What Club Bouncers Say About You

June 27th 2015

Bouncers. On a good night, they are the friendly faces you hug or high five on your way in the door. And on a bad night, they are the jerks who deny you entry to the club or the bar for no apparent reason. When you think of a bouncer (or security guard) you might picture a muscle-bound dude who is determined to ruin your night, assert his power over you, and whose greatest pleasure comes in kicking someone out of an establishment. But ATTN: talked to a few, and you would be surprised to hear that they feel the exact opposite way about their jobs.

What do bouncers actually do?

Believe it or not, the memo line on a security guard's paycheck does not say 'for ruining everybody's fun.' The term 'bouncer' is a catchall term for two different jobs, the door man and the floor man. Both are tasked with making sure patrons and employees are safe and laws for establishments that serve alcohol are followed all night. This is important because getting caught violating any of these laws could lose a bar or club its liquor license pretty quickly.

The door man checks IDs to ensure that no underage drinking happens and may deny entry to other people who he believes may cause trouble once inside. These are mostly people who are already too drunk before they set foot in the club.

The reasons to deny entry are simple. Someone who is already that drunk is unlikely to buy many more drinks (after all, a bar is a business), and is more likely to cause trouble or vomit once inside (making the bouncer's job harder). If police officers show up, then they will blame the bartender for serving that drunk person, possibly costing the bar its license. Because there is no way to prove that a patron was over-served before he or she came in, a bouncer might "randomly" deny you entry probably because you seem too drunk already. The door man is also responsible for creating the "vibe" his boss wants for the club. So sometimes they do not let people in because they are not dressed the way they would like, or for women, because they are not the boss' idea of sexy, which sucks. And instead of arguing with the bouncer, who definitely does not own the club or make the rules, you should spend your money somewhere cooler.

The floor man keeps an eye on the inside of the bar or club and tries to stop dangerous situations before they happen. When a lot of people are drunk in a small space, a small altercation between two people can quickly snowball into a brawl involving every patron in the bar. It is the floor man's job to remove anyone who is too drunk to control themselves before that happens, but for all of the danger they put themselves in, bouncers do not earn that much money. According to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, security guards earn about $11.74 an hour, or, $24,410 annually, although some are paid under the table or are "tipped out" at the end of the night by their bartenders, or "greased" by patrons who want to avoid standing in lines.

What do bouncers think of you?

We asked a couple of bouncers about their favorite (and least favorite) aspects of the job, and what they wished patrons knew about it. Here's what they said:

The best thing [about being a bouncer] is the ability to develop quick assessment of complicated and escalated danger. I accredit most of my on the feet thinking skills and stress management to my years in the trenches as a bouncer. The worst is when I was forced to go beyond the limits of what I felt was safe to subdue an angry patron that wanted to hurt someone.

[I wish people knew] that my decisions were based on an outside parties' perspective on what is deemed safe for the general population of guests at the establishment. Those standards were designed by the club/bar owner and I was merely an enforcer. Lots of times anger is directed to the one person standing in the way of guests wanting things their way... but they failed to understand I was merely a vessel administering the rules. - Steve

The best thing [about being a bouncer] is having an "outside looking in" perspective on the bar scene, and the constant entertainment (and insight towards human nature/rife source material for writing) that goes along with that. Having to occasionally be the bad guy throwing a damper on peoples' fun time is probably the worst. Most assume that bouncers are itching for a reason to fight when the opposite couldn't be any more true. An uneventful night is the sign of a job well done, especially if there is a lot of traffic. Keeping the peace with several large rowdy parties occupying the same confined space is gratifying. - Cory

The worst?... People who wanted to test you, condescend to you, start fights, overdrink, refuse to leave, threaten you, threaten to call police, publicly urinate, publicly vomit, destroy property, smash glasses... well, you get the idea. But there are certain things or tools that will protect you and help make your job easier. For example: You're security working in a crowded club. You get to notice that theres a certain 'flow' about the crowd... if someone is trying to make it through the crowd (say to get to the bathroom) they will gently twist, turn and apologize to other people while making their way through (people generally ALL wanna look cool and not be rude to strangers). The person who wants to bump into people, or throw elbows out, or generally just not respect anyone's space, will be the next person you will have to eject. And spotting this person if they're drunk should be easy.

The craziest? Kicking someone out of the club and seeing them on the bus the next day (that happened twice to me) and I was lucky enough that they were too drunk to recognize me! But like I said earlier, I treat people like I'd want to be treated... usually talk them out the door and make sure they have a ride home. So the next week when they see you, they usually say, 'Hey man, thanks for not embarrassing me last week, want a shot?' -Paulie

For me, being a bouncer was always ideally about being a good host. Talking to people, ensuring they're having a good time, troubleshooting any problematic situations they encounter. I really enjoyed this aspect of it, and the challenge of de-escalating conflict before it gets critical. The worst thing? I would say that as far as my experience in Canada versus Norway goes, people don't seem to be on the same page about what the job means here. There's a mentality here that security is all about crowd control and physical dominance, which is so far from how we think of it back home. In Norway, anyone who is hired to bounce undergoes a 2-week mandatory training program developed by the police force - it covers self-defense and legal stuff, but also, behavioral psychology and communication skills. There's a higher level of accountability, and the field is much less male-dominated... Keen observation skills and timing, not muscle, are the two most important factors in being effective at the job. The best way to know that someone's good at it is that no one even knows they're doing it.

Here's [a story] that still makes me smile: in 2002, I was working in a student club and we caught a drunk young man urinating in the hall. Well, he had to leave - that much was clear - but the club also had a policy of fining customers for this type of behavior. This guy seemed remorseful, so we offered to forgo his fine if he was willing to clean up after himself. We got him a glass of water and some cleaning supplies, and suddenly buddy was gleefully mopping the hallway while singing along to the music - I've never seen someone about to be kicked out in such a great mood! It got other customers going too and turned into a mopping dance party, kind of a surreal movie moment. -Annie

The worst thing? I've been hurt pretty bad to the point I've needed surgery a few times and it changed my life. It changed how I react and what situations I get into. It also freaked out my wife and now every time I go to work she tells me to be careful.

Removing people is just part of the job. I have one goal and it's to make sure that everyone is safe and having a good time. People get rowdy, kids come in with fake ID's all the time and they're amazed when I catch their fake that they've been using for however long. It cracks me up. I've been yelled at, spit on, punched, kicked, scratched, tackled, bitten and thrown up on. It doesn't make them bad people. I don't hold grudges, they're just a memory and or a really good story that have been added to the many stories I have from doing this work. There have been times when situations have gotten really out of control. I've been in brawls and fights where people have been stabbed or where guns were present. It happens. Rarely, thank God, but it happens now and then.

Working this job, I have also been blessed with many opportunities to meet celebrities and musicians and I've seen every band I've ever wanted to. I went to see the Dropkick Murphy's one time in Portland... I had tickets to see this show and it turned out we were working it so I gave my tickets away because I got all access passes. I then watched the entire show on the stage. My wife and I were right next to the pianist for the whole show. It was amazing. I've had many experiences like that. I love this work.

As far as what I want people to know about this job? We're not all a bunch of muscled up idiots on a power trip. I want to go home to my family just as much as you do. It is my job to make sure you're safe, and I genuinely care about that... I'm really passionate about what I do. -Nick


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