Over the past few years, I’ve been involved in numerous conversations – some of them panicked – with managers and owners who suddenly find themselves in need of a Head of Security. My first question to them is always the same:

“Who’s the next in line?”

Invariably, they come back with one of two answers:

“We don’t have anyone.”


“We have a guy in mind but we’re not sure he’s ready to take on the responsibilities.”

Besides the obvious problem of not having anyone to competently fill the position, the other issue is the fact that these – and many other – venues are missing a Succession Plan. They are ill-prepared for who comes next because they have never taken the possibility of change into account or have adopted the attitude of “We’ll deal with it when it happens.” Well, it’s happened…so now what!?!?!?!?

The nightlife industry is by its nature a transient industry: people come and people go. Sometimes they stay for a few months, sometimes a year or so, and if you are very fortunate, they stay for the long haul. As a result of this, many establishments don’t consider the future of their employees because their employees may not even be there in the future! What these establishments don’t realize is that by actually taking your employees into consideration – instead of just seeing them as temporary cogs in a wheel – you will keep them happy and productive. And you will retain them because they enjoy working for you!

But what does that have to do with Lines of Succession? Much more than you expect.

Before you can start, you need to understand what “succession planning” is. By its definition, succession planning “…is a process for identifying and developing new leaders who can replace old leaders when they leave, retire or die.” Seeing as 99.9% of your staff is probably not retiring or dying, your planning needs to account for those people who could potentially leave. It could be a Head of Security or a Doorman or a Bartender. But you will need to find someone to fill their slot. Whether you have 15 employees or 1,500, you will need a succession plan. While that plan will differ in terms of scope depending on the size of your establishment, its main purpose remains constant: ensuring that employees are developing in their respective roles in order to fill in when they are needed. Why wouldn’t you develop that person in-house?

Your management team is probably working from one of two possible scenarios:

  • No staff, startingfrom scratch
  • Staff already in place

If you have no staff, you are actually ahead of the curve in many respects. You don’t have to worry about figuring out which employees to promote or shift. You do, however, have the hassle of the employment process. But look on the bright side: hiring and recruiting is where the first bit of rubber hits the road. Remember, without solid hires, without a strong talent pool, your potential group of “advancers” is going to be very limited. If you hire strong, your pool of potentially advancing employees will be strong. (Should you have any questions regarding hiring and interviews, feel free to refer to our past posts here, here, and here).

Either before or during the hiring process, you should consider the structure of your Security Staff. Do you want a single Head of Security or do you want to spread the responsibility among Zone Leads? Do you want your Doorman to also be your Head of Security? Or do you want a Head of Security and an Assistant Head of Security? By delineating roles and responsibilities, you can then develop the process by which people on your staff can advance. What does it take to go from a Static Post to a Roamer to Doorman? Figure it out and put it in the succession plan. If your staff is already in place, now would be the time to outline these roles and start to place people in their new positions.

By having set positions, you give managers a chance to observe how their employees undertake important tasks, thereby allowing them to recognize which employees are strong, weak, or in need of further mentoring or assistance. A set system also does a couple of things for employees: it shows a commitment on management’s part to develop and evolve their employees and it helps employees recognize the importance of learning their positions if they want to advance. The most overlooked areas of bar and nightclub security are employee engagement and retention. You want your employees to feel like they are not only a part of the team but an integral part of the team. Giving people set tasks and offering them the possibility of advancement does this! Employees who know there is a chance to advance will want to stick around and move up the ladder.

Your structure is in place. Your employee roles are set. Where do you go from here? Now is the time to become actively engaged in mentorship and training. Developing your security staff can include everything from specialized training and development (ID checks, de-escalation techniques, dealing with altercations, etc.) to assigning them special projects i.e. adesignated team for VIPs or a team to handle Sporting Events. You can also start to use your lower level staffers to fill in the more important roles on slow nights or on nights when more senior employees are absent. Sometimes being thrown in the deep end of the pool will give an employee a far better understanding of the responsibilities of their supervisors.  And it is a great way to gauge their abilities and refine their skill sets.

One thing to keep in mind is that you must be an active part of your employees’ development. Team meetings, performance evaluations, one on one mentoring; they are all an integral part of getting your team motivated and keeping them interested in their work. Complacency comes when 1) the employee feels they are of no added benefit 2) they don’t know what their role is and 3) management does not engage with them. If your employees don’t care, they won’t work. It is your job to not only give them a reason to care but to support them in their endeavors. If your team knows that there are opportunities for advancement, they will want to work harder. Working directly with a supervisor or manager will ensure that they get the experience and build the knowledge base necessary to move up the ranks.

On the managerial side, having a succession plan ensures that you have backup employees to accomplish the jobs you need to be done when you lose a team member. Without a plan, you are often left scrambling to fill in the gaps, which can cause stress, frustration, and a potentially understaffed team at a time when you might need them most. With a succession plan in place, managers will know the skillset of those “downline” and be able to plug them in or advance them as necessary. This ability to quickly promote and replace employees will save you valuable time. Instead of interviewing, hiring, and training new employees, you’ll be able to shift your existing staff to fill important roles in a timely and efficient manner. A tiered structure will also ensure that your more knowledgeable, experienced staffers are able to pass along their years of experience. So when the time comes to fill in their positions, you’ll have retained their knowledge through thementorship and training of people farther down the chain.

You need to be prepared for staffing disruptions, whether intentional or unexpected, and a succession plan is a step in the right direction. While it may seem daunting at first, the process is much quicker and much less painful than you expect. Talk to your team, decide what you want your team structure to look like, implement it, and begin to train your staff right away. Keep your staff educated, interested, and happy in the knowledge that they have opportunities beyond just standing on the patio watching for fence hoppers.

Quick announcements…and a failure in training.

Quick notes this time around as we are moving some things!

PODCAST – The Tao of the Velvet Rope Podcast has a new home!

We have switched Podcast hosts to Libsyn. This gives us a few more options for outreach, commentary, and tracking, as well as a few behind the scenes improvements.

TRAINING –  We will be conducting a seminar in Missouri on April 23rd. It’s a great chance to learn something new, do some networking, and ask all the questions you’ve been holding onto for the past few years!

Hospitality & VIP Training for Nightclub & Bar Security

Follow the link for all of your information!


I don’t want to devote an entire post to this video but please take the time to watch it and think of what you or your Staff would have done differently. And then ask yourself, “Are my guys ready to deal with a situation like this?” If the answer is no…scroll back up the TRAINING link!



Trust issues…

“I’m having this recurring issue and I was wondering if you could help me out?”

The person asking the question was the Director of Security – in charge of a number of nightclubs – and one of his Heads of Security (HOS) had been approaching him with a fairly regular complaint.

“This HOS is telling me that his Manager often overrides his decisions.”

“Uh-oh,” I said, “Let me guess, the Manager is actually deciding who gets let in the door…or who gets kicked out?”

The Directory of Security laughed, “Yeah, pretty much hits it on the head.” I took him by the arm and we proceeded to have a fairly lengthy discussion about trust and ownership of one’s position.

Believe it or not, this is a fairly common issue in many work environments. Managers and Owners are often hesitant to either cede control or to allow their workers to make final decisions. On the one hand, I can understand where they are coming from. After all, you are the boss and the ultimate outcome will fall on your shoulders whether it is good or bad. So taking the chance that one of your minions will mess things up can be a daunting proposition! On the other hand, you hired them for a reason…right? You hired them to do the work that you don’t, won’t, or many times can’t do so that you can focus on other things.


How many Owners/Managers/HOS would put someone with zero experience at the Front Door? I’m guessing not many. Why? Because you want to make sure that the person acting as the gatekeeper to your facility is competent, wise, and knowledgeable. If you wouldn’t dare to put an inexperienced person at the Front Door, then why wouldn’t you trust an experienced person to make the correct decisions in that position?

Many times, this lack of trust comes from not being around enough to see this individual work on a regular basis. If you only pop in to check on your Staff once a night or only watch them work for 15 minutes or so, you will never get a full picture of what they are capable of. So show up, watch them in action, and ask questions of your Staff. Everything from “How is your night?” to questions about capacity and the general state of Patrons that evening. Not only will this show that you are engaged and know what you are doing, it will give you an understanding of your Staff’s knowledge about their position.

If you see a Staffer making a decision that you don’t understand, ask them about it. DO NOT accuse them of screwing up – unless it is something blatant – but instead, ask them to explain to you why they made the decision and then EXPLAIN to them what they did wrong if you see an issue. One of the biggest failures of Managers is not explaining the who, what, why, when, where, and how of mistakes their employees make. Take the time to have those discussions. And don’t forget to praise them when they make the correct decisions. Show your Staff that you are interested in enough in their decision-making process to have trust in their decision-making process.


A big part of gaining trust is proving that you yourself are responsible. If you are going to be responsible, you have to take ownership of your position. And that means if something goes wrong, it’s your problem. This applies to both employees and even more so to Managers. I’ve seen employees walk away from issues and say, “That’s not my problem.” and I’ve seen Managers do the very same thing. What many Managers don’t understand is that all mistakes will eventually come back to them, so they have to take ownership of those mistakes…just as they would expect their workers to do.

As a Manager a big part of “owning” your position is not only admitting to mistakes you made but also attempting to rectify those mistakes on your own. If you tell something to do something and it works out poorly because the decision was a bad one: OWN IT! “Yeah, that was my bad. I’ll sort it out” DO NOT try and pass it off on other people. All this will do is lose you respect and maybe even have your Staff questioning your decision-making process. One of the worst things you can do is walk away from a problem that YOU created. By rectifying mistakes that you make, your Staff will see that you are mature and willing enough to admit your shortcomings. Lead by example. Don’t fail by ego.

As an employee it is just as important that you assert yourself and “own” what you do. If you are watching the patio, make that your domain! Know the ins and outs of every nook and cranny; down to when the 3rd porta-pottie line tends to get crowded. If you are a Doorman, know your IDs, your signs of over-intoxication, and how to greet people. If you are a Roamer, know your routes, your best spots to watch the action, and how to easily navigate the crowd! Why? For one, it’s your job. But it is also the sign of a person who takes pride in the work that they do. When your boss – or a Patron – comes up to ask a question, you’ll know the answer! And this brings us back to the idea of building TRUST. If you can demonstrate that you know your job, your boss will trust you to do it.


But what if you do your job well, you fix your (minimal) mistakes, and the boss still steps in, on, or over you? My suggestion is to make some time – NOT at the moment the issue occurs – to meet with them and hash some things out.

First off, refresh their memory of the incident and ask if there was a reason they acted in a particular way. You may be surprised that a) they don’t even remember the event or b) they saw things in a completely different light. Once you gain an understanding as to their perspective you can then present your side of the equation.

“I appreciate that you felt this way about XYX, but let me explain how it looked from my perspective”

Then calmly walk your way through your concerns and the solution that you would have proposed. This might help give a little clarity and hopefully provide your boss with the information needed for him or her to see your side of the story. Should the boss continue to step on your toes, it may be necessary to have an additional conversation addressing your concerns about their ability to trust you to do your job.

“Just so you know, every time you step into a situation, it diminishes my ability to handle the problem. I know you want to help out and I truly appreciate your input. And the team and I want to be able to provide you and the Patrons with the best service possible. But if you continue to interject, it sends mixed messages to the Patrons and Staff. They’re not sure who to turn to for guidance and direction, which in turn causes a lot of confusion.”

If this is a conversation you are going to have, make sure that you can provide several concrete examples of issues that you have faced due to “interference” by the boss. This is especially important if the issues then turned into liabilities.

Remember, you want your Owner/Manager/HOS to trust you to make the right decisions. But the only way that will happen is if you own your position and show them that they can trust you to make the right calls. And for you Owners/Managers/HOS out there: trust your Staff. They’re the reason you stay liability free.

Until next time…

Managing a Nightlife Security Team…or How to be an Effective Leader

One of the unfortunate realities of the Nightlife Industry is that its communities are often transient: people come and go because of better job offers, life changes, and burnout. For many establishments, wages can be the deciding factor in retaining employees. But high – or even decent – wages won’t guarantee quality or loyalty. In an environment that can often be rife with high turnover, how can you build and maintain a solid team? Before you dive into the nitty-gritty of hiring, firing, or starting from scratch, think about the following:

What are your security goals?

How are you going to achieve these goals?

If all you want is a single doorman who checks IDs, you are pretty much set. But I’m guessing that you are looking for something more. You probably want a team of diverse individuals with varied backgrounds and different abilities who can accomplish a number of different tasks. Chances are that the team you build will probably be at different stages of their careers. And these varying skill levels can present challenges that not everyone will be able to easily accomplish the goals or tasks you’ve set out for them.

As a Manager or Head of Security, it is up to you to set the precedent in terms of behavior, customer service, and work ethic, as well as develop all of the policies and procedures that your team needs to do their job well. But none of this will matter if your team doesn’t understand the What’s and Why’s of their job or if they aren’t lead, communicated with, or disciplined when necessary.

1) Be a good communicator – Believe it or not, your team wants information. Nothing is more frustrating than showing up for a night on shift and not knowing what is going on. Or worse yet, receiving potentially stressful information just prior to and event – i.e. “By the way, we have a party of 100 people arriving in 5 minutes”. It is of the utmost importance that you pass along pertinent information, check in with your team, and encourage feedback. Communication goes both ways and your Staff should feel comfortable talking to you about EVERYTHING.

You should be holding regular meetings, debriefs, and brainstorming sessions with your team to both give information and critique and receive feedback and questions. Be an active listener. Don’t just give lip service. It will come back to bite you if you always say “Yes” but never follow up.

2) Stick to your decisions…and be prepared to make some bad ones

Don’t hesitate when making decisions. Flakiness is NOT a desired trait in a manager. And once you make those decisions, don’t back away from them. Feel comfortable asserting your authority. After all, you are the boss, right? But be diplomatic and respectful about it. Acting like a tyrant or know-it-all will lose you respect very quickly. But by the same token, no one is expecting you to be perfect. So if you make a mistake or a wrong decision – and you will – own it and figure out a way to move forward. Striving for perfection is great but not at the expense of not learning from your failures or stepping on people to get to the goal.

3) Don’t be afraid to delegate – Just because you are the boss doesn’t mean that you have to do EVERYTHING. The reason you have a team is for support. Find good supporting roles for your team members and let them own their positions. Have a great ID checker? Use them to train other people. Is one of your Roamers excellent at dealing with people? Make him a Zone Lead. People do their jobs better when they are engaged and doing what they enjoy.

4) Reward the good…but don’t be afraid to discipline – Ever work for a boss who only criticizes? It’s demeaning and frustrating. After all, there must be something that you are doing right. Tell your team when they are doing well. Give your team positive feedback and encouragement. Let them know when they are clicking on all cylinders and how much you appreciate them and their efforts. Some establishments go so far as to provide bonuses and incentives for the team members who perform well.

But now that you  will on occasion have issues. After all, this is the real world. When the team fails, let them know. Don’t berate them but show them where they failed AND offer solutions. People only learn from their mistakes if they are shown their errors and taught how to do things differently in the future. Should it be necessary to discipline an employee, don’t hesitate to do it; there need to be repercussions to bad behavior or failures in your protocol.  Discipline fairly and evenly. And don’t forget to explain why.

5) Quash conflict – Not everyone will get along all the time. But in a team environment, conflict can lead to a seriously negative atmosphere and unnecessary tension. If you see or hear of intra-team issues – there’s that whole communication thing again – deal with them either on an individual or team level. Make sure you gather all of the information from all sides before jumping into the fray. Be mature, be objective, and be decisive on how to deal with the problem

6) Develop positive relationships – This should go without saying, but you need to know your team as people, not just employees. The more you know about someone, the better your professional and personal relationship will be. Learn about your team, their interests, their hobbies, their plans, their other jobs, etc. Take the team out for a dinner or drinks. Buy them coffee. Don’t sit in your office and watch them on CCTV…TALK TO THEM!

7) Be a motivator – If you want your team to follow in your stead, you need to forge a solid path. Set a good example through your behavior, work ethic, and interpersonal skills. The way YOU act is going to be reflected in your team’s actions. By treating your team, your co-workers, and your clientele with respect, you set the precedent. And setting a positive precedent will motivate your team to strive for the same level of excellence.

Being a leader is more than barking orders. Being a leader means acting with maturity and having a clear, objective, well-communicated vision. Don’t separate yourself from your team, become a part of it. Step to the fore and lead your team to excellence.



Nightclub Security Fundamentals

In the wake of this week’s Orlando nightclub shooting, there has been much discussion about what could have been done to prevent a large-scale massacre. We must first recognize that shootings on this scale (over 10 people) in nightclub/bar environments have never occurred within the United States. To state that mass casualty incidents such as this one are the norm or increasing in entertainment venues is not only counterproductive, it is patently false. However, the stark reality is that there are incidents involving guns in and around nightclubs on a regular basis. At least every few days, there is a report about a shooting or altercation involving some type of firearm in a bar or nightclub. And while some would try to guide the discussion towards preventing these specific large-scale events from occurring, the more measured approach should be to examine how bar, nightclub, lounge, and nightlife venue security can be improved on the whole.

The ultimate goal for any owner is to provide a comfortable environment for people to enjoy themselves. But at the same time, they must reduce liability and deter or dissuade those with criminal or potentially violent intentions. No discussion about nightclub security can begin without first talking about the role of the security staffer. It is these employees whose part in the overall scope of security is critical to the function of any bar, nightclub, or nightlife venue. Security staffers act as the front line when it comes to reducing liability, providing protection (for both patrons and the physical venue), and dispensing solid customer service. They are usually the first – and last – individuals that patrons will encounter in an establishment, and the staff’s attitude and approach can mean the difference between a customer’s great night on the town or a ruined evening.

Security staffers will spot trouble before the CCTV system, respond to any issues before law enforcement, and take care of any number of problems before the manager can arrive to help out. But no matter how well trained the staff may be, their ability to provide a safe, secure venue for patrons is dependent on the steps that management takes to assist them in the performance of their duties. Every establishment’s security program needs to be built on the idea of “concentric rings of security”, of which the security staff is only one.

Your First Ring of Defense – The Exterior

The first ring of protection begins with the physical security measures in place outside of an establishment: CCTV cameras, secured places of ingress and egress, and visible security staff. People with questionable intentions – whether petty thieves, underage drinkers, or armed attackers – are often deterred by the mere fact that there is security in place. In the majority of cases, criminals do not want to be seen, heard, noticed, or remembered. CCTV cameras limit the criminal’s ability to access a location unseen or enact their plans without being captured on video. Externally locked and clearly marked exit doors not only limit access but can force troublemakers to travel in a direction that will place them in contact with a posted staff member or within line of sight of a camera. Dedicated entry areas force interaction with security staff providing an excellent opportunity for them to ask for ID, remember a face, or potentially bar access to the venue – again limiting options for the would-be criminal.

The physical design of an entry and layout of a rope line can also help to direct people to specific areas, forcing the criminal to figure a way around perceived obstacles. Separate staging areas (i.e. entry line, cover charge area, and coat check) provide additional opportunities for observation of potentially violent or illegal behavior. The more time a potential troublemaker is exposed in an open area or under the watchful eye of an individual or series of cameras, the less likely they are to take any chances. If a target is too difficult or time-consuming to get to, the criminal will choose another target.

Additional steps that can be taken at the front door include the addition of metal detectors (static or handheld), bag checks, and physical pat downs. Besides the potential discovery of weapons before they can be introduced into the venue, these stepped-up measures can reveal everything from illegal drugs to banned items. The obvious downside is that people want to go out for a night on the town, NOT take a trip through the TSA line in order to grab a drink! What some clientele may view as a necessary annoyance others might view as an unwelcome intrusion. Remember, what patrons experience at the front door is going to set the tone for the evening and as such, establishments should have in-depth discussions regarding the implementation of what might be interpreted by some as “extreme” measures.

The Interior Staff – Your Second Line of Defense

While front door staffers are keepers of the gate, interior staffers will be the ones holding the line once the patrons enter. Interior staffers are the eyes and ears of a venue and will more often than not be the first to respond to issues within the establishment. A visible, easily identifiable – whether by uniform, dress code, or name tag – security staff member acts not only as a deterrent but as a potential helping hand to patrons in need of assistance. Knowing that they can easily find and communicate with a security staffer adds to patrons’ comfort levels and thereby their enjoyment of the evening. They know that should a problem occur, there is a staff member there to help. Security staffers should always make it a point to interact with patrons. Extended conversations about the general state of world affairs aren’t necessary, but greetings and questions about how patrons’ evenings are going are a must. The smallest conversations can oftentimes help reveal trouble or brewing problems.

To that end, observation and communication are among the most important factors to successful security coverage. Too many times a potential issue is noticed or handled by staffers within the establishment and there is no communication of the incident to those working the front door, to management, or even to others working within the venue. Nightlife venues MUST have radios – and have staffers trained in their use – in order to rapidly and effectively relay important information. But keep in mind that no amount of communication will be of use if there is not a set of protocols, policies, and procedures in place should trouble of any sort arise.

From responses to altercations to dealing with dress code issues, venue security staff should be able to follow a set of steps to get them from Point A to Point Z. Ideally, these policies and procedures should be contained within a manual and used as the basis of training for both new and old employees. Constant training and reiteration of policies help to build the foundation of a security staff’s base of knowledge. Along those lines, staffers should know the location of basic emergency equipment: fire extinguishers, first aid kits, breaker boxes, and emergency lighting controls. Scenario training – everything from dealing with minor injuries to handling large scale fights – and evacuation drills will help to further reinforce any security staff’s knowledge base.

Finally, developing a good working relationship with local law enforcement is of the utmost importance. All establishments should already have the local police department or state liquor agencies training their employees in ID checks and how to spot intoxicated individuals. Management should also work in tandem with local law enforcement to develop a plan and train staff in what to do during an active shooter situation. Whether meeting regularly with the local Night Life team, speaking to beat officers about recent incidents, or hiring off-duty police officers to work within a venue, frequent contact with LEOs helps to extend an establishment’s rings of security.

Nightclub incidents like the mass shooting in Orlando are still an anomaly. But one would be foolish not to try and prepare for them. Designing a security program for any venue begins with an honest discussion. Owners and managers should take a careful look at their existing security framework: do they have “concentric rings” of security, set policies and procedures, and a viable relationship with local Law Enforcement? Studying what is already in place, discussing what can be improved, and figuring how to make those improvements while still providing customers with an enjoyable night out will only help in the long run. Flaws are only a problem if they remain unfixed. At the very least, enhancing a security program will protect a venue from potential liability and keep patrons safe and happy. In a worst-case scenario, it could save many lives.

*If would like to hear a podcast version of this blog, please visit:
Nightclub Security Fundamentals



The Rookie.

The Kid.

The Newbie.

At some point in time, you have either been or will work with The F’ing New Guy. Some staffers will be happy to take the opportunity to teach the kid the ropes. But most staffers will groan when they have to train a new bouncer. Why? Because teaching someone new everything there is to know about working nightclub security is basically impossible. Every inch of the club that you know so well is a confusing, obstacle filled maze to the new employee. Whether it is who gets to cut the line or which bathroom is for employees only, the amount of information that the new guy or gal needs to process can be overwhelming.

What many experienced staffers can’t see is the opportunity for growth that training a new bouncer provides. New employees ask questions you many not have considered for a while – or ever! They may see the crowd that you are used to in a completely different light. They might spot things that you take for granted and have been ignoring. But most important, they give you the chance to spread a little wisdom and in doing so, improve the way you do your own job!


I always start new staffers out with a tour of the establishment: entrances and exits, bathroom locations, fire extinguisher placement, gear room, etc. I don’t go into heavy detail about each area, just point out the basics so they know their way around. They’ll have plenty of time to learn the rest as they move forward.

New security staffers need to be assigned the easiest tasks for a couple of different reasons:

  • The approach that a new employee  takes to doing something simple will test their willingness to learn and determine their attitude towards being assigned menial tasks. If they aren’t willing to do the simple things, they probably can’t handle the complex ones.
  • Learning the simple tasks helps build the foundation upon which further responsibilities will be laid. If someone can’t learn a simple task, they shouldn’t be saddled with the responsibility of a more complex one.

I like to place new staffers in “static” posts: guarding a hallway, watching a back entrance, or manning an observation platform. This allows them to get a feel for not only how the crowd flows, but lets them refine their people watching skills, develop their abilities to say “no” – as in “No, you can’t come this way”, and get used to standing in one place, often for hours at a time.


New employees will have a TON of questions. You should always answer them honestly and directly. If you don’t know the answer…do not make one up. Let them know you’ll look into it and get back to them. In addition, never discredit any question that someone asks! I recently trained a very fresh crew of security staffers and they asked me “When it’s ok to go ‘hands on’ with a patron?” Many people would go on a tear or even fire the crew for asking such a simplistic question. But the reality is that this crew was NEVER TRAINED in ejections. My job was to teach and train them, so that’s what I did! I asked them if and when they thought it would be ‘ok’ and took it from there.

Asking a new hire questions is just as important as answering their questions. Ask them about themselves as well as what you have been teaching them. They’re a part of your team, so get to know them and make them comfortable. When you ask them what they’ve learned, don’t try to be tricky or sneaky about it. Be direct: How do you do this? Where to you place these? When do we act in this way? If they don’t know the answers…tell them the answers! This is not about making them feel stupid, it’s about teaching them how to do a job.


New hires can’t stay doing the simple tasks forever. Once the staffer seems comfortable with the basic work, slow integration into the team is the best policy. Have them tail someone (or several people) for the duration of a night. Have them do the job while someone watches. Pick up glasses, clear the bathroom line, keeping the sidewalk in order, all tasks that will need to be part of their duties moving forward. Again have them ask questions and ask them questions as you move along.

I would highly recommend NOT placing new hires in positions – or given responsibilities -where they would have heavy contact with patrons: VIP lines, entry ways, or ID checking. There is too much potential for slip-ups that might rub regular patrons the wrong way or lead to liability concerns.


Most important is to make the new member feel like part of the team. Will they be treated differently? Absolutely they will, just by virtue of being the “new kid”. Just remember that the “new kid” might be the one to pull your butt out of the fire should things go wrong. The more knowledgeable your team is, the stronger they are and the safer you will all be.

Until next time…

The Right to Refuse Service

I know that I’ll probably cause a stir in writing this but here it goes:

The customer is not always right.

I can almost hear the rebuttals, see the heads shaking, and visualize open-mouthed gapes of disbelief. For most people – alright, pretty much all people – working in the customer service industry, this belief in the customer’s all encompassing power to be in the right – no matter what the situation – is an unbreakable tenet. Well, I disagree with it and you should as well. The customer is NOT always right. The Patron who gropes your hostess is not in the right, the Patron who threatens your Security Staff is not in the right, and the Patron who demands entry to your establishment is not in the right. People can be as loud, abusive, and just plain rude as they want. That doesn’t make them right and it doesn’t mean that you and your Staff have to take it.

Now, all of that being said, I am not advocating your Hostess punch a groping Patron (though I would press for sexual assault charges) or your Security Staffers pick up threatening Patrons and heave them bodily out the door. It is up to your Staff to be the bigger person – so to speak – and respond to even the most negative of situations in a professional manner. Which leads us to the concept of Refusing Service.

“We Have The Right To Refuse Service To Anyone”

I can’t think of any business establishments where this sign has not been posted in some iteration. But what does it actually mean? Do you really have the right to refuse service to anyone? Well, yes…and no. Businesses are considered private property, which allows the owners to dictate to whom they will or won’t provide service. However, the majority of businesses are also considered places of “public accommodation” which means that their primary purpose is to serve the public in some way.

How does this affect your bar, restaurant, or club? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” in places of public accommodation. That means you can’t turn someone away on the basis of any of the things listed above. More recently, laws prohibiting the denial of service on the basis of sexual orientation have been passed in many US states.

“Well, heck!” some of you may say, “It doesn’t sound like I can refuse anyone service without getting sued for some sort of discrimination.”

Well, yes…and no. First off, if you are trying to deny service to someone based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, you may want to re-examine your business model. And if you are denying service based on these things, you WILL get sued. Second, if you want to refuse service based on more realistic or potentially liability-creating issues, you need to develop a set of rules and guidelines for your Staff to follow and let your Patrons know what they are.

First and foremost, develop a Dress Code. We’ve discussed this in detail in previous posts but long story short, if you make people dress nicely, odds are they won’t misbehave. And if they don’t fit the dress code, they can’t get in the bar. Your refusal of service has just gone from “We’re not going to let you in, just because.” to “I’m sorry we can’t let you in, we follow a strict dress code.” Over-intoxication is another easy out. If your Patron – or potential Patron – is too drunk to speak or walk, they need to go. Or they can’t get in. Boom…service refused.

Some scenarios can lead to future refusal of service. Take for example a group of Patrons who consistently get into fights or harass other Patrons. Management can easily say to these individuals that based on their behavior and your desire to keep your other Patrons safe, they are no longer welcome in your establishment. The same goes for people caught drinking underage or sneaking drinks into the bar or climbing over the wall to get in. If you break the rules, you can’t come back.

It is important to keep in mind that your refusal of service cannot be arbitrary! There must be a reason for you to refuse service and IT MUST BE CONSISTENT. For example, let’s say your Dress Code says “No athletic gear”. You cannot deny entry to a Patron for wearing a basketball jersey and then let in another Patron who is wearing the same basketball jersey but is “a friend of the owner”. Nor can you deny entry to an Asian woman for wearing baggy clothes but then let in an African American woman wearing the same outfit. The rules have to apply equally, to EVERYONE. In addition, you can’t set a policy that may exclude a particular group i.e. no headscarves or skullcaps allowed. This could potentially discriminate against Muslim and Jewish patrons and, in turn, lead to a discrimination lawsuit.

The key is to present your Patrons with options for attendance that put everyone in the same boat of expectations. Dress nicely and act nicely? We’ll welcome you. Dress poorly and act rudely? Please find another establishment. Set a policy, apply it equally to everyone, and deliver your message in a professional manner. That way, when a customer is wrong, you have a viable reason to refuse them service. And always, always, always, explain your reasoning to the Patron. They may not agree, but you’ve shed some light on your rationale and given yourself a foundation to stand on should they argue the policy.







Happy New Year!

Goodbye, 2015. And hello, 2016! We hope that your year ended well and that the year to come is a healthy and prosperous one.

While we would usually not look back, I find it fitting that this New Year’s Eve video is currently making the rounds. Many of my formative years working Security were spent in the doorway of a nightclub. Looking back on some of those adventures, I only wish that I’d been able to record the interactions that took place. I have to hand it to this bouncer for taking the initiative and doing that very thing. Not only that, but he does his job well and – as far as I can tell – makes it home safely at the end of the night.

For those of you who wonder what it is like to be a bouncer in a club or who don’t realize the constant stream of characters that they have to deal with on a regular basis, here you go. For those of you who look at nightclub security staff with disdain, this might help to give you an idea of the work that they do EVERY NIGHT, and why the job is far more difficult than it appears. Remember, security staffers are people too; so please treat them with some respect!

Another night on the Door

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


Nightclub Security and Special Events

At some point during the year, there WILL be a “Special Event” at your restaurant/bar/nightclub. Be it a wedding post-reception gathering, a sorority social, or any number of sporting events or national holidays, you will have to step up your game and deal with a large influx of people. Some would say, “Well, my bar’s capacity doesn’t change, so what does it matter if there is a special event?” In many cases, this is a valid point. An extra 20 women for a bachelorette party usually doesn’t call for a shift in the set-up in your security…unless you are a small sized lounge, the bachelorette is a VIP, and you are dealing with lookie-loos and paparazzi. A basketball game generally doesn’t call for beefed up security…unless this is the first time your team has ever made it to the Finals. While your bar’s capacity does not change, the types of people, the type of event, and the importance of the event will ALL factor in to how you approach your security setup.

Convention centers, stadiums, amusement parks, and even large public spaces generally work from a template. They know their capacity and build from there. The amount of deviation from the norm is usually not drastic UNLESS the event is one of special importance. Think about a basketball game mid-season as opposed to Game 7 in the Finals. The capacity of the venue is the same. The crowd? Probably different. The amount of VIPs? Increased. The size of the crowd outside? Probably larger. And as such, the venue will make the changes necessary to adjust to these factors. Your establishment should not be any different in its approach. While the basic template that you work from does not change, you will need to tweak things in order to deal with the extra X, Y, or Z factors.


Is the local Union hall throwing an open bar, post-dinner party? Or is the local Middle School having a pizza night? Is it Game 1 of the Finals or Game 7? Are you holding your annual Sunday Funday Kick Off the weekend of July 4th? Each of these events will have different crowds with different needs, and probably different levels of intoxication.

If a private group is holding an event, several conversations – and hopefully a face to face meeting – should be held to determine their crowd make up, what they expect from you, and what you expect from them. Oftentimes, groups will hold a party and expect that the rules don’t apply to them. And if you do not explain the rules and how they will be applied, it can lead to very uncomfortable situations. Let the group organizers know who your various team members are, including the Head of Security. And, if possible, get your security team in on the meetings!

While important sporting events tend to run shorter – unless it is an all day Superbowl type affair – the intoxication level is usually much higher. People get excited – or despondent – over their team’s performance very quickly, with several mood swings as the event progresses and sometimes well after it ends. Your staff – both behind and in front of the bar – need to be cognizant of this fact. And while many sports bars are team specific, there may be a fan or two (or twenty) from the opposing team in your establishment. Security Staff should be aware of opposing fans and provide them with extra help/separation if needed. DO NOT allow your Security Staff to “pick a team”. This can lead to a lot of issues, especially if you have to separate the fans as the day progresses or at the end of the event.

Events like Halloween or the 4th of July will take some extra planning as they tend to bring with them increased intoxication levels and a “free for all” attitude from your Patrons. On days like this it it important to remember that your rules have not changed. All of the laws and liabilities still exist regardless of the fact that your Patrons are in costume or celebrating “Independence”. Over intoxication is still a problem and under age drinking is still illegal, no matter what type of event or its scale.


Your location may be throwing a Young Professionals Happy Hour which is follow closely by the Pipefitters Local 158 Open Bar Get Together. Can anyone say conflict of interest? Not to say that these groups won’t get along, but you need to be aware of the fact that they might not. If you have a way to separate very disparate groups, do it. Your best bet is to hold very different events on completely separate days. But this is not always possible so be aware of who will be in your bar when, and plan accordingly. Sometimes even an hour of time between one event ending and another beginning will be enough to create space.

Again, this can come down to a simple conversation with the event organizers. “Just so you know, such and such a group will be holding an event on the same day. Will this be an issue for you?” If it is an issue, see if it can be resolved via time management or physical separation. Maybe you put the Young Professionals on the 3rd floor or require a wristband to access their area of the establishment.


Chances are, you have a set Security Staff and the numbers don’t fluctuate. The reality of special events is that you may need your Staffers to work longer hours than they are accustomed to. If this is the case, do your best to stagger the arrival and break times of whoever is working the event. With this in mind, be sure to have someone who can step in for your Head of Security should he need to take a break. Having different, reliable team members act as the “lead” throughout the day can help to relieve some of the stress that will accompany the longer hours.

Should you need to bring in additional Staff, be very cautious as to who you hire at the last minute. Your best bet is to bring in individuals referred by your employees or from other venues (if you have own or know other owners). Whoever you bring in must be briefed on YOUR way of doing business and if possible shown the basic procedures for evacuation and ejection of Patrons. These temporary hires should also be paired with a current employee to guarantee that they don’t act outside of their expected arc of responsibility.


More than likely, you will have some lead time for any special event. As soon as the date is set on the calendar, you should meet with management and formulate a plan. If possible, meet with any prospective clients to ensure that your ideas and their ideas are in agreement. And alert your Staff of any impending events to allow them time to prepare and clear their schedules if necessary. Once you’ve figured out the scope and size of the event you can dive into Scheduling.

Remember, your job won’t change during special events. The basics still apply. It is only a matter of applying the necessary skill sets to a larger group or more chaotic environment. With proper planning and preparation, your team will be ready to meet the challenge.

Until next time…