How do bar bouncers typically handle rowdy, threatening customers?

My nightclubbing days are long past and I freely admit to having never seen a bouncer spring into action. My frame of reference is a product of Hollywood.

Are heated altercations between bouncers and unruly customers uncommon? In instances of unruly customers, are bouncers permitted to: (a) get in the customer’s face? (b) grab the customer © physically shove the customer out of the bar, if he won’t leave on his own? My guess bouncers rarely get into altercations, and instead rely on their size and the police, to back down aggressive customers. I’m also guessing that, in our litigous society, they have to basically tolerate a certain level of unpleasantness before tossing the customer out, much like a baseball umpire.

What is the rule of thumb in bouncing, or does it vary from club to club?

Nightclub Bar Security

In New Orleans where people tend to get especially drunk and rowdy, they do all of the above.

It generally goes:

  1. warn
  2. attempt to escort out
  3. fight back if threatened
  4. sudue
  5. hold and call the police

Policy will vary by bar and location but they are roughly like security guards and tend to avoid fighting but will do it. They usually rely on wrestling holds rather than say, fist-fighting. Subduing and removal is the goal rather the physical harm.

I bounced during Mardi Gras a few times when confrontations were guarenteed several times a day. Like most bouncers, we didn’t face people alone. We had signals to get every large male in the bar to the scene immediately. Because everything was so crowded and volatile at that time, we didn’t play around. We called out a warning and immediately formed a wall around the person or people and pushed towards the door. People didn’t generally fight back under those conditiions. We bounced more females than you might expect as well.

A friend of mine, a bar-owner, had to carry an aggressive woman out of the bar. Shortly thereafter, he had to go to the hospital to get a bite wound treated. I asked him, “so is she in jail?” But apparently they don’t call the police unless there’s really no alternative: when you call the cops, even if you’re doing everything exactly right, it can get really ugly. (For example, if the cops discover that someone in your bar is carrying illegal drugs, it can get you shut down).


In certain strip clubs, if you touch any of the dancers, you will physically be carried out in about 5 seconds.

Another reason bars don’t like to call police is that the Alcoholic Beverage Commission looks at the number of police calls when the license renewal comes up. Too many calls, and the bar license is not renewed.

I’ve never been a bouncer (one of the few roles in the hospitality industry I haven’t filled at one time or another) but I’ve seen them in action, both from behind the bar and as a patron. (Never, let it be known, as the object to be removed…I’m well-behaved and practically housebroken.)

It depends upon the place; in most well-run establishments the bouncers are little more than ID checkers who spend their off-hours in the gym. Some places, however–particularly dance clubs and the sort of bars that attract high-testosterone males (residents of Milwaukee will know what I mean when I say Mel’s On Water)–hire quote professional unquote security officers, many of whom are actually off-duty police officers to regulate the behavior of their patrons. In many municipalities bouncers are nominally required to be certified a la bounty hunters, private investigators, et cetera but the reality is that bouncers are typically uncertified, poorly paid muscle which are classified under janitorial staff for employment purposes.

As far as actual altercations, the primary goal of a bouncer is to keep a situation from escallating to the point that it creates a hazardous situation for other (money paying) customers. As such, a bouncer will attempt to talk down a fight (not the most difficult thing–the two drunk assholes facing off over some girl are usually scared shitless about actually throwing a punch) but once the fists and glass start fighting are not wont to use all available means–sometimes excessive per the legal definition–to remove said combatants from the premises. This generally involves the use of restrainted/choke holds, long-barreled flashlights/telescopic batons, and occasionally more illegal equipment to effect their duties. Because of the afforementioned lack of training and registration, this has resulted in some notable problems in recent years, most publically in Manhattan. (Ah, for the days you could just beat an ill-behaved patron into pulp and leave him in the back alley to fend for himself.)

As for the frequency of events, and the consultation of the police: owners would like to avoid this sort of thing as much as possible, owing to the resultant impact on their ability to maintain business and alcohol licenses, so bouncers are encourged to intercede before an altercation gets to the point of calling the authorities, or at least remove the contestants to a location sufficiently outside said establishment to claim deniability. Nonetheless, it’s a standard problem in operating a popular house of iniquity, particularly one patronized by the under-30 crowd. A place like the previously mentioned Mel’s is going to have half a dozen incidents where patrons are forcibly removed (and generally subsequently arrested by police for public drunkeness, fighting, et cetera) on a Friday or Saturday night. Your standard bar & grill place? Once or twice a year, maybe. (I worked at a chain establishment where this was a weekly occurance, but it was adjacent to a lousy neighborhood that brought a bad clientele at a certain point in the evening.)

This guy has some inside commentary on the bouncing aspect of the dance club industry. Plus, he’s kind of funny and a decent writer.

Stranger (who is thankful, despite hours-on-end telcons, that I don’t have to deal with this kind of thing anymore).

Sure, Mr. Johnny-come-lately with the information. Where were you before I had to find that out the hard way?

I used to hang out at a “rough” bar that featured a lot of hard rock bands (the reason I went there, well, that and the hot women that they also attracted) and saw the bouncers in action frequently. The best one was also the smallest, about 5’8" or so and thin-wirey. The very first move is always to get any glass or bottles out of the bouncee’s hands. Then all grappling etc. is combined with a push to the nearest exit. Another thing I noticed is once they tell you you are leaving, you ARE leaving, no talking your way out of it. I would sometimes see the bounced outside calmly chatting with the bouncers and seemingly no hard feelings but don’t recall anyone getting back in once they were taken out. Maybe the next weekend but not that night.

Ah the ubiquitous Mag Lite brand D-cell flashlight.

We used to have to provide our own security for frat parties in college. These weren’t parties with 10 guys sitting around playing asshole all night. Fraternities at our school were basically set up like a regular mini-nightclub with no cover charge and free beer - bar, dance floor, sound and light system, etc. Depending on the night you could get a line 50 people deep waiting to get in. You had to deal with drunken students, rival fraternities, underage high school kids, townies, campus security and town cops. And much like a real bar, you have to deal with the same shit - fights, vandelism, medical emergencies, people sneaking in, “I know soandso” guy, cops threatening to shut you down.

It’s hard to strike a balance between having a good time and running a police state. We issued Mag Lites to people on the various door and ID checking stations because 1) it identifies whos on duty and 2) people think twice about fucking with someone who has a steel whoopass rod in his hand. If there’s trouble, you would see a dozen guys come rushing out. But mostly the last thing you want is a freakin brawl in your front yard. Usually you just physically eject them from the house (remember, I can muster up a dozen guys at will) and let campus security deal with them. Most of the time though you use diplomacy more than muscle (especially when you aren’t really that big of a guy). It’s still a small campus and next week you’ll probably be at some guys house who you just kicked out.

If it’s anything like being a bouncer at a real bar, I can certainly respect what they have to go through in a given night. Not a job for me…except the flirting with the girls in line part. Girls always seem to love a guy who is the gatekeeper to free booze.

No dance club experience but a couple years working security at a small amusement park where alot of little hoodlums and the occasional drunk idiot like to go.

Most of the time, security is maintained through interrupting problems before they escalate. See a heated discussion, move in and ask if there is a problem. See a guy bugging a girl who looks like she would rather be at a lagrange point than the bench shes sitting on, move in and ask if theres a problem.

If something blows up where we don’t see it or escalates too quickly to intercept…Pax Romana. You have other officers, radios, pepper spray, handcuffs, batons, and more than a little experience with submission holds and pain compliance techniques. The idea is subdue and remove the offending individuals without doing any additional damage. As anyone whos ever been in any kind of fight can tell you, if you’re lucky, your just a little sore and sweaty. More likely a variety of light abrasions and mild muscle pulls that will bug you for a few days.

The bad guys almost always lose spectacularly and 95% of the time ends with idiot/s in handcuffs on the floor bitching about how we don’t fight fair.

Pepper spray is a last resort indoors since you will basically end up closing the place for a couple hours while it airs out. This kinda defeats the concept of in house security which is keeping the place running and minimizing the impact of problem guests/customers.

I know it was an amusement park which sounds silly but in my time in the park (10 years, only 2 as security) I know of 1 shooting, 3 stabbings, 1 gun incident involving an employees estranged husband that brought the swat team out, and literally hundreds of fights, incidents of serious vandalism, belligerent drunks, etc.

I worked unarmed, but I saw an armed guard draw a weapon twice in those 10 years, both were being confronted by a knife weilding “guest” involved in some kind of confrontation.

Amusement parks can be crazy…

Not really, private business, private property, etc. Play by our rules or out you go. Think of it this way, staff costs money, when you draw the attention of 3 security guards and a manager to deal with you, you stop being a customer and become a financial liability in a big hurry.

I’m now wondering if chest-puffing confrontations occasionally degenerate into fistfights between bouncrers and a-hole customers. Sounds uncommon.

My friend who used to be a bouncer at a nudie bar says it’s uncommon but he’s seen it happen a few times - when it happened with him it was the middle of the day when he was the only bouncer there, and it was a two-man fistfight that ended up with the customer dumped out the door. Not a free-for-all war zone sort of thing, anyway. He says most people, even very drunk or drugged up, leave peacefully when the large guys show up, but that you do need to watch out for their friends.

Depends on the place. On the part of a bouncer, though, the last thing he’s interested in is a chest-puffing confrontation. As a problematic patron, if you talk back you’re just going to be removed (one way or another). If you take a swing, you’ve just earned the animous of every bouncer in sight, and unless you’re Chuck Norris (in which case all the bouncers will come at you one at a time) you are going to be “forcibly ejected”, i.e. bodily picked up, restrained, and unceremoniously dumped out back. Resist with too much force and you might get choked in to submission or punched in the solar plexus/groin/kidney in the process. For the bouncer (most of them, anyway) it’s just a job and a pretty crummy one at that, and their primary objectives are to 1) stay alive, 2) fulfill their duties, 3) grift as much as reasonably possible off of the club and the patrons, and 4) find a way to earn a living that doesn’t involve being innundated with crap music while putting up with drunken, self-aggrandizing assholes and not get stabbed/shot/hit over the head.

I suspect strip clubs are some of the places that have the least problems; in part, because there are very explicit rules on what patrons may or may not do that are enforced immediately, vigorously, and without reversal or appeal. Also, nobody there is trying to impress women, save for with the size of their tips. (And the women aren’t impressed, regardless; you are more of a mark at a strip club than you are in a casino.) So all of the blowhard bombast in the world isn’t going to get you anything but face down on the asphalt and the customers know it.

Dance clubs, on the other hand, are packed to the gills with drunken, often drugged-up jerkoffs (or, as Rob The Bouncer so amusingly refers to them, guidos) all trying to impresed equally drunk, coked-out slut machines (my term…available for use with only a modest royalty fee), all set to tribal beat electronica music, epilepsy-inducing lighting, and a stink to rival a thousand sweating Frenchmen in the Algerian summer noon. So, it’s an environment that practically begs for atavistic behavior.

On the other hand, I’ve been in a few roadhouses in my time–some pretty rough looking places–and have never seen anything as out of control as portrayed in Hollywood movies staring Patrick Swayze or Clint Eastwood. The few fights seemed to be dispersed by other patrons before they could get to the point of breaking chairs over peoples’ heads and whatnot, although I’m sure the bartender has something more effective than a Persuader under the bar and some lovely nastiness probably occured in the back rooms from time to time. Has someone actualy seen one of these mythical bad-ass roadhouses which require a big staff of bouncers?

Shaggy dog story: I was at one of my favorite watering holes–one that neither has nor typically needs extensive security–over a year ago when some drunk excuse for a small-dicked loser decided to intentionally aggravaate the bar staff, first by trying to climb over the bar and then getting into a shouting match with one of the ladies tending. (“He called her…well, a bad word. [beat] Cunt.”) Anyway, the male bartender and the doorchecker/barback/bouncer started to remove him when one of his hosebag friends opted to grab a beer bottle and approach the barback from behind. Being adjacent and already prepared for some kind of trouble (which this party had been boiling up for all evening) I pulled out my SureFire flashlight and gave him a 100 lumens burst in the face, which sort of put him off his stride long enough for both of us to get ahold of him, and without hesitation, pick him up and bodily remove him out the back exit, quickly followed by his troublemaking friend. Then, while I’m enjoying my on-the-house drink, the two professionals explain to the rest of the party that their best option would be to pick up and leave before the police were engaged, which they did with meek compliance. I would color this as a typical, well-executed bouncing scenerio, albeit one in which the facility in question could use a bit more staff. In my (admittedly) limited experience, once one member of a party gets resoundingly bounced, the rest of the party is quiet and often apologetic. (“Yeah, he’s an asshole. He does this every time we go out,” et cetera.) There’s one in every crowd, I guess.


In my wife’s former profession as a court reporter, she did a lot of work for an attorney that represented a very large bar/nightclub. They were sued almost every month by somebody that had been beaten badly by the bouncers. We’re not talking about bruises here, we’re talking about broken noses, cracked ribs, broken arms, concussions, and worse. The defense always included this little gem: “This bar has four bouncers, and holds thousands of people. If the patrons don’t realize that we’re serious, we won’t be able to keep control.” This was used as an excuse for the bouncers to regularly grab some obnoxious drunk and “make an example of him” by dragging him outside and beating him into an unconscious bloody heap.

On the other hand, the majority of the bars I frequent don’t even have bouncers, unless you call the guys checking ID’s at the door to keep out the teenage girls “bouncers”. I’ve visited a lot of bars in a lot of towns, and I’ve never actually seen a bouncer eject someone.

A related question: I was watching Walker, Texas Ranger reruns the other night (yeah, I was bored). In almost every episode, the Rangers would walk into a bar to ask questions and get jumped. They’d kick some assorted butts and leave.

Does this actually happen?

I can’t picture somebody taking a swing at a cop without getting arrested for it.

Sanity check: could anything ever protrayed in Walker, Texas Ranger ever happen? Seriously, this is a show written by a group of writers randomly drawing from a deck of cards which list every action movie and cop show cliche ever invented.

And (although this is speaking in hindsight) there’s no reason to watch more than one episode; like The A-Team and Gilligan’s Island, after one run through you know exactly what is going to happen in every episode.


Just helped you out with your emphasis, there.

Well, there was this one episode where he actually called for backup before a raid. Other than that, probably not.