Nightclub Industry Interview: Gabriel Magana

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Gabriel Magana of INDOCHINE in Santa Barbara, CA. Mr. Magana faces a different set of challenges than most Doormen, as he works the Front Door alone, with a small Security Staff inside the venue. We discussed issues can arise from working in a small city and his approach towards customer service.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING NIGHTCLUB SECURITY?

I’ve been at my current location for about 2 ½ years. Before that I did about 6 months off and on with a friend who had a security company down South.  But I was in radio for 8 years, doing promotion and concerts and really covering all aspects of that in tons of bars. I also did security on a college campus for about 8 years. So I was working at the college during the day and taking classes, and doing the radio gig and everything that entailed: security, promotions, bar set up, sound check, making sure the whole night was set.

However, I would consider this my first real “nightclub” gig. I’m really the face of the business here, being the only person at the Front Door as opposed to being part of a team like I was down South. Working there was totally different than working in this town. Different atmosphere.

HOW HAS SECURITY CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED?

Not much, really. But like I said, there is a difference working in another town. In other places I would have to pat people down and wand them for weapons. A lot of the time it was up to me to watch people coming in and see if they would stash weapons or whatever in the bushes around the venue. People knew we searched patrons, so we kept an eye out ahead of time.

That doesn’t really happen around here, because we don’t have the same kind of crowds. It’s a more relaxed vibe.

DO YOU THINK THAT A “RELAXED” VIBE INVITES TROUBLE OR DOES IT MAKE PEOPLE MORE LAIDBACK?

I think it’s a little bit of both. You know, nowadays, everybody carries a knife on them. Doesn’t matter if they’re cowboys, or gangsters, or businessmen. We can’t catch everything, so you have to be on your toes regardless of the person. I work on the assumption that everyone can have a weapon. That doesn’t mean they are bad people, but a lot of times individuals will see that weapon as a “last resort” tool if they get in trouble, no matter what their background.

Some people feel that having really tight, visible security at the Front Door is a deterrent to customers or that it makes people uncomfortable. I’ve always seen it as more of an invite: “You know you can come in here, because you’ll be safe.”

People that are looking for trouble – that are open to it – when they walk by a venue and see extra steps being taken, aren’t going to take a chance going in that venue. They know that the odds of their getting caught are higher. Many of them are on probation or have records and they can’t afford to have us call the police if there is trouble. The more detailed and thorough you are, the better your chances of keeping out the unwanted customers.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF WORKING WITH A SMALL SECURITY STAFF?

We can usually handle whatever happens. It is always on the nights that you aren’t expecting a crowd and it gets ultra crowded that it can be tough. It’s the nights you don’t expect the crowd – like Wednesday or Sunday – that can surprise you. When I’m alone at the Front Door on those nights, and something happens in the back, it makes it hard to get right on top of the problem.

WHAT ABOUT SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF WORKING IN A SMALLER CITY?

People get to a certain comfort level. For example, if you don’t ID someone once, they don’t expect to ever be ID’d again. We get our regulars, but I still ask for ID’s. For one, I have to keep the bar safe and make sure the customers have ID. I also need to make sure that their ID is not expired every once in a while. The customers need to know that yes, law enforcement will enter the bar and ask for ID, and if you don’t have it, the bar gets in trouble, no matter what your age.

But also, it being a small town, I have to deal with the blowback (just like a lot of other guys around here) when I’m out during not work hours. If something happens in the club – whether it’s an ejection or over-intoxication – and the customer gets kicked out, I’m the face that they usually remember. And that can carry over into daily life when you run into someone at the coffee shop or whatever. You can’t take it personally when people get upset. Your best hope is that they actually apologize for what might have gone down the weekend before.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT FUNCTION AS A DOORMAN?

Not only am I representing myself, but I’m also representing the business, and our group of bars as a whole. If I’m rude, the customer is going to think that everyone else is rude. If I’m nice, they’ll expect the same elsewhere. I want them to not only have a great experience while they’re here, but to know that when they arrive they’ll be greeted with respect and a smile and a handshake.

A lot of Doormen don’t want to indulge in conversation. They just take the ID, look at it, and move on to the next person. I always ask people how they’re doing, how the night is going, I may read back their name to them, or tell them “Happy Birthday”. Just engaging in a small conversation can really make people comfortable and let you gauge their attitude or intoxication level.

WHAT ARE YOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR REMOVING RUDE OR UNCOOPERATIVE PATRONS?

First off, I just don’t even engage in the conversation. If someone insults me or disrespects me, I’ll just stand and nod my head. If the name-calling starts, I’ll just try to joke a little here and there. But generally saying nothing works better. I might even take the apologetic route: “I’m sorry you’re so upset, I don’t know what happened, etc.” If they continue to be rude or get really angry, then I’ll inform them that I’ll have to call the police. But staying calm and taking the insults is always better than reacting negatively.

WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE FOR NEWER SECURITY GUYS?

Treat your workplace like your home. This is your house, you’re having a party, and all of your friends are coming. How would you like them to be treated? Have respect for your place and you’ll have a good time.

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