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.

Nightclub Industry Interview: Asaf Dimant

Over the years, I have interviewed a number of security staff and managers. Their unique perspectives and differing approaches to Nightclub/Bar Security are always incredibly informative. As I considered what to write for this most recent blog post, I realized that I had not yet interviewed someone from the higher levels of management and ownership about the Security process. This time around, it was my great pleasure to interview a gentleman with whom I have not only worked, but who has helped me to re-think a number of things in terms of my own approach to Security. I hope you enjoy reading this interview with Asaf Dimant as much as I enjoyed taking part in it.

Official Title: Managing Partner and Director of Nightlife Operations for TONIC Santa BarbaraIndochine, and Blush Restaurant

How did you get your start in the Industry?

It was a combination of things: for one, I was in my early twenties and I had to get a job while I was in college at UCSB. I was also living in a pretty crazy party house on Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista and I got tired of dealing with the parties at my house. So I got a job as a security guard at a place called Spikes and then moved on to a restaurant and bar called Alex’s Cantina. I did that for a few months and found that I really enjoyed the pace. A friend of mine was working as a bartender and making good money, so I kept tormenting the manager and he finally gave me a shift as a brunch bartender. Shortly thereafter, the owners cleared the bartending staff out and I suddenly went from being the bar-back and Sunday brunch bartender to working downtown Thursday, Friday, and Saturday not knowing what I was doing.

How was that transition?

It was nuts. I was literally searching through my bartender’s bible when people would order drinks. A couple of the guys who mentored me through the bartending process came up to me at one point and threw the book away. It was very much a sink or swim situation. It was becoming a five to six night a week bartender almost literally overnight. But it was exciting. I enjoyed it.

As I worked more, I eventually became the college night bartender and then began to do a little managing. And I started to focus more on the business end of the restaurant industry. Having quick success early on helped push me to want to learn more. And having successful nights as an employee, when things are falling into place, the team is working well, and patrons are enjoying themselves is just a great motivator.

Once graduation came around, I had to make some pretty serious decisions. I had friends who had moved to Silicon Valley during the tech boom and were killing it, and I had a lot of options presented to me. Obviously, in terms of the bar/restaurant/nightclub industry, there are a ton of opportunities in other markets. But at this point, I had several mentors who introduced me to a lot of different aspects of the industry. I started to realize very quickly that there was more to running a bar than just making the nightly money: the behind the scenes politics and relationships that you have to build with the local law enforcement, other owners – and even politicians – are incredibly important.

Once I started to meet the people behind the scenes I had to sit down and kind of take inventory. Relationships have value – I don’t mean monetary – and that value became a deciding factor in me staying here. If I had moved out of town, I would have lost the network, the friendships, the mentorship, that were so important to being successful here. I took that all into account and that is when I decided to stay and start a bartender licensing company with my good friend.

At that point, the passion for the industry really kicked in. I just wanted to know everything. From ID checks to what is in various types of alcohol. It wasn’t just because of the job. I wanted to know the full aspect of what had become an aspect of my life. So using that knowledge, our company was able to reach out to bars and have them hire the individuals that we had certified. I was still working at night at this point, keeping in touch with the downtown network, and that was when the opportunity to open TONIC came about.

How big a jump was it to go from tending bar and managing to owning a venue?

(Laughs) It was life-force sucking. I’d never worked harder on anything in my life. It was overwhelming and became the focal point of everything for a year or two. Even working as a bar manager, there is a whole other level of business knowledge that you never touch. I learned a lot managing, but I didn’t know how to deal with insurance brokers, never dealt with the city politics, never held face-to-face meetings with law enforcement. This new set of relationships and guidelines given to me as an owner really enforced the importance of the security and safety of our patrons.

There are two sides to what we do: you want to provide people with a good time but you also want them to be safe. And handling the duality of that can be very difficult. A lot of owners would rather hand off their operations to other people. And that can lead to a variety of problems. So for us, instead of looking at the authorities as the “bad guy”, we came to see that following their guidelines was actually a way for us to ensure our longevity. It is really easy as a bar owner to say, “Oh, it’s slow tonight go ahead and let that minor and her friends in.” But in the back of your mind – if you’re a conscientious owner – you realize that you are setting a tone for your establishment. If you break one rule, that gives the ability to anyone in the establishment to make the rules up for themselves. Your staff will no longer look at you as a serious operator, they’ll look at you as the guy who’s chasing the money or the girls or whatever.

Would you say that the reverse it true? That sometimes owners will just put the responsibility to their staff and be hands off?

Absolutely. You see it all the time in different kinds of businesses. But in order to manage successfully, you need to create a stream of communication and a hierarchy and a set of rules. You need to get your Head of Security and staff to buy into to what you are doing. They need to be involved in meetings and discussions from day one. This is the only way that you can create the “culture” of your establishment. Vigilance has to come with constant communication. Our managers are really good about having nightly meetings with our security staff. Not just to go over the rules, but also to listen to what the staff has to say.

What aspect of security to find to be most important?

It’s tough to say because everything that they do has an effect on everything else. But ultimately, it is all about customer safety. People come to bars to let their hair down. Unfortunately, they sometimes make bad decisions. It’s our job to create a fun environment for people to release stress and let go for a bit. But it has to be an environment where people feel safe, have a good time, and get home safe. Creating a safe environment isn’t just watching for over-intoxication or breaking up fights. It’s making sure women can be in the bar and feel comfortable. It’s making sure that people aren’t slipping in hallways. It’s all encompassing. Creating the safe environment is key. Throwing the party is what you need to do to make people come back, but if they don’t feel safe they won’t come back, no matter how good the party is.

What are your expectations from your security staff?

Rule number one is make the establishment safe. And then get them to buy into the culture that you are trying to create. It’s important for the Head of Security to look at the club in the bigger picture. That is why you bring him in to the meetings. You need to be able to understand each other’s perspective.

Have you seen a shift in the attitude of/toward security in the past few years?

I think the number one change has been in the form of the pressure from the City to conform to its safety guidelines. By setting guidelines, the City has been able to weed out the business owners who want to buy in and work with them from the ones who were just “fly by night” and after the quick money. The operators that have their stuff together hire professionals and set a tone for everyone else. You could see the switch in operational attitude. If you want longevity, you have to become professional. It may come out of your pocket to have a full security staff on a slow night, but you’ll eat that cost if you want to thrive. So that desire to change has driven a shift in the approach to the product. If you can’t provide people a good time in a safe manner, you won’t last.

How has your partnership with the city and law enforcement been beneficial?

Hopefully, the partnership reaffirmed with them that we have that long-term approach to our business. It’s their job to keep the city and its citizens safe, just like it’s our job to keep our establishment and patrons safe. I think that they appreciate a serious approach to running an establishment. And by default, being serious can help you to have good, in-depth conversations with them about safety on the whole. You want to build a partnership with them. No matter what, they are going to check in on us, but our discussions are built on resolving issues that are good for the town and nightlife in this town as a whole.

At some point, you have to move past “What is best for my establishment?” and get on board with “What’s best for my city?” When you have people on the same page – bar owners and law enforcement working together – you can grow as a town.

What do notice first when you go out to clubs in other cities?

The front door staff. Always. The professionalism of the Doorman is what stands out. They are the first person you encounter. Their approach is key. There is always a “Good guy/Bad guy” at the front door. So it is a matter of how well they each play their parts. When people are smiling, even when they deny you entrance, it sets the tone for everything. After that I just look at the equipment they are using to track their clients. But in terms of vibe and customer experience, it’s how the first door guy greets you.

Nightclub Industry Interview: Will Norton

25415_833785100847_3503041_nName: Will Norton

Official title: General Manager, TONIC Nightclub

How long have you been in the Bar Industry?

I’ve been in the Industry since I was 21 – so 8 years – but I started in the Service Industry at 16. I was a server at Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler, a restaurant in Los Altos, CA. I started working here in town at a local resort when I was 19 and studying at UCSB. Right at 21, I became a bartender there. I started working here at TONIC when I was 23, and I’ve been General Manager for almost a year and a half.

Was the GM position something you were looking for or were you offered the job?

When I was first working here one of the owners took me out to dinner and asked me, “What do you see for yourself?” I told him that when I was 13 years old, I saw the movie ‘Cocktail’ and thought to myself, “I want to do that!” When I came to TONIC and saw how things worked on the Bar and on the Management end, I realized that I really got it. About 6 months after working here I got my first bartending shift. And I became Bar Manager a week after my 26th birthday.

I actually had to compete with about 10 other people for the Bar Manager position. I think the reason that I got the job was that I had the knowledge to do it. I’d worked from the bottom to the top. The GM role was more of a forced hand. The previous GM had moved on to Operations and the owners approached me and said, “So, this is what is going on personnel wise…congratulations, you’re the new GM.” But they also knew that I wanted it.

What is it about the GM position that you like?

One of the pros would be the fact that I am managing the main club for the partnership. It’s nice to know that I’m known for running a successful establishment. Not because I want to be a big shot, but because it is nice to receive recognition for a job well done. But the main pro is the people.  It’s getting to know people, being able to throw a party, and knowing that people are having a good time. Being able to give people a good experience and doing it right is very fulfilling.

What do you think it takes to give people that good experience?

Most of it is attention to detail. Being able to relate to folks on a personal level. Letting them know that you aren’t just there to suck money out of them. You’re there because you genuinely like them having a good time at your place. Developing a personal relationship with your customers is PARAMOUNT. Even though you aren’t partying with them, you’re making sure that everything is taken care of so that all they focus on is having fun.

What do you think you do personally to create that positive experience?

In this job, it’s a labor of love. Be genuine! If you’re a jerk at heart, but try to act nice, you’re going to fail. People can sense that. Being a nice guy and making sure individual complaints are addressed is so important. Sometimes it is as simple as just listening because someone wants to vent.

544179_10151862296778332_110240164_n

What would you say are some of the cons of the job?

Most of the cons are the assumptions that people make about you. They think that because you are in the industry and working in a nightclub, that your work isn’t a real job. So they don’t take you seriously. I come in to work every night; this is a job. I just work different hours then everyone else. People give me grief for “sleeping in” because I’m not up at 9 a.m. I’m not sleeping in, I just happen to work late hours. So my climbing out of bed at 1 p.m. is just like your climbing out of bed at 9 a.m. I’m in bed at 5 a.m., so getting that 6-7 hours gets me out of bed later, people!

People really think that it is not a “real” job. Well, I get paid to do what I love. People think I work 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., three days a week, and then go home. That is so not the case. In reality, I’m here during the week, holding meetings, prepping with my Staff. For big events I might put in 80-100 hours of work to make sure everything goes off as expected.

What percentage of your time is spent working with Security?

When I first started here, Security was the one aspect that I didn’t know anything about so I devoted about 50% of my time to it.  I made it my job to know everything from running the Front Door, to ejection procedures, to placement of Security Guards. Now I’m at about 15%. And it is more of a morale thing. Making sure that my Head of Security is checking on his guys and that I am checking in on him. I want to make sure that they are doing well, both from a work standpoint and in terms of their state of mind.

I’m really here as a buffer between the Security Staff and the Patrons. If there is a conflict, I can step in and sort out what is going on. You’ll never see the GM of a club at the Front Door. But it’s something that I like to do. Our Security guys wear black polo shirts and black pants. Having someone at the Front Door, in a suit, relieves some of the pressure from Security. People see the suit and think, “That’s the actual boss, I can talk to him. He’ll help me out” What they don’t realize is that I can also be the “Bad Guy” and say “No”.

How do you think Security has changed since you started working in Bars?

In terms of numbers, we had far less Security Staffed back then. I think that we had maybe eight guys working. We’ll now run double that on a busy night. Our increase in Security is a direct response to increased liability. People are so litigation happy now that we just have to be covered. We want to make sure that we have coverage throughout the club to cut down on anything bad happening. We wanted increased response time to incidents as well. All of the training and certifications that the guys go through now have made a huge difference as well. They’ve helped to change the mentality of the Security Staff.

How do you think the mentality has changed?

Security Staff now realize that they are on the hook as much as the club is should something go wrong. Back in the day, it was common knowledge that Security would physically address conflicts in a much more “hands on” manner. And this is across the board, across the country. It was a mindset and a mentality. Now, if there is any type of physical contact, point of negligence, or even minor slip up, someone wants to sue you. Five or six years ago, Security didn’t have to worry about what happened to the intoxicated Patron who stumbled out the door. Now they do. If that person gets in trouble, we – and Security by proxy – are on the hook. And that has greatly changed their approach to the job.

In addition, Security is now a part of Customer Service. Before they were kind of “seen and not heard” unless something went wrong. Now they are directly involved in making sure that the Patrons are doing well, giving them directions, answering any questions, etc. I encourage all of my Security Guards to engage with the Patrons. They represent the club just as much as my bartenders do, just as much as I do.

Do you think that the public’s view of Security has changed as well?

The public has about a 50/50 split when it comes to Security. ½ of them know why Security is there and the other ½ just see them as the bad guys, keeping them from having a good time. In reality, Security is there to ensure that you have a good time, REPONSIBLY. If every club were full of happy partiers that just wanted to have fun and not cause trouble, it would be amazing. But that’s just not the case.

537585_10151570076323332_1017975242_nHow often do you have to take liability into consideration when doing your job?

All the time. All the time. Sometimes, it’s all I think about. The club will be busy or not be busy. Not much I can do about that besides promote and ensure people a good time. But liability is something you always have to look out for. And it goes for Security as well. If something happens, are we responsible? If there is a fight, are we responsible? If someone is spraying champagne and the dance floor is wet and someone slips, are we responsible? The answer is ALWAYS YES!!!  It is the responsibility of the venue and its employees to provide a safe environment for its Patron AT ALL TIMES!  The lines of liability have increased beyond “someone punched someone else”. Everything can lead to something else. And it’s about seeing those things and stopping them before they happen.

All clubs carry insurance. The more lawsuits you have, the more your insurance goes up. It gets to the point where you are uninsurable. There are so many bars out there that run the same revenue margins that we do. But if they lose one major lawsuit, they’re done. That’s not only a bar closing, but an entire Staff without jobs. People think that clubs make a ton of money. The profit margin might not be what you think in many cases. Many bars are only open 3 nights a week. And they are fully staffed – bar staff, bartenders, cocktail waitresses, expediters, cleaners, security, etc. That is a lot of people to pay. Plus advertising, marketing, inventory, rent, electricity…it all adds up. Without a constant stream of money you can be screwed. A ten-day suspension for a liquor violation will put a bar out of business, just like that.

On the rare occasions that you get time off and go out to bars, what is the one thing you see lacking?

Almost every club that I go to – with the exception of Las Vegas – there is a lack of Security presence. Oftentimes, I am literally not being able to find a Security Staffer when I go out to other clubs. I’d like to think that sometimes their Security is in plainclothes, but realistically I just don’t think that they place their people in visible positions. Consistently, I see a lack of Security presence. I think a lot of clubs are still in the mindset that if Security is visible, people won’t have fun. But you know, if you train your Staffers to be proficient in customer service, people will see them as helpful and not threatening. Letting people know that Security are there as representatives of the club and not just there to tell you, “No.” works really well.  Running a nightclub is a customer service/hospitality-based job.  The only time you don’t let some do something is when it can affect the safety of the Patron or the safety of the club.  And when you do say “No”, you do it in the nicest way possible without antagonizing or instigating a reaction out of them.  Those will come out naturally.

Any advice?

The one piece of advice that I would give to anyone in the Bar Industry: let it be known to the Upper Management and the Owners that you want more from your job. Otherwise they are going to think that you are happy where you’re at and keep you there. Let them know what you want.  Communication is key!

 

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.

Nightclub Industry Interview: Brennan Titus

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.

How long have you worked in the Industry?

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.

"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."

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.

You bet.

Nightclub Industry Interview: Shaun Lager

Shaun Lager is a Bar and Nightclub Industry veteran and current Head of Security for EOS Lounge. He is also the creator of the ID Sleuth, which I recently reviewed. I had the opportunity to sit with Mr. Lager, discuss the current state of Nightclub Security, and get his take on where Security is now compared to when he began in the 1990’s.

How long have you worked in the Bar and Nightclub Industry?

12 years so far.  I started at an all-age venue called the Yucatan. It was gigantic, with a basement, a middle level, and an upper level. Live bands and music. I started bouncing without any prior experience. I just needed the money and I couldn’t bartend because I wasn’t 21 yet. I also did some bar backing for a little more cash, and when I turned 21, started bartending. But I would still work as a bouncer for the bigger shows. By the end of my stint there I wasn’t necessarily the Head of Security, but was more of the “right hand man”.  When it closed, I went to a placed called “Q’s” and did a couple of “tours”, as I like to call them.

How has Nightclub Security changed since you started?

When I started, it was basically big meatheads asserting authority. The attitude was, “If you mess around, we’re going to thump you.” The police never really got involved and no one got hurt, but bouncers would drop the hammer on people if they needed to. Today’s standards are completely different. More of it is customer-service based. Everyone’s got a lawyer, everyone knows a lawyer, especially in sue-happy California. When I started there were very few bars here. Now, you throw a rock and you hit three bars. With competition and litigation, you have to clean up your act. People want to go where they are treated properly, not where they get thumped.

With more emphasis being placed on customer-service, do you think Security has improved in clubs?

I do, for several different reasons. For one, we have more technology now. We didn’t have camera systems or radios back then. If something happened you took some witness statements – which usually contradicted themselves – and it was left at that.  Cameras change all of that. Improvement is a process, just as in any industry. Technology, police presence, competition, everything plays a part in it.

What about the quality of Security Staffers? Any improvement?

A little, but not much. Most of the time it’s still a lot of babysitting. It’s really hard to find good replacements, even for a position like mine (Head of Security). Someone who won’t lose their cool, someone who can deny an individual entry and still make them feel like it’s okay…especially in a small town.

You’ve worked as a bouncer and bartender, but you’ve also worked as a Manager. What do you see as the differences between the Managerial approach to Security and Security’s approach?

Here’s the way I like to look at it: a bar staff is kind of like a football team. A single player can’t pull everyone; you’re all parts of a whole. For example, back in the day, bartenders were the glory boys. They could do no wrong: get drunk, act like fools, whatever. Now, not so much. You can’t drink on the job for liability reasons. And that effects the bar as a whole.

I try to emphasis to my team that you have to work as a whole instead of just doing “your” job.

What are the kinds of things that you’ve argued about with Management?

(chuckles) I’ve always gotten my way. But seriously, I come into conversations saying,  “I’m doing things in this way, for this reason, because of this experience in the past.” I have a huge pool of situations to pull from, which has helped to form my knowledge base. And because I know management, I know the money side of things. I can say, “Well, this is the way to save money in the long run, or the business needs it.”

Case in point, in one of my jobs, part of my demands were new radios, new headsets, security cameras installed. And hey, that stuff is expensive, but it is also necessary. Fortunately, I can point out why.

What do you think gets overlooked the most by Bar/Nightclub Managers?

Cameras. Most places are busy 2-3 nights a week. I worked in a club that was filled to capacity 5 nights a week. The cameras I had there not only helped to keep an eye on employees, but made an impression on customers. If someone got into a situation, whether staff or patrons, the witness stories were always different. But you could go to the video and there are the facts, in plain black and white. They were really beneficial in slip and fall or assault cases.

But a lot of managers don’t think that way. They say, “Why do I need to see the video?”. Because it lets you catch doormen taking money, bartenders giving away drinks, basic but important stuff.

What are the challenges of an all-ages night?

18 and over night is a pain in the butt. They’re kids. They come drunk, they don’t know how to drink, all the guys are tough guys. And you have to let them know, “No, you can’t do that. This is the way things work.” You literally have to train them how to behave in a bar. It’s the same thing for working the beginning of the University school year. You’ve got a bunch of fresh 21’s who have never been in a bar and don’t know how to act.

What are the challenges of working a city this size (Santa Barbara)?

Your life is an open bubble to everyone. Especially when you add social networking sites. Your picture can be up on Facebook before you even get home at night. Nothing goes without being checked by the public. It’s like a game of politics. You really have to be on your toes in terms of dealing with every situation. It’s almost more PR than anything. If you throw someone out or don’t let someone in who is, or thinks they are somebody, the repercussions can be huge.

What is the size of your Staff now?

Fifteen. Usually the most I run is thirteen, including busboys. All of them pretty rookie, with under a year of experience. But I pick them like that because I can mold them. A lot of places they train their staff a certain way, but not the small town way. You have to really train them to understand that there is a lot of grey area in terms of how they need to deal with people.

"I tell my guys that it is their job to make a big situation small. The job is to make sure that everyone is having a good time. "

How do you train a new guy?

I have the club broken into sections. The least likely section for trouble is where I stick the new guys. I tell them what to look or and how to deal with certain things. And then I move them around when they start to understand things. When I roam the bar, I try to get in their head a little bit, see things the way they do. I’ll ask a lot of questions. See how they do in certain situations.  For example, I might ask, “Is this guy too drunk? Well, let’s find out” and show them by example how to deal with the issue.

A lot of the time, you don’t know what the new guys are thinking or where they are coming from. Are they freaked-out by some guy acting weird on the dance floor or do they realize that he’s just drunk and not a problem? The new guys need to know that people come to a nightclub to have fun. They’re allowed to get a little stupid.

I also make them call me if there is a situation they can’t handle or don’t understand. I will let them act as back up while I take care of the issue. And when I see that they are getting the hang of things, the roles will reverse and I will be back up. It’s all about baby steps.

Do you find that the newer staffers are confused that there is more to the job than just throwing people out the door?

Oh yeah. I sometimes put it to them like this, “You seem like a nice, tough guy, but try to throw me out of the club.” And I’m not a tough guy by any means. Add the twelve buddies that I brought with me to the mix, and they’re going to thump you.

I always try to take the new hires out of their element and make them see things through the customer’s eyes. Not only is that good for business because you are getting in their head, but it’s a good training tool.

And in terms of ejections, you have to make them know that they never know who they’re going to grab. I could look like nothing and be a Navy Seal or BJJ Black Belt. You never know who you are approaching in any situation. It ain’t Roadhouse.

I tell my guys that it is their job to make a big situation small. The job is to make sure that everyone is having a good time. A big disturbance changes the vibe in the nightclub. If you can contain a situation to five people, you did your job. Keep it to one person, even better. No one notices, excellent.

What is your most important function as a Head of Security?

Honestly? Being able to talk to people. Being able to understand the customer. You have to. You never want anyone to leave mad.

Thanks for your time.

No problem. Thank you.