Denying Nightclub Entry

There are two basic realities when doing business in the Club world: Not everyone can get into your establishment and not everyone should be allowed into your establishment. There will always be times when someone is denied entrance to your club, for any number of reasons. The fact is that there are basic rules and regulations that need to be followed in regards to admission.

The problems usually start when your “rules” don’t fit with what is legally acceptable. Arbitrary refusal of service is illegal. However, if the Patrons’ behavior (e.g. flashing gang signs) or dress (as in wearing “gang colors”) detract from the safety, well being, or welfare of the other customers or the establishment itself, refusal of service is legitimate. (Local laws vary and as such you should know what they are and how they apply to you.)

There are situations and circumstances which are universal to establishments that serve alcohol. Here are some hints on how to deal with them.

1) UNDER AGE PATRONS – The legal age for consumption of alcohol in the United States is 21. Period. Unless your establishment is running an “All Ages” or “18+” night, this law never changes. So don’t let underage drinkers in. Ever. Period.

2) OVER INTOXICATION – The hardest thing for any establishment to do is strike the very precarious balance between selling alcohol and keeping their Patrons at a “safe” level of sobriety. Your Door Staff are really the first line of defense when it comes to keeping your place of business at the “safe” level. Allowing an intoxicated individual into your establishment not only increases your liability, but increases the risk of altercations and accidents. In many states, the final establishment an intoxicated individual frequented may be held liable for the actions of that individual once they leave. Car crash? Fight? They can lead back to you and your bartenders.

Sometimes it is as simple as telling an overly-intoxicated individual that they’ve had too much to drink and you cannot allow them in. But more often than not this will elicit a response of , “I am NOT drunk.”, which will lead into a circular conversation that goes nowhere. Many Doormen will tell overly-intoxicated Patrons to “come back in an hour”. It often works, as by the time an hour has passed the Patron will either have forgotten the invitation, found another place to drink, or passed out. But you do run the risk of the Patron returning.

The easiest solution I’ve found is to offer free passes or drink tickets for the next time the intoxicated Patron comes to your establishment.  This will show that you do want their business…just not tonight.  Outright rejection is never easy for anyone to take and denial of entrance  couched with an invitation to return at another time helps to ease the blow.

3) DRESS CODE – While we have covered this subject in detail in a previous post, there are a couple of things I’d like to touch on in regards to Dress Code. First off, besides intoxicated Patrons, individuals who do not pass Dress Code are going to be the majority of the rejections at your Front Door. And, most of these individuals will take offense when told that they will not be let in based on how they are dressed. Often, “not passing dress code” is taken to mean that the individual is sloppy or low-class. In reality, this is far from the truth. Dress Codes are implemented to give clubs a look, draw a specific clientele, or for special events. Dress Code can be ugly Xmas sweaters for a party, button down shirts and dress pants on Friday nights, or vests and riding boots in a motorcycle bar. The key is to let your Patrons know what the appropriate Dress is before they wait in line.

Always post your dress code. On your website, on the front door, at the entrance to any lines. It should list exactly what items of clothing are prohibited. Ultimately, the goal is to educate your Patrons so they know what to expect when they are preparing for a night in your establishment. In the same vein, your Doormen should know to be polite and apologetic when denying entrance for Dress Code. Explaining to Patrons why they cannot enter is always better than an outright rejection. Have your Door Staff prepared to answer all questions regarding Dress Code with an explanation.

“Why dress shirts and pants?” – We run a promotion every Saturday we call ‘Business Casual’. It’s like a costume party, but with stylish clothes. But we relax the Dress Code on Fridays if you’d like to come back. (If your dress code is always business casual, you can state that the look for the club is “upscale”)

“Why no open-toed shoes?” – We don’t want to risk anyone cutting their feet should their be broken glass on the floor. We want you to be safe.

“Why no athletic jerseys?” – Unfortunately, we’ve had some problems with rival teams’ fans starting altercations. On Sundays we allow jerseys during games.

Again, educating the customer will let them know what is or is not allowed. With enough time and “education” most people will know what the Dress Code is for your establishment.

4)  UNRULY CUSTOMERS – The most difficult and often most dangerous Patrons to deal with are those who are acting unruly before they even enter. Being rude to others in line, pushing or shoving their friends (or other Patrons), skipping in line, or just plain being abrasive, there is a good chance that the behavior of these Patrons will deteriorate once they enter and start drinking (or drink more than they already have). It is EXTREMELY important that when dealing with these individuals your Door Staff be patient and always have back-up.

While there is no easy way to turn these Patrons away, one approach that works well is for the Door Staff to “deflect” the blame. The Doorman can state that his boss “…believes that your group is too intoxicated to be let in.” Again, when preceded with an apology, “I’m sorry but…”, it is easy for the Staffer to play the “I’m just following orders” card. This technique works even better if the group sees an individual (it can even be another Staffer) speaking to the Doorman just prior to their arriving at the Front Door. The “manager” can then step inside, out of the group’s eyesight and “unavailable” to talk.

Is this approach sneaky? Yes. But if applied by a patient and apologetic Door Staffer, it can work wonders.

Remember, the key to Denial of Entry is to educate the Patron. Not condescend, not insult, not anger, but EDUCATE. Let them know WHY they can’t come in and how much you want for them to return another time. Heck, you’ll even buy them a drink!

Until next time…

Dress To Impress…

Your bar, nightclub, restaurant, or lounge needs a Dress Code. Period.

I could just leave it at that and have you figure it out on your own, but that’s not  why I’m here. I’m here to explain the why’s and how’s of the industry, right? So let’s take a look at Dress Code and its Why’s and How’s.


1) Dress Code dictates Environment – The type of club/bar/lounge/restaurant you are or want to be is just as dependent on your Dress Code as it is pricing and decor . When a Patron enters the door, they know right away the kind of environment they are patronizing, based on how people are dressed. If you were to enter an establishment with 25 televisions showing team sports, yet everyone was in a suit and you’d probably realize, “Hey, I’m in an upscale Sports Bar”.  What kind of environment do you want? Part of creating that environment is dictating a Dress Code.

2) Dress code decides Clientele – If you allow people into your establishment wearing whatever they want, anyone who wants can enter the door. Conversely, by dictating what people must wear, not everyone will come to your establishment. You must decide, “Who do I want as my Patrons?” College kids? Bikers? Elderly Couples? Each of these groups dresses in specific ways and will either not want to be told what to wear (possibly excluding them from your establishment) or will want to wear specific clothing (possibly making them enthusiastic about coming to your establishment). Every social group in every part of the world has its own idea of fashion and style. It is up to you as the establishment’s Owner to dictate your “style”. By dictating your Dress Code, you dictate your clientele.

3) Dress Code defines Attitude – People are far less inclined to get into fights while wearing an Armani suit or Manolo Blahnik shoes. First off, they don’t want to ruin their nice clothes. Second, when people are dressed nicely, they take pride in their style and fashion sense. I call it the “Damn, I Look Good!” Effect. People that are feeling and looking good are less likely to want to act bad. It is a rare occurrence when nicely dressed individuals start bar brawls. So why not run an establishment the nicely dressed like to frequent? Heck you might want to open a place with no dress code, where everyone wears sweatpants and tank tops. Good for you! Just remember, more people are willing to dress UP to spend money than dress DOWN and spend money.


If you want a classy, upscale establishment, your Dress Code should be classy and upscale. If you don’t care who walks in the door, don’t bother with Dress Code. IF you don’t want to be a biker bar, hip hop club, or cater to hipsters…make your Dress Code patron-specific. No bandanas might take care of some bikers or maybe no motorcycle boots. No athletic jerseys will cut back on some hip hoppers and no skinny jeans will remove hipsters from the equation.

Some possible options:

No baggy or sagging pants

No oversized shirts

No clothing with athletic team logos

No sandals/flip flops on men

No tank tops or undershirts

No shorts

There are tons of variations, even within this grouping. You may allow shorts, but only with collared shirts and shoes. Or you may allow team clothing during sporting events. No matter what, always keep in mind that you (the Owner/Manager) are the one making the decisions. Don’t let your customers dictate the Dress Code if you want something different. You may receive complaints, but in the long run it will play out in your favor.


Surprisingly, many Owners have a difficult time with this. Some owners consider enforcing or implementing a Dress Code as being bad for business. You did just read the “Why” portion, right? While implementing a Dress Code might cut out some of your intended Patronage, it will also INCREASE the number of people coming to visit your establishment because they want to look good AND YOUR BAR IS JUST THE PLACE TO DO IT. As opposed to the Dive Bar down the street where the clothes on your back don’t matter.

1) What Is It? – What do you want the Dress Code to be? Coat and tie for men? No sneakers? No torn jeans? Sit with your Management Team (or Head of Security) and figure out what you want people to wear. Are you trying to upscale your establishment? That might mean requiring “stylish” attire. Do you run a bar on the beach? Asking people to wear collared shirts might not be the best idea. Throw ideas around and see what works. Remember, you can always change it! What is important is that you point some thought into it and test it out.

2) Write It Down – Yeah, that’s right, put it on paper. And keep that paper by the Entry Door. Better yet, post  it where it is VISIBLE TO ENTERING PATRONS. That way, if anyone asks or complains, your Doorman can point to the sign and say, “Sorry Sir/Ma’am, but it’s company policy that our Patrons dress a certain way for admitttance.” It is also a good idea to post the Dress Code to your website and have it explained (briefly) on any answering machine messages.

3) Enforce It – This is another area where Doormen/Owners/Managers have problems. Once you set a Dress Code, stick to it. That means NOT ALLOWING SOMEONE IN THE DOOR WHO ISN’T DRESS CODE COMPLIANT.  PERIOD. No exceptions. They can go home and change or come back another night. It isn’t The End of The World. I promise. If your Roamers are circulating and they see a Patron wearing a baseball cap when the Dress Code says, “No Baseball Caps”, tell them to take it off. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but let them know they are in violation of Dress Code. Enforce the Dress Code and continue to Enforce the Dress Code. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your Patrons will comply. The Patrons that don’t comply are probably not who you want around anyway.

4) What To Wear and When – You may own an establishment that runs different promotions on different nights of the week. Shift your Dress Code accordingly. What works on College Night, may not on Hip Hop Night and vice-versa. Make sure your Door Staff know what the Dress Code variances are and correctly enforce them!

One of the things that makes Dress Code implementation so great is that it works on a semi-conscious level. People don’t even realize that they are being asked to dress a certain way in order to elicit (or restrain) certain types of behavior or attitudes. Want a raging party? Have people dress in costume. Quiet, jazzy night in order? Coats and ties for gentlemen, dresses for ladies. Test your Dress Code and see where and when you receive complaints and what they are. Then adjust accordingly!

Until next time…