Picture the scene. You’ve picked something up in a supermarket and you can’t see a price. You walk to customer services to ask how much it is. ‘It’s £X, now get to the back of the f*@#ing queue.’
It might seem easy to say that this example, observed outside a Southampton nightclub last week, is far removed from the incredibly difficult job of door staff at some of Southampton’s busiest night clubs but I question this. Visitors to bars and clubs are certainly paying customers – this is shown in the 2002 valuation of the British nightclub industry at £1.7 billion according to figures in a factsheet published by the Institute of Alcohol Studies.
A survey of 50 English students completed for this article found that 42% believed that they had been spoken to or treated in an unnecessarily aggressive way by Southampton door staff. In any other part of the service industry it would quite possibly result in legal action to pull a customer by the arm – a couple of months ago I saw this happen in a Southampton nightclub because a girl had committed the cardinal sin of missing the hand-stamping desk.
Even this last example is relatively minor in relation to some scenarios. Every year in Britain, cases of violence between security staff and bar partons reach the courts. The Daily Echo reported on a Southampton-based example of this in 2009 where a student of Southampton Solent was paralysed by a bouncer at Kaos. On this occasion, Judge Derwin Hope said that the convicted had “shown a real serious disregard for the safety of those youngsters in the club that you were entrusted to keep safe from harm”.
One of the possible reasons for the aggrressive attitude of some bouncers is that some of the more popular clubs believe themselves to be invulnerable – rightly or wrongly, they believe that one visitor’s bad experience will never be enough to damage their reputation in light of their popularity in the local area. In addition, there isn’t really all that much that someone can do if they feel themselves to be wronged by a member of a club’s door staff. Complain to the manager? Not if you can’t get through the door. Send an angry email the next day? It’s an option but only if you remember what happened well enough for it to be meaningful. There is no clear recourse for anyone that feels themselves to have been wronged and in the event that a complaint is reported it is only logical that clubs must be careful not to undermine decisions made by their door staff as doing so can only weaken the security of their club.
It would be completely remiss of any journalist to tar all bars (and indeed all door staff) with the same brush. Some bars have an excellent reputation in the student community for having pleasant door staff. These are the type of bouncers that you can have a laugh and a joke with without any sign of a compromise to the safety and security of visitors arising from the fact that they aren’t cracking their knuckles in a corner. For me these are Jesters and The Stag’s Head (although I don’t recommend getting into a debate on Harry Potter with the security at the latter).
Andrew Saunders, manager at Clown’s Wine Bar, explained to me that he believes this to be due to the fact that all Jesters’ door staff are current or past students creating an ‘implicit mutual respect’. He went on to say that door staff have been asked to act ‘more like prefects than the stereotype of doormen you might see in other venues and on television’.
The key question seems to be whether or not bouncers should be given carte blanche in exchange for guaranteeing the security of a venue or whether they should think a little harder on their obligations to the customers that keep them in a job. It’s not an easy balance to hit – many of us know a ‘cocky’ drunk, after all – but for as long as there are clubs out there that are getting it right I won’t give up hope that others could if they chose to.