When it comes to bar staff, bartenders get all the glory—as, perhaps, they should. They’re the ones, after all, whose names appear on the menus and whose creations we walk through the door to enjoy. But a guest’s experience starts before they ever reach the bar stool. In fact, it starts at the door.
“It’s hard to overstate how important the right doorperson is,” says Chaim Dauermann, the owner of Stay Gold and beverage director at The Up & Up in New York City. “If the start is terrible, there’s almost no amount of awesome that can make someone leave with a good impression.”
This makes hiring the right doorperson all the more important. Below are five tips to getting it right.
1. Focus on Hospitality
The person working the door isn’t just a bouncer or ID checker. “They’re the face of the bar,” says Isaac Mejia, the co-owner of The Wolves in Los Angeles. “They’re the first level of defense for us.”
That means a commitment to hospitality is key. At The Up & Up, the entire staff spends time working the door. Other bars list jobs for hospitality professionals rather than a doorperson. While it may take more time to find someone genuinely interested in the industry, the payoff is worth it.
“An awesome doorperson can even develop their own following of patrons and bring return business to the bar,” says Eli Hetrick, the bar manager at Foreign National in Seattle. “Ours even make drink recommendations to guests waiting, expediting the ordering process. Meaning guests can start enjoying their cocktails sooner upon arriving.”
2. Trust First Impressions
“If you look at online reviews for bars and restaurants, a surprising amount are negative reviews of the first person they met when they got there,” says Dauermann. In many cases, that first person is the doorperson. Some complaints are justified, like in the case of bouncers asking to be paid off. Others simply find the doorperson is an easy target. Avoid complaints by hiring, in part, on a person’s first impression.
“They really should be more of a concierge for the patron,” says Nick Medina, the co-founder of The White Rabbit in Gilbert, Ariz., says. They should ask questions and pass on the information to the other bar staff. “You could say they are really more of a host than a doorperson.”
3. Ask Around
“You can’t really tell someone’s work ethic from a resume or interview,” says Medina. “We look for candidates with consistent job history and certain employment lengths, but that’s always just an assumption.”
Hiring someone who comes from a recommendation rather than an online job posting is one of the key things that successful cocktail bars share when it comes to hiring, as it’s an easy way to find a person who knows the community.
“You can quickly tell if someone isn’t going to work out after a few days,” says Medina says. “So it’s best to also have backup candidates.”
4. Avoid Egomaniacs
The stereotype of resolving conflicts and kicking people out is just one part of the job. “We view our door staff as hosts rather than security,” says Max Moreland, the director of bar operations for FBR Management in Austin. “We want them to create a welcoming atmosphere from the front door that transcends to the bar staff.”
The right person is one who strikes a balance between authoritative and accommodating. “The biggest mistake an owner can make when hiring a doorperson is to hire someone who thinks they run the show and who has a huge ego,” says David Rabin, the co-owner of JIMMY at The James. “It’s better to have someone who’s more comfortable being in the background, as they tend to be more observant and more worried about the guest experience than about how guests perceive them.”
5. Remember It’s Service Not Security
“It’s important to find someone with intelligence, a sense of humor and a sense of style that matches your venue’s,” says Rabin. “It’s a much harder job than people realize.”
Medina has found people with a customer-service-oriented background are best. “We try and steer clear of previous law enforcement, as that hasn’t worked out too well from a customer-experience standpoint in the past.”
“What can go wrong? Everything!” says Stuart King, the owner of Sundry and Vice and upcoming Comfort Station in Cincinnati. He says you definitely don’t want someone more interested in nightlife than hospitality. “This isn’t security, this is about the experience, and there’s no room for apathy.”