not being automatically recognized, and it’s tough for our guys (who take a ton of abuse at times) to just brush off the attitude or whatever. So it’s up to me to step in and smooth things over. Ultimately, the guys realize that it is my call, but I am really careful to not go over the head of whoever is making the decisions up front. I want their integrity and authority to stay intact. So a lot of the time I ask what the situation is before I make a call and we’ll discuss the resolution later, not in front of the Patron. If the guys are standing firm they’ll let me know and if it’s no big deal, they’ll do the same. They want me to understand where they are coming from and I do my best to respect that.
When you are out and about, what are some of the things that you see lacking in Security?
Honestly, when I’m out I’m not really paying attention. I’m out to have a good time. But by the same token, I see other bars dealing with the same issues that I do: understaffing or overstaffing. It’s generally not a fault of the bar, but more the unpredictability of nightlife in general. Every bar (including ours) faces the same issues of Security not being 100% aware all the time. Missing things like broken glass or an intoxicated individual. But it’s physically impossible to catch everything all the time. You just can’t do it.
Thanks for your time.