Believe it or not, I've had several requests from other (mostly just starting) doormen to write a post giving pointers on the actual job, which I never though was relevant in this blog. Then I spent this evening really paying attention to the little nuances that happen throughout my day, what I look for in guests and in potential situations to make money, avoid conflict, start conflict, and survive through a shift without getting fired or arrested. (If you have no interest in learning how to become a better doorman, I understand. You could probably stop reading now. However, if you're curious to learn a little more about the hustle that allows me to live vicariously in New York City, then please read on. You might learn a thing or two.)
Being a "good doorman" can it can be interpreted into two different ways:
A - He who takes pride in his job, smiling and having a genuine goal to provide excellent customer service.
B - A hustler, who is there to make as much money as possible, by any means necessary.
I find that most doormen start at A, because it seems like the obvious choice when working in hospitality.
If I smile and be nice, I'll make a ton of tips! Right?
Over time, you get stepped on enough. You become jaded and bitter. Soon you'll begin to realize that you're just a microscopic blip on people's radar while they're on vacation. Sure, you might run into a couple of people who take an interest in you, and you might strike up a conversation about your aspiring acting career, maybe even exchange emails. They'll tell you that they'll be sure to look up your YouTube channel, or read this blog you've been writing. But once they're home and back to their routine, you'll just be that nice doorman from their trip to the big city, whose name they can't remember.
That's why it's necessary to take a good look at option B. If you plan on being there for awhile, as I have found myself (two and a half years of "this is just temporary" sneaks up on you), you'll eventually have to learn how to make good money, and it doesn't come with being the smiley punching bag that management wants every front-of-house employee to be. If that were the case, front desk agents would be millionaires.
If I had to categorize myself, I'd say I lean towards B. Picture a gas gauge: "A" being empty and "B" being full. I'm right at the three-quarter of a tank mark. I know some guys who are strictly the "A" type, who do the right thing, all day and every day, make an average wage, and are completely (or so they say) content. Then I know some guys who are the ruthless opposite. Those guys are the high earners who will stop at nothing to crush all those around him to pull in as much as they can. For me, I like to hold back a little. It makes me feel better at the end of the day. Sort of.
To be completely honest, there's a certain rush you get from knowing that there's no figurative cap on how much money you can make in a day. I've worked both hourly wage and salary jobs in addition to this one. Having experienced the empowerment you feel when you've crushed your way to a personal record for one day, it would be really tough to go back to knowing the exact dollar to the cents that I pull in every week.
With that, here's my comprehensive list of How to Survive Working as a Doorman in NYC:
1- Never leave the door
This may sound simple and stupid, but walking away from the door takes you out of the game completely. It turns your odds from making any number of dollars to a stone-cold zero. I don't care if you could have ten arrivals left for the evening and they're all business men from India. You don't fucking walk away from the door. No matter how bleak the night is looking - walking away to text your girlfriend, or to get coffee, or to smoke a cigarette - will eliminate your chances of making anything. The second you leave, a guy in a Bentley will pull up and give the other doorman a twenty to watch his car while he runs into the deli to get a sandwich. Then you come back with your chai tea fuckiatto that you spent twenty minutes waiting for at Starbucks, ask the other doorman what you missed, and he tells you "nothing". Which brings me to:
2 - The loading zone is real estate
Say you're working the night shift and it's dead. Your loading zone fits five cars. A guy pulls up and he's only staying for a few hours while he has dinner with a guest. If it's dead, and there's no one loading or unloading, why waste all of that perfectly good real estate? Know your neighborhood's parking garage/valet prices, and charge them a little less. $30 to park it in a lot for two hours? Tell them you'll do it for 20, and they can keep it there till the end of your shift. Most of the time, they'll hit you again on the way back for saving them from the hassle of getting it whacked around by the careless garage attendants. And don't ever worry about getting in trouble for it. Why? Because every manager at your job has or will eventually ask you to watch a car for them - whether it's theirs or a friend or family member's - to save themselves a few bucks.
3 - Make sure their hands are free
Whenever you approach a car or a taxi to greet potential guests, you'll always need to make sure that the potential tipper isn't carrying anything. Not because it's good service, but because if they're hands are occupied carrying they bags, how the fuck do you expect them to tip you? If they only have one hand free, then they can't open up their wallet or purse to give you anything. If you have to strain yourself by throwing a duffle bag over your shoulders when you're already handling two suitcases, do it. This gives you the opportunity to chat them up a bit on the way to reception, and it gives them a moment to reach into their pockets to give you something. If there's no line at reception, there's really nothing keeping them from walking right up to the front desk agent to begin checking in, leaving you with your dick in your hand. So you need to make sure they're not distracting themselves by placing a bag down.
That being said- when there's a group, always find your mark when they get out of the car. Meaning that if a van full of four people hops out, find the one most likely to give you something, and make sure you get their bags. If it's a family with children, make sure the patriarch isn't holding anything. This is what teenage sons are for.
Another tip - if a group of young women come out, always make sure the most attractive one is carrying her own bags. Hear me out- they're used to being the first ones greeted by men, while their friends are likely used to carrying their own stuff in favor of her. I've been doing this for a long time- hot girls don't tip. If you bypass the other girls in favor of the hottest one (which, believe me, is a sad, sad instinct we have), you'll be just like every other luggage mule that's come their way, and you won't get shit for it. Take the suitcase of the less hot, likely more humble one, and you'll surprise and flatter them, thus increasing your odds of getting a tip.
Speaking of greeting guests in taxis:
4 -If you open a trunk, and the luggage tags are from the United States, any non-French speaking region of Canada, Mexico, or Ireland:
Take a breath of relief. There's money to be made.
5 - If you open a trunk, and the luggage tags are from England, Germany, Japan, Iceland, any Scandinavian country, Quebec, most of Central and South America, or Australia:
Put your tap shoes on, do some serious stretching, and be prepared to dance and dance hard. If you're going to get anything, you're going to work for it, and it won't be much.
Although Australians are the most open to learning about our tipping culture, and are the nicest, most sociable tourists out there. Always ask an Australian how long they've been traveling. It's very common for them to take 4-6 weeks "holiday" at a time, and they usually hit up several US cities during any given trip. If they've been in the states for long enough, someone may have schooled them on how to tip.
6 - If you open a trunk, and the luggage tags are from France, Italy, Spain, China, Russia, Africa, Brazil, or the Emirates:
Having said that, getting a nice tip from an offending country is overwhelmingly exhilarating. It almost never happens, but when it does, it's a beautiful thing. I once got a ten-dollar tip from a black woman from France who wore a headdress. I nearly fainted.
7 - When a taxi driver honks his horn at you and points to fetch the bags, always use this line in the calmest voice possible:
"I'm sorry, sir. Did you not want to finish your job and earn your tip?"
I covered this in the first Doorman vs Taxi Driver, but I'll briefly revisit it because I've learned to use it to my advantage:
A lot of cabbies will smugly beep at the doorman and point to the trunk to unload the luggage, which is their job, when dropping a guest off from the airport. This, of course, has no ill affect on them because the guest is going to tip him what they planned on tipping them, completely unaware that they're not going to carry out the final task in their duties.
Saying those simple words: "I'm sorry, sir. Did you not want to finish your job and earn your tip?" in the most polite voice possible, just loud enough for your guest to hear it, will not only vilify the piece of shit behind the wheel, but immediately plants "tip" in the guest's brain. Now they see that not only is the cabbie doing the wrong thing, but the doorman is picking up the slack. They hear "tip", see that the doorman is working harder and still being polite to the jerk-off beeping at him, and have instantly gotten on board with the man in the funny hat.
Then, when you greet your guests with a smile, having already unloaded their bags from the car, you leave the trunk wide open and walk away. Then the cabbie still has to get out to close it. Why? Because fuck him, that's why.
But, also - this will, nine times out of ten, cause the cabbie to scream profanities at you as you walk in with the guest. So now the guest has seen you be mistreated, act like a gentleman, continue to carry out the task anyway, and they've heard the word "tip". The cabbie swearing at you will only work in your favor. The guest will think, "jesus, this guy has it rough and he's still smiling", and your odds of getting a tip have vastly increased. Little do they know, the shit-eating grin you're wearing is just the victory lap in another round of Doorman vs Taxi Driver.
Next up: The Hustle.
What to do once you've gotten the tip, and how to command respect from everyone who is trying to take money out of your pocket.