A bouncer or doorman is an informal term for security guards employed at venues such as bars, nightclubs or concerts to provide security, check legal age, and refuse entry to a venue based on criteria such as intoxication, aggressive behaviour, or other standards. Bouncers are often required where crowd size, clientèle or alcohol consumption may make arguments or fights commonplace.
Other terms used may be 'door staff', 'floor staff', and 'door supervisor' (in the UK). Such terms are more precise than generic terms like 'security guard' or 'security officer' insofar as they describe the main location of duty. In the Australian security industry, the official term for such an individual is 'crowd controller'.
In the US, civil liability and court costs related to the use of force by bouncers are "the highest preventable loss found within the [bar] industry..." and other countries have found similar issues related to the excessive use of force. Studies suggest that one of the reasons that some bouncers emphasize physical force is their self image as a strongly masculine group, which requires them to respond to aggression in violent ways. In many countries, federal or state governments have taken steps to professionalize the industry by requiring bouncers to have training, licencing, and/or a criminal record background check.
A bouncer's primary task is to keep underage, intoxicated, aggressive, and otherwise disqualified individuals from entering an establishment. Some clubs also require their bouncers to screen clients based on race or cultural group, which may contravene anti-discrimination laws in many Western countries. In some clubs, bouncers use metal detectors and body searches to prevent patrons from bringing potentially dangerous and illegal items, such as drugs and weapons, into the club. A secondary role often includes the monitoring of behaviour of patrons to ensure that club rules and alcohol regulations are adhered to. Bouncers also ensure that patrons do not damage the bar or venue's property and furnishings. Also, bouncers must generally resolve conflict within the establishment, which may involve verbal warnings to rule-breakers, separating individuals and groups, or ensuring that troublemakers (i.e. those who become too disorderly, intoxicated, or argumentative) leave the venue.
Bouncers can also be responsible for collecting an entry fee, or "cover" and checking for identification (especially in regard to the legal age of customers for entry and alcohol consumption). In some venues, bouncers may have the subjective task of "separating the 'in-crowd' from the 'out-crowd' based on the patrons' style of dress and grooming, a practice popularised by Studio 54, a 1970s discotheque. Bouncers may also escort employees (particularly female staff) to and from the venue, and in rare cases, may act as bodyguards for VIPs, celebrities, or management within the venue.
The increasing availability of affordable and reliable security and safety devices has engendered some changes in the profession over the decades. Bouncers have made increasing use of "...technology such as walkie-talkies and security cameras". Some venues equip their staff with in-ear walkie-talkies to stay in contact. A small number of bars also use digital cameras connected to biometric devices such as facial recognition software to alert staff to the presence of known troublemakers and individuals that have been barred from the venue, or possibly even from other venues.
A security supervisor (also called a "head bouncer" or "cooler") is an employee who oversees the security for a venue and supervises bouncers and other security staff. Security supervisors are usually security staff members with many years of experience and good conflict resolution skills. A security supervisor's primary function is to organize and support security personnel and ensure the maximum level of safety for his/her staff and customers.
Security supervisors will often patrol all sections of a venue, resolving potential problems and closely monitoring customer behaviour such as speech, level of alcohol consumption and body language in an attempt to pinpoint potentially dangerous individuals or groups. He/she may also handle customer complaints, improper conduct of staff (especially those in security, but potentially also those with access to money) as well as supervise training of new bouncers and security staff. Both bouncers and supervisors will often act as intermediaries between venue management and law-enforcement or emergency services personnel.
Although movies such as the 1989 film Road House have created a stereotype of bouncers as thuggish brutes, a good bouncer requires more than just physical qualities such as strength and size: "The best bouncers don’t "bounce" anyone... they talk to people" (and remind them of the venue rules). An ability to judge and communicate well with people will reduce the need for physical intervention, while a steady personality will prevent the bouncer from being easily provoked by customers. Bouncers also profit from good written communication skills, because they are often required to document assaults in an incident log or using an incident form. Well-kept incident logs can "cover the employee's back" if criminal charges or a lawsuit later arise from an incident.
British research from the 1990s indicates that a major part of both the group identity and the job satisfaction of bouncers is related to their self image as a strongly masculine person who is capable of dealing with and dealing out, violence; their employment income plays a lesser role in their job satisfaction. Bouncer subculture is strongly influenced by perceptions of honour and shame, a typical characteristic of groups that are constantly in the public eye. Factors in enjoying work as a bouncer were also found in the general prestige and respect that was accorded to bouncers, sometimes bordering on hero worship. The cameraderie between bouncers (even of different clubs), as well as the ability to work "in the moment" and outside of the drudgery of typical jobs were also often cited.
The same research has also indicated that the decisions made by bouncers, while seeming haphazard to an outsider, often have a basis in rational logic. The decision to turn certain customers away at the door because of too casual clothing is for example often based on the perception that the person will be more willing to fight (compared to someone dressed in expensive attire). Many similar decisions taken by a bouncer during the course of a night are also being described as based on experience rather than just personality.
Movies often depict bouncers physically throwing patrons out of clubs and restraining drunk customers with headlocks, which has led to a popular misconception that bouncers have (or reserve) the right to use physical force freely. However, in many countries bouncers have no legal authority to use physical force more freely than any other civilian - meaning they are restricted to reasonable levels of force used in self defense, to eject drunk or aggressive patrons refusing to leave a venue, or when restraining a patron who has committed an offense until police arrive. Lawsuits are possible if injuries occur, even if the patron was drunk or using aggressive language.
With civil liability and court costs related to the use of force as "the highest preventable loss found within the industry..." (US) and bars being "sued more often for using unnecessary or excessive force than for any other reason" (Canada), substantial costs may be incurred by indiscriminate violence against patrons - though this depends heavily on the laws and customs of the country. In Australia, the number of complaints and lawsuits against venues due to the behaviour of their bouncers has been credited with turning many establishments to using former police officers to head their in-house security, instead of hiring private firms.
According to statistical research in Canada, bouncers are as likely to face physical violence in their work as urban-area police officers. The research also found that the likelihood of such encounters increased (with statistical significance) with the number of years the bouncer had worked in the profession. Despite popular misconceptions, bouncers in Western countries are normally unarmed. Some bouncers may carry weapons such as expandable batons for personal protection, but they may not have a legal right to carry a gun or other weapon even if they would prefer to do so.
Use of force training programs teach bouncers ways to avoid using force and explain what types of force are considered allowable by the courts. Some bars have gone so far as to institute barring physical contact, where bouncers are instructed to ask a drunk or disorderly patron to leave - if the patron refuses, the bouncers call police. However, if a pub calls the police too frequently, it can reflect badly on the pub when it comes time to renew the venue's liquor licence.
Another strategy used in some bars is to hire smaller or women bouncers, because they may be better able to defuse conflicts than large, intimidating bouncers. The more 'impressive' bouncers, in the often tense environments they are supposed to supervise, are also often challenged by aggressive males that want to prove their own machismo. Large and intimidating bouncers, whilst providing the appearance of strong security and a safe environment, may very well drive customers away in cases where a family-friendly environment or less obvious security staff are desired. Such incidents are much less likely if the bouncer is less visibly dominant or is female.
In Australia, for example, women comprise almost 20% of the security industry and increasingly work the door as well, using "a smile, chat and a friendly but firm demeanor" to resolve tense situations. Nearly one in nine of Britain's nightclub bouncers are also women, with the UK's 2003 Licensing Act giving the authorities "discretionary power to withhold a venue's licence if it does not employ female door staff." This is credited with having "opened the door for women to enter the profession." Female security staff, apart from having fewer problems searching female patrons for drugs or weapons, and being able to enter wash rooms to check for illegal activities, are also considered as better able to deal with drunk or aggressive women.
In Alberta, bar and nightclub security staff will have to take a new, government-run training course on correct bouncer behaviour and skills before the end of 2008. The six-hour 'ProTect' course will, among other subjects, teach staff to identify conflicts before they become violent, and how to defuse situations without resorting to force.
In Ontario, courts have ruled that "a tavern owes a twofold duty of care to its patrons. It must ensure that it does not serve alcohol which would apparently intoxicate or increase the patron's intoxication. As well, it must take positive steps to protect patrons and others from the dangers of intoxication." Regarding the second requirement of protecting patrons, the law holds that "customers cannot be ejected from your premises if doing so would put them in danger [e.g., due to the patron's intoxication]. Bars can be held liable for ejecting a customer who they know, or should know, is at risk of injury by being ejected."
In Ontario, bartenders and servers have to have completed the Smart Serve Training Program, which teaches them to recognise the signs of intoxication. The Smart Serve program is also recommended for other staff in bars who have contact with potentially intoxicated patrons, such as bouncers, coat check staff, and valets. The Smart Serve certification program encourages bars to keep Incident Reporting Logs, to use as evidence if an incident gets to court. With the August 2007 Private Security and Investigative Services Act, Ontario law also requires security industry workers, including bouncers to be licensed.
Singapore requires all bouncers to undergo a background check and attend a 5-day 'National Skills Recognition System' course for security staff. However, many of the more professional security companies (and larger venues with their own dedicated security staff) have noted that the course is insufficient for the specific requirements of a bouncer and provide their own additional training.
In the UK, bouncers (called 'door supervisors') must hold a license from the Security Industry Authority. The training for a door supervisor licence takes 30 hours, and includes issues such as behaviour, conflict management, civil and criminal law, searching and arrest procedures, drug awareness, recording of incidents and crime scene preservation, licensing law, equal opportunities and discrimination, health and safety at work, and emergency procedures. One current provider of training is the British Institute of Innkeeping Awarding Body.
Requirements for bouncers vary from state to state, with some examples being:
In California, Senate Bill 194 requires any bouncer or bar security guard to be registered with the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. These guards must also complete a criminal background check, including submitting their fingerprints to the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Californians must undertake the "Skills Training Course for Security Guards" before receiving a security licence. Further courses allow for qualified security personnel to carry batons upon completion of training.
In New York State, it is illegal for a bar owner to knowingly hire a felon for a bouncer position; however, the law has a limited value, because bar owners are not required to do background checks on their bouncers.
"...have been observed to initiate fights or further encourage them on several occasions. Many seem poorly trained, obsessed with their own machismo, and relate badly to groups of male strangers. Some of them appear to regard their employment as giving them a licence to assault people. This may be encouraged by management adherence to a repressive model of supervision of patrons ("if they play up, thump 'em"), which in fact does not reduce trouble, and exacerbates an already hostile and aggressive situation. In practice many bouncers are not well managed in their work, and appear to be given a job autonomy and discretion that they cannot handle well."
A 1998 article "Responses by Security Staff to Aggressive Incidents in Public Settings" in the Journal of Drug Issues examined 182 violent incidents involving crowd controllers (bouncers) that occurred in bars in Toronto, Canada. The study indicated that in 12% of the incidents the bouncers had good responses, in 20% of the incidents, the bouncers had a neutral response; and in 36% of the incidents, the bouncers "... responses were rated as bad—that is, the crowd controllers enhanced the likelihood of violence but were themselves not violent." Finally, "... in almost one-third of incidents, 31 per cent, the crowd controllers' responses were rated as ugly. The controllers' actions involved gratuitous aggression, harassment of patrons and provocative behaviour.
At least one major ethnographic study also observed bouncing from within, as part of a British project to study violent subcultures. Beyond studying the bouncer culture from the outside, the group selected a suitable candidate for covert, long-term research. The man had previously worked as a bouncer before becoming an academic, and while conversant with the milieu, it required some time for him to re-enter the profession in a new locality. The study has, however, attracted some criticism due to the fact that the researcher, while fulfilling his duties as a bouncer and being required to set aside his academic distance, would have been at risk of losing objectivity - though it was accepted that this quandary might be difficult to resolve.
One of the main ethical issues of the research was the participation of the researcher in violence, and to what degree he would be allowed to participate. The group could not fully resolve this issue, as the undercover researcher would not have been able to gain the trust of his peers while shying away from the use of force. As part of the study it eventually became clear that bouncers themselves were similarly and constantly weighing up the limits and uses of their participation in violence. The research however found that instead of being a part of the occupation, violence itself was the defining characteristic, a "culture created around violence and violent expectation".
The bouncing culture's insular attitudes also extended to the recruitment process, which was mainly by word of mouth as opposed to typical job recruitment, and also depended heavily on previous familiarity with violence. This does not extend to the prospective bouncer himself having to have a reputation for violence - rather a perception was needed that he could deal with it if required. Various other elements, such as body language or physical looks (muscles, shaved heads) were also described as often expected for entry into the profession - being part of the symbolic 'narratives of intimidation' that set bouncers apart in their work environment.
Training on the job was described as very limited, with the new bouncers being 'thrown into the deep end' - the fact that they had been accepted for the job in the first place including the assessment that they should know what they are doing (though informal observation of a beginner's behaviour was commonplace). In the case of the British research project, the legally required licensing as a bouncer was also found to be expected by employers before applicants started the job (and as licensing generally excluded people with criminal convictions, this kept out some of the more unstable violent personalities).
The word "bouncer" was first used in the saloon sense in an 1883 newspaper article which stated that "'The Bouncer' is merely the English 'chucker out'. When liberty verges on license and gaiety on wanton delirium, the Bouncer selects the gayest of the gay, and - bounces him!" (note that 'gay' is used in the older sense of 'happy', or in this case, 'too rowdy')
In Wisconsin's lumberjack days, bouncers would physically remove drinkers who were too drunk to keep buying drinks, and thus free up space in the bar for new patrons. The slang term 'snake-room' was used to describe a "...room off a saloon, usually two or three steps down, into which a bar-keeper or the bouncer could slide drunk lumber-jacks head first through swinging doors from the bar-room. In the late 1800s, until Prohibition, bouncers also had the unusual role of protecting the saloon's buffet. To attract business, "...many saloons lured customers with offers of a "free lunch"—usually well salted to inspire drinking, and the saloon "bouncer" was generally on hand to discourage [those with too] hearty appetites".
In the late 1800s, bouncers at small town dances and bars physically resolved disputes and removed troublemakers, without worrying about lawsuits. In the main bar in one Iowa town, "...there were many quarrels, many fights, but all were settled on the spot. There were no court costs [for the bouncers or the bar]; only some aches and pains [for the troublemakers].
In the 1880s and 1890s, bouncers were used to maintain order in the "The Gut", the roughest part of New York's Coney Island, which was filled with "ramshackle groups of wooden shanties", bars, cabarets, fleabag hotels and brothels. Huge bouncers patrolled these venues of vice and "roughly ejected anyone who violated the loose rules of decorum" by engaging in pick-pocketing, jewellry thieving, or bloody fights.
During the 1890s, San Diego had a similarly rough waterfront area and redlight district called the 'Stingaree', where bouncers worked the door at brothels. Until the city pushed them out of the area in the 1910s, the Stingaree was filled with saloons, brothels, and gambling halls, and gamblers, prostitutes, dope peddlers, and sailors wandering the streets. Prostitutes worked at the area's 120 bawdy houses in small rooms, paying a fee to the procurer who usually was the bouncer or 'protector' of the brothel. The more expensive, higher-class brothels were called “parlour houses”, and they were "run most decorously", and the "best of food and drink was served." To maintain the high-class atmosphere at these establishments, male patrons were expected to act like gentlemen; "...if any customer did or said anything out of line, he was asked to leave. A bouncer made sure he did".
In the 1930s, the bawdiest parts of Baltimore, Maryland docks were filled with "burlesque shows, penny arcades, tattoo parlors, saloons, cheap hotels, fifth-rate movi[e] [theaters], night clubs and shooting galleries." Bars in this rough neighbourhood, which were filled with sailors and dockworkers, hired bouncers as physical enforcers to maintain order and eject aggressive patrons. The Oasis club, operated by Max Cohen, hired "...a lady bouncer by the name of Mickey Steele, a six-foot acrobat from the Pennsylvania coal fields. Mickey was always considerate of the people she bounced; first asking them where they lived and then throwing them in that general direction. She was succeeded by a character known as 'Machine-Gun Butch'" who was a long-time bouncer at the club".
In the 1990s and 2000s, a number of bouncers have written "tell-all" books about their experiences on the door. They indicate that male bouncers are respected by some club-goers as the ultimate 'hard men', while at the same time, these bouncers can also be lightning rods for aggression and macho posturing on the part of obnoxious male customers wanting to prove themselves. Bouncing has also started to attract some academic interest as part of ethnographic studies into violent subcultures. Bouncers were selected as one of the groups studied by several English researchers in the 1990s because their culture was seen as 'grounded in violence', as well as because the group had increasingly been 'demonised', especially in common liberal discourse (see Research section of this article).
In popular culture: