A bouncer (also known as a doorman, door supervisor or cooler) is a type of security guard, employed at venues such as bars, nightclubs, stripclubs, casinos, restaurants or concerts. A bouncer's duties are to provide security, check legal age, to refuse entry for intoxicated persons, and to deal with aggressive behavior or non-compliance with statutory or establishment rules. Bouncers are often required where crowd size, clientele or alcohol consumption may make arguments or fights a possibility, or where the threat or presence of criminal gang activity or terrorism is high.
In the United States, civil liability and court costs related to the use of force by bouncers are "the highest preventable loss found within the [bar] industry", as many United States bouncers are often taken to court and other countries have similar problems of excessive force. In many countries, federal or state governments have taken steps to professionalise the industry by requiring bouncers to have training, licensing, and a criminal records background check.
In the 1990s and 2000s, increased awareness of the risks of lawsuits and criminal charges have led many bars and venues to train their bouncers to use communication and conflict resolution skills before, or rather than, resorting to brute force against troublemakers. However, the earlier history of the occupation suggests that the stereotype of bouncers as rough, tough, physical enforcers has indeed been the case in many countries and cultures throughout history. Historical references also suggest that the 'doorman' function of guarding a place and selecting who can have entry to it (the stereotypical task of the modern bouncer) could at times be an honorific and evolve into a relatively important position.
The significance of the doorman as the person allowing (or barring) entry is found in a number of Mesopotamian myths (and later in Greek myths descended from them), including that of Nergal overcoming the seven doormen guarding the gates to the Underworld.
In 1 Chronicles 26 of the Old Testament, the Levitical Temple is described as having a number of 'gatekeepers'—amongst their duties are "protect[ing] the temple from theft", from "illegal entry into sacred areas" and "maintain[ing] order", all functions they share with the modern concept of the bouncer, though the described temple servants also serve as holy persons and administrators themselves (it is noted that some administrative function is still present in today's bouncing in the higher position of the supervisor). Doormen or bouncers are usually larger persons who display great strength and size.
The Romans had a position known as the 'Ostiarius' (doorkeeper), initially a slave, who guarded the door, and sometimes ejected unwanted people from the house whose gate he guarded. The term later become a low-ranking clergy title.
Tertullian, an early Christian author living mainly in the 1st century AD, while reporting on the casual oppression of Christians in Carthage, noted that bouncers were counted as part of a semi-legal underworld, amongst other 'shady' characters such as gamblers and pimps.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, US saloon-keepers and brothel madams hired bouncers to remove troublesome, violent, or dead-drunk patrons, and to protect the saloon girls and prostitutes. The word "bouncer" was first popularized in a novel by Horatio Alger, Jr., called The Young Outlaw, which was first published in 1875. Alger was an immensely popular author in the 19th century, especially with young people and his books were widely quoted. In Chapter XIV, entitled "Bounced", a boy is thrown out of a restaurant because he has no money to pay for his dinner:
|“||"Here, Peter, you waited on this young man, didn't you?" "Yes, sir." "He hasn't paid for his breakfast, and pretends he hasn't got any money. Bounce him!" If Sam was ignorant of the meaning of the word 'bounce,' he was soon enlightened. The waiter seized him by the collar, before he knew what was going to happen, pushed him to the door, and then, lifting his foot by a well-directed kick, landed him across the sidewalk into the street. This proceeding was followed by derisive laughter from the other waiters who had gathered near the door, and it was echoed by two street urchins outside, who witnessed Sam's ignominious exit from the restaurant. Sam staggered from the force of the bouncing, and felt disgraced and humiliated to think that the waiter who had been so respectful and attentive should have inflicted upon him such an indignity, which he had no power to resent.||”|
An 1883 newspaper article 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!"
In US Western towns in the 1870s, high-class brothels known as "good houses" or "parlour houses" hired bouncers for security and to prevent patrons from evading payment. "Good house"-style brothels "... considered themselves the cream of the crop, and [the prostitutes working there] scorned those who worked in (or out of) saloons, dance halls, and theatres." The best bordellos looked like respectable mansions, with attractively decorated parlours, a game room and a dance hall. For security, "somewhere in every parlor house there was always a bouncer, a giant of a man who stayed sober to handle any customer who got too rough with one of the girls or didn't want to pay his bill." The "protective presence" of bouncers in high-class brothels was "... one of the reasons the girls considered themselves superior to [lower-class] free-lancers, who lacked any such shepherds."
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 19th century, 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 19th century, 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 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, jewelery 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. 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".
Bouncers in pre-World War I United States were also sometimes used as the guardians of morality. As ballroom dancing was often considered as an activity which could lead to immoral conduct if the dancers got too close, some of the more reputable venues had bouncers to remind patrons not to dance closer than nine inches to their partners. The bouncers' warnings tended to consist of light taps on the shoulder at first, and then progressed to sterner remonstrations.
In the 1930s, bars in the bawdiest parts of Baltimore, Maryland docks hired bouncers 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 Weimar Republic in the Germany of the 1920s and early 1930s, doormen protected venues from the fights caused by Nazis and other potentially violent groups (such as Communists). Such scenes were fictionalised in the movie Cabaret. Hitler surrounded himself with a number of former bouncers such as Christian Weber; the SS originated as a group designated to protect party meetings.
In early Nazi Germany, some bouncers in underground jazz clubs were also hired to screen for Nazi spies, because jazz was considered a "degenerate" form of music by the Nazi party. Later during the Nazi regime, bouncers also increasingly barred non-German people (such as foreign workers) from public functions, such as 'German' dances at dance halls.
Bouncers also often come into conflict with football hooligans, due to the tendency of groups of hooligans to congregate at pubs and bars before and after games. In the United Kingdom for example, long-running series of feuds between fan groups like The Blades and groups of bouncers in the 1990s were described by researchers.
Bouncers have also been known to be associated with criminal gangs, especially in places like Russia, Hong Kong or Japan, where bouncers may often belong to these groups or have to pay the crime syndicates to be able to operate. In Hong Kong, triad-connected reprisal or intimidation attacks against bouncers have been known to occur.
Hong Kong also features a somewhat unusual situation where some bouncers are known to work for prostitutes, instead of being their pimps. Hong Kong police have noted that due to the letter of the law, they sometimes had to charge the bouncer for illegally extorting the women when the usually expected dominance situation between the sex worker and her 'protector' was in fact reversed.
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 the early 1990s, an Australian government study on violence stated that violent incidents in public drinking locations are caused by the interaction of five factors: aggressive and unreasonable bouncers, groups of male strangers, low comfort (e.g., unventilated, hot clubs), high boredom, and high drunkenness. The research indicated that bouncers did not play as large a role "... as expected in the creation of an aggressive or violence prone atmosphere [in bars]." However, the study did show that "...edgy and aggressive bouncers, especially when they are arbitrary or petty in their manner, do have an adverse effect." The study stated that 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, Ontario, 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 bouncing work 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 bouncing—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).
Although a common stereotype of bouncers is that of the thuggish brute, a good club security staff member 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 protect the employee from any potential criminal charges or lawsuits that later arise from an incident.
However, British research from the 1990s also 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 in the public eye, as well as warrior cultures in general. 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 camaraderie 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 (face control) 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 offence 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 his occupation. 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 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 policies 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 the police are called too frequently, it can reflect badly on the venue upon renewal of its liquor licence.
Another strategy used in some bars is to hire smaller, less threatening or female 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 wanting to prove their machismo. Large and intimidating bouncers, whilst providing an appearance of strong security, may also drive customers away in cases where a more relaxed environment is desired. In addition, female security staff, apart from having fewer problems searching female patrons for drugs or weapons and entering women's washrooms to check for illegal activities, are also considered as better able to deal with drunk or aggressive women.
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". However, female bouncers are still a rarity in many countries, such as in India, where two women who became media celebrities in 2008 for being "Punjab's first female bouncers" were soon sacked again after accusations of unbecoming behaviour.
In many countries, a bouncer must be licensed and lacking a criminal record to gain employment within the security/crowd control sector. In some countries or regions, bouncers may be required to have extra skills or special licenses and certification for first aid, alcohol distribution, crowd control, or fire safety.
In Canada, bouncers have the right to use reasonable force to expel intoxicated or aggressive patrons. First, the patron must be asked to leave the premises. If the patron refuses to leave, the bouncer can use reasonable force to expel the patron. This guideline has been upheld in a number of court cases. Under the definition of 'reasonable force', "it is perfectly acceptable [for the bouncer] to grab a patron’s arm to remove the patron from the premises". However, "Only in situations where employees reasonably believe that the conduct of the patron puts them in danger can they inflict harm on a patron and then only to the extent that such force is necessary for self defence".
In British Columbia, door staff security (bouncers) are required to become certified under the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General Office. The course called BST (Basic Security Training) is a 40-hour program that covers law, customer service, and other issue related to security operation.
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. Further, 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 must complete 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 goes to court. With the August 2007 Private Security and Investigative Services Act, Ontario law also requires security industry workers, including bouncers, to be licensed.
Bouncers must not have ownership of any type of firearm during their service even if they have a valid firearms license.
In New Zealand, as of 2011, bouncers are required to have a COA (Certificate of approval). Like other security work, the person who has the COA has been vetted by the police and cleared through security checks, as well as the courts, to show the person is suitable for the job, and knows New Zealand law to prevent Security Officers going to court for using excessive force and assault on patrons.
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 Sweden, there are special security officers referred to as Ordningsvakt with limited policing duties who share the use of force monopoly with the police, thus having more or less the same obligations as the police to report crime and intervene when on duty. They are trained and ordained by the Swedish Police Authority to maintain and enforce public order at venues or areas where the police cannot permanently divert resources to enforce public order themselves. These security officers have powers of citizen's arrest and to verbally dismiss, physically remove, or detain those who disturb or pose an immediate threat to public order or safety, by using a reasonable amount of force. They can also detain or otherwise take into custody those who are drunk and disorderly and turn them over to police custody as soon as possible. An Ordningsvakt is recruited by the police and must go through a battery of physical tests, a language test, and an interview board before going through a two-week training program which teaches behaviour, conflict management, criminal law, physical intervention, the use of telescopic batons and handcuffs, first aid, equal opportunities and discrimination, and arrest procedures. He or she must then be re-certified every three years. At the end of each shift, a written shift report must always be submitted to the police.
An Ordningsvakt is either employed by a private security company, such as Securitas or G4S, where they commonly work at shopping malls, hospitals, public transportation, or as privateers employed by bar or nightclub owners. But despite employment, their first and foremost loyalty lies with the police, who manage and supervise them in the field. They can also be used to augment the police at football matches and high-risk football derbies (after receiving special training). An Ordningsvakt is required to wear a special uniform, which is similar to that of a police officer, but made out of a brighter blue colour and with slightly different emblems so they are easily identified as an Ordningsvakt but also make their connection to the Police as obvious as possible. Some security officers are allowed to carry firearms, but this is rare.
While on duty, an Ordningsvakt, just like a police officer, is regarded as a public servant, and an assault or threats against one will be punished more harshly. A lawful order given by an Ordningsvakt must be obeyed; otherwise, physical force may be used to enforce that order. Resisting at this point is illegal and punishable by prison.
In the UK, "door supervisors"—as they are termed—must hold a licence from the Security Industry Authority. The training for a door supervisor licence takes 32.5 hours since the current changes were implemented on 1 January 2015, and includes issues such as behaviour, conflict management, civil and criminal law, search and arrest procedures, drug awareness, recording of incidents and crime scene preservation, licensing law, equal opportunities and discrimination, health and safety at work, physical intervention, and emergency procedures. Licenses must be renewed every three years. One current provider of training is the British Institute of Innkeeping Awarding Body.
Licensed door supervisors must wear a blue plastic licence (often worn on the upper arm) whilst on duty.
The 2010 UK quango reforms includes the SIA amongst many other Quangos the coalition government intended to be disbanded, ostensibly on the overall grounds of cost, despite the SIA being essentially self-funding via licence payments. Whilst this may alleviate to some extent the financial burden on employers and individuals alike, some members of the industry sees this as a retrograde step, fearing a return of the organised criminal element to the currently regulated industry.
In the Republic of Ireland all potential doormen (bouncers) must complete a QQI level 4 course in Door Security Procedures. This allows them to apply for a PSA license (Private Security Authority). The PSA vet all applicants before issuing a license. Some past convictions will disqualify an applicant from working in the security industry. The license issued by the PSA entitles the holder of the license to work on pubs, clubs and event security. The PSA now requires a person to have a license to work in Event Security.
Requirements for bouncers vary from state to state, with some examples being:
In California, Senate Bill 194 requires any bouncer or 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 California 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. Under Article 7 General Business Law, bars and nightclubs are not allowed to hire bouncers without a proper license. Under New York state law only a Private Investigator or Watch, Guard and Patrol Agency can supply security guards/bouncers to bars.
Some types of ant species have evolved a sub-specialisation that has been called a 'bouncer', and performs a similar function (throwing intruders outside) for its fellows. The majors of the Australian Dacetine Orectognathus versicolor ants have massive blunt mandible jaws which are of little use to the prey-capture techniques this trap jaw species normally engages in. Instead, they spend much of their time guarding the nest opening, their jaws cocked. When foreign ants venture close, the force of the mandibles is sufficient to throw back the intruder for a significant distance, a defense behaviour which is thought to also protect the guard against physical or chemical injury that it might sustain in more direct battle.
Some critics have noted that the European Union has assigned the job of being its border security 'bouncers' to various non-EU North African countries like Morocco, Algeria or Libya, who are to turn away refugees (often with severe ill-treatment) before they can reach Europe to request asylum, analogous to a club bouncer turning away undesirable customers.
In a similar analogy, some social theorists have expressed the state itself as a form of 'bouncer' which "pushes and punches drifters [people who do not conform with social norms] back to where they are supposed to be"—though, depending on society, some states may be much more heavy-handed and proactive in this.
In popular culture: