Nightclubs and bars can be an exciting business, but with it comes special problems. Trendy nightclubs attract a younger crowd looking for a place to party. The notoriety of a hot club brings crowds of young men and women who will stand in line for hours just to be part of the nightclub scene. This sounds like nightclub owner’s dream, but with that success comes control problems associated with young adults, too much testosterone, alcohol, and drugs all crowded together in a small space.

Because of this, nightclubs need to have a security plan in place when obnoxious or intoxicated patrons cause trouble. Sometimes nightclub patrons bring outside conflicts and jealousies into the club that erupts into violence. More common though are the patrons who get inebriated over several hours and become loud and obnoxious and cause trouble. Over-serving a customer or serving alcoholic beverages to an already intoxicated patron is usually the cause. By the way, it is against the law to over-serve alcohol in most states. In my experience, most serious incidents develop over time and erupt because the club manager or bouncer waited too long to enforce a house rule.

Customer Contacts

Contact with an obnoxious customer should begin at the first sign of trouble. Bartenders, cocktail waitresses, club managers, door hosts, and even bouncers should issue early, friendly warnings. Once warned, all club employees should be trained to collectively keep an eye on the patron and issue second reminder warnings, if appropriate. Most customers will respond to this approach. Once warned, usually just a look of disapproval will send a message and cure the immediate misconduct problem. Those that refuse or are incapable of compliance should be cut off from alcohol service, at minimum or asked to leave. In practice, most customers respond well to this friendly, but firm approach. After all they are your customers and good repeat customers are the lifeblood of any club.

When it’s Time to Go

Unfortunately, in any nightclub a time will come when a patron must be asked to leave. Management has an obligation to its employees and other customers not to have an obnoxious or potentially dangerous customer on the premises. The question I’m always asked is, how to do it safely and quietly?

If you used the progressive warning system described above then the job is easier. The offensive party knows very well why they are being asked to leave. Most patrons, when treated with courtesy, will leave will little or no outburst. The most common hang-up is about time to consume the last drink on the table or a refund for the club cover charge, if any. If the customer hasn’t been violent, it’s sometimes best to give the patron a little space after making the request to leave and give them a moment to collect themselves, quickly finish their drink or cigarette and move out with their dignity intact. Asking a hulking bouncer to stand over the rejected patron is not the best method. Let’s face it, the customer was invited in and was considered a good patron until bad conduct or intoxication made them temporarily unwelcome. Treat them accordingly.

Use of Force

If the customer becomes verbally belligerent you must resist using force to physically remove the patron. In most states, there is no law that authorizes club owners or bouncers to physically manhandle an unwanted customer unless in self-defense or in an effort to take someone into custody for committing a crime. Sometimes the ejected customer will vent using profanity on the staff while preparing to leave. Verbal abuse is not against the law in most states unless they are threatening or fighting words. In a heated situation everyone needs time and space for all parties to cool off. It’s best to let this person exit without standing over them and once outside firmly warn them not to return in the future. In many states you can issue a trespass warning to the ejected party that formally notifies them that they are subject to being arrested for trespass if they return. In some states, security can use minimal force to remove a trespasser once they have been duly warned. Trespass warnings can be issued for a night, a week, or permanently. However, temporary trespass warnings are difficult to enforce. It is important to know that ejected patrons must immediately leave the entire property, which includes the parking lot.

If a patron becomes combative or assaults someone they must be immediately removed from the premises. Reasonable physical force may be used to prevent the attacker from injuring anyone else including you. Reasonable force begins with holding force or just enough to overcome the aggression and then can escalate to meet the level aggression. This is called the use of force continuum.. Punching or kicking the ejected patron is offensive rather than defensive force and is not reasonable. There is safety in numbers and you should always have an extra back up person to assist in removing the customer and to prevent further attacks. Once safely removed, a decision has to be made about what to do with the offender. Either the nightclub or victim may call the police. If the assault victim refuses to prosecute you may release the person outside, but must require them to immediately vacate the entire property. To allow a known violent person back inside or to remain outside the nightclub creates a security risk and a big liability.

When to Call the Police?

Nightclubs, as an industry, has a bad reputation for not calling the police soon enough or while a potentially dangerous situation escalates. This is because of fear that too many police calls could put their liquor license or operating permits in jeopardy. Some nightclub managers have been known to give standing orders to their staff not to call the police except in dire emergency. Take my advice, this is not a good business practice and sets up the club for sanctions in the long term. See my web page on Death of a Nightclub. Nightclubs can’t afford to develop a bad reputation, especially with the police. The police have the power to suspend or revoke cabaret licenses or dance permits and their negative testimony carries great weight at a liquor license revocation hearing. The police can also be good witnesses to prove your efforts at a liquor board hearing.

The police should be used as intended, as a society partner to enforce laws and arrest criminals. When a crime occurs the police should be called. To do this means you have to run a clean establishment. If a patron assaults someone, the police should be called. If an obnoxious patron refuses to leave the club or the parking lot, the police should be called as well. This is the responsible way to run a business and eliminates future problems. If a nightclub acts responsibly it will not over-serve its patrons and will not allow intoxication patrons to drive home drunk. The police appreciate this immensely and will help you control your successful but safe business.

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