Nightclub Industry Interview: Casey Soto

We have interviewed a variety of individuals working in many different capacities here on the Tao. This time around we sat down with Casey Soto (Head of Security, TONIC Nightclub) to discuss moving up in the ranks as a Security Staffer and the differences between Patrons and Staffers over the years.

How did you start in this business?

I started through a friend at a local brewery. He asked me to work for a couple of hours here and there. I was checking ID’s for him. When he transferred to TONIC, he asked me to come with him. That was 6 years ago. I worked inside for about a year and then the Head of Security and GM asked me to be the ID checker. I was really hesitant to do it, because I didn’t think I had the personality to make it work. But they talked me into it and the guy who was working the door at the time gave me a crash course in checking IDs. So I checked IDs and worked the Front Door for years until I was recently made Head of Security. I’ve checked thousands and thousands of IDs.

What has changed about working downtown since you started?

Without a doubt, it would have to be the strictness of Law Enforcement. They come down on everyone – businesses and individuals – for just about everything. It can make it tough because they are really watching you and you have to cover all of your bases. Ultimately it’s for the better because it keeps everyone on their best behavior, both Patrons and Staff.

The college kids have definitely changed a lot. They just don’t understand the word “No”. It seems like when you tell somebody “No” these days, they just can’t handle it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting further away from them in age or if they just don’t have the same understanding of the rules, but it has definitely changed. The ones that are bad just have no respect.

How do you deal with the attitude shift?

There was a time when the rules where known – whether in our establishment or around town – by all of the Patrons. They knew what they could – or could not – say, wear, or do and they followed that pretty closely. But that seems to have shifted. The respect that used to exist just isn’t there. And I think that pretty much any Security Staffer, anywhere, will tell you the same. But we are heading in a more customer service direction as well, so that is part of it.

Do you think your attitude has changed?

I think that my attitude has shifted a little, but I think the biggest gap is the age difference. I’m 10+ years older than these kids, so my point of view is different from theirs.

How has your job shifted since moving from Doorman to Head of Security?

There is a lot of coaching involved. I now really have to make sure that every little aspect of Security is covered. And that is definitely a challenge. Plus, you have to know your guys on a personal level when you lead a team. You need to know what they can take in terms of abuse, so you can step in or contain whatever situation is occurring. You have to understand what’s going on with your guys throughout the night.

Also, the Head of Security has to trust his team. My job really is to make sure that everyone works together, knows their job, knows how to escort people out, make sure that I’m coaching my team in the right way. So the brunt of the “arguing” or issues with the Patrons is really dealt with by the rest of the Staff. I just see it on the far back end, if things go south.

My strengths have always been ID checking and controlling the crowd. If you control the crowd and access to the establishment, you control the vibe and the liability. If things go badly at the Front Door, they will carry into the club. Listen, the Doorman is never perfect. Someone is going to slip through the cracks. That is why we have a large Security Staff: to deal with issues that get through the door.

We’re lucky that we (TONIC) have the solid reputation that we do, but we had to work on it. Obviously, not everyone is going to like what we do. But in our case that is a very small percentage of people.

How important are trust and communication when you are working with a large team?

Very. When you have a Doorman, VIP Host, VIP ID checker, Manager, and Head of Security…that’s a lot of cooks in one kitchen. If you don’t communicate, it can be just chaos.

On busy nights, I will just be the extra guy, roaming and making sure that things are running smoothly. I can’t post in any one position because I don’t want to take over that guy’s spot. The Doorman is going to run things differently than I would if I was the Doorman, so I have to let him go with that. I have to trust that he’ll do the right job.

You know, it’s my job to crack the whip and make sure things are going well. So that can be tough because at the end of the night, my first instinct is to tell the guys all the things they need to improve on. So for me, I want to make sure that I’m giving the guys compliments when they do a good job.

How do you handle training new Staffers?

I always put guys in the “worst” position possible to begin. If you can tough it out and prove yourself, then I’ll start to move you into more responsible positions. I’m a firm believer in starting at the bottom and working your way up through the ranks, because you never know when you’ll be called on to do any number of jobs. I’m not too proud to work the bathroom line or deal with the back exit.

What are the Pros and Cons of working in a small city?

The good? You know everybody. The bad? You know everybody.

People very quickly expect things from you. What they don’t realize is that it is all about their approach. If I’m crazy busy, I may not be jumping to help you just because I know you. It’s not that I don’t like you, I just happen to be busy and I’ll get to you as soon as I can. And sometimes people don’t get that.

How have Security Staffers changed since you started working?

Honestly, I think what changed everything in nightclubs was bottle service. The expectation of VIP service that comes along with spending $500-1000 for bottle service changes the way that you approach Patrons and the way they approach you. It makes it hard sometimes to say “No” to people. So we are forced to change with the times to be more accommodating.

There was also a time when the guys working in clubs were just big, burly dudes. And they knew how to handle themselves in fights, because they got into a lot of fights. Now, you have smaller guys, with MMA backgrounds that can handle themselves just as well. The difference is that the new guys have better customer service skills. I don’t hire big, burly guys anymore and mostly it’s because I don’t need or want them. I’m the burly guy. I’ll take one for the team if it comes down to that.

Has the customer service part of the job overridden the need to be good security?

I think in general, yes. It’s great to have customer service skills, but you need to be able to spot trouble and stop bad things from happening. It’s hard to train both. People usually have one or the other.

What’s the hardest thing about working in the field?

The general public doesn’t understand the constant pressure and grief that security guys receive on a nightly basis. You’re going from breaking up fights, to checking IDs, to cleaning up vomit, to explaining why a girl’s drunk boyfriend can’t get in…sometimes all in the space of 5-10 minutes. There is a constant stream of things going on all night long. People really need to experience it in order to understand.

I’m lucky because the management and owners where I work look after us. They understand how hard the job can be.

Thanks for your time

Absolutely.