A sad fact of the bartender’s trade is that the places we work in occasionally attract people exhibiting undesirable behavior. Be it the alcohol, frustration over life or just simply a bad attitude, you will at some point have to deal with someone ruining the atmosphere you’ve tried so hard to create and making all the other, normally behaved, customers rethink their decision of going to your place for drinks.

As someone who has mostly worked in bars with no security staff, I’ve gotten pretty good at either talking these people into changing their attitude or getting rid of them quickly and with a minimal amount of fuss. Still, even after several years of tending bar, there are situations in which I wish I had some help with resolving these situations, or, better yet, have someone to run the door for me so people intent on trouble are kept out altogether. Enter the doorman, a great favorite of bar managers everywhere, but sadly not a solution that always works out for the best.

First Impressions

The first and foremost job of a doorman is to provide a welcome to customers by being courteous and polite, holding the door open, give information about their bar or club, really anything to persuade people to come in for a good time. At the same time, their presence at the door sends a clear message to potential troublemakers that the venue for their antics is elsewhere and that they will find themselves out on the street as soon as they start something.

Or at least this is the case in theory: in practice you’ll often find that rather than gracious doormen, you’re greeted by the stereotypical bouncer. Bouncers are different from doormen in that they focus more on scaring away undesirables than welcoming people out for a good time. The problem is that a lot of people are intimidated by large, gruff men and figure that the places that employ large groups of them are the places where it kicks off every night. Although it is hard to gauge the amount of revenue that could have been brought in by people that ended up going somewhere else, bar managers should consider if the benefits of having a wall of meat standing around outside does not outweigh the costs.

Affecting the Atmosphere

Having to navigate one of these walls of meat to enter a venue changes the atmosphere inside. I’ve noticed over the years that often the places with bouncers are the places where trouble happens, with the likelihood increasing the more of them there are. Though this is a bit of a chicken-or-egg conundrum, I do feel that bouncers attract aggression through their demeanor, sometimes worsening the problems they are meant to prevent.

By focusing so strongly on intimidation, they invite the kind of people that regard that as a challenge and may even try and pick fights with the bouncer after a few drinks. Having belligerent drunks yelling in your face half the night is unlikely to improve someone’s mood which then makes it more likely that the bouncer will choose to escalate a situation rather than resolve it. It is a vicious circle that can ruin a bar’s reputation and with it the dreams of its owner.

Middle Ground

This is not to say that you should get rid of bouncers altogether: there have been a fair few times where I myself have been happy to have someone in charge of security present, especially in the rowdier parts of town. To prevent the drawbacks from outweighing the benefits, though, a bar manager needs to shift the job away from the intimidating stereotype and concentrate more on rolling out the welcome mat. I’ve worked with some excellent doormen over the years, and they were often people that could have been great bartenders in their own right: friendly, well-adjusted people who were willing to go that extra mile to make a customer’s evening perfect. Sure, they could handle themselves when it hit the fan, but they never viewed that as the most important part of the job description.

To attract people like that, and keep them in a customer-friendly state of mind one they’ve been hired, it’s best to not put them out on the street where they are likely to be subjected to the weather and rowdy passersby but keep them indoors instead, where they can focus on their job without losing their pleasant demeanor. This way doormen can be like their co-workers, keeping the party going and adding to the atmosphere rather than detracting from it like so many bouncers tend to do.

Fergus O'Sullivan

Fergus has spent a lot of time in bars, both behind and in front of them. He likes to share the expertise gained during this long, fuzzy time with others on the Internet.