How many times have you opened your rope and let guests in without paying a cover and without receiving contact information? After observing thousands of doors at nightclubs, I can say it’s safe to say you have. It’s common practice, but it’s also dangerous to your long-term business health.

When I ask the staff or management why they allow this, I often hear:

“He’s regular here.”

“He’s our friend.”

“If we don’t do this for them, they will never come back.”

“He spends a lot of money at the bar.”

“This is what you have to do in order to get people to come back every week.”

Could you imagine if other businesses, outside of nightlife, followed that same philosophy? I would never pay for clothes at my favorite store, my daily cup of coffee, my hair appointment, even most of my food from restaurants.

But nightlife is different from those industries, you say. I agree that the industry is different, and your guests have different experiences than they do in a retail environment. But you’re still a business. In fact, the lifespan of a nightclub is significantly smaller than any other business, with the average at just 18 months. When you open a nightclub, you have overhead, staff, liquor costs, and other hard costs just like any other business. And when you let people get things for free just because you feel like you have to, you’re decreasing the livelihood of your venue. How do you plan on letting your ‘regulars and friends’ in for free when you can no longer afford to stay open?

Letting people in for free does make them feel special. It also ensures that they will never be willing to pay full price in the future. They now expect discounts and expect to get things for free. And now they’re bringing their entourage with them and expect them to get the same free level of service. This is a major hit to your business from both a revenue and a brand perception standpoint.

I understand nightlife is in the hospitality category, and I’m a huge advocate of making people feel important when they go out. But there’s a better way to go about it.

Here are some tips on how to give your guests a great experience without losing the respect of your guests.


1. Give Free Entry for Information

Have your regulars that you want to let in without paying a cover register their information on a guestlist and have them arrive before a certain time. This way, they are trading their valuable contact information for free entry instead of you just opening the rope for them. Also, you are giving them an option if they want to arrive early and receive free cover or come later and pay a reduced cover. Arriving earlier means they will likely spend more money at the bar and make your place look busier when others arrive. This tradeoff still gives them free entry, but you get added value in return.


2. Limit Staff Comps

Make a process for identifying who should and shouldn’t be comped instead of allowing staff to make these decisions on the fly. Imagine if you owned a retail shop and allowed your staff to give away free clothes at their discretion? That would rarely, if never, happen. Same goes with nightlife. There’s no problem with having a staff guest list for free or reduced cover, but use a system. Make it mandatory that each staff has to enter their guest list in a system with their parties’ contact information. You can also limit the amount of comps that each staff member can give out on a whim. Now you can track how many comps are given out each night, when they arrive, and which staff members are bringing in the most people.


3. Buy the First Round

If you feel someone is important or you simply want to show your appreciation to a guest, buy them their first drink instead of comping their cover at the door. A drink will cost you a few cents, where cover costs you several dollars. This still makes them feel valued and appreciated, and will show them a impressive experience for them to come back with more of their friends. And it’s been shown that personalization and quality service trumps discounts and coupons to the millennial generation. A win-win for all.


4. Be Poised and Pulled Together

Having a digital guest list process at the door makes everything more pulled together. Your guests don’t have to wait outside for the staff member they know to come let them in. They don’t have to have awkward conversations with your door staff about how they were supposed to be on the list. You don’t have to guess whether or not they’re telling the truth that they do in fact know x person. Better yet, you don’t turn away a person that should be on the list and is a valued customer because a new door person is working, or their connection is off for the night. This leaves money on the table and severely hinders that guests’ experience, decreasing the chances of them coming back. A digital guest list process solves all these issues and can help you to provide a better, more personalized service.

When you let people in for free, you’re losing respect from your customers and are on the way to losing your business. The venues and promoters who have proper systems in place not only end up staying in business longer, but they also make their guests feel more connected and have an even better experience.