Students reveal what it’s really like to work in a nightclub
From inappropriate touching to poor staff training, students' experiences of work in nightclubs is pretty shocking.
The nightlife industry is huge among the student population, and if you're one of the 71% of students concerned about making ends meet at university, a part-time job at a nightclub can seem like an appealing option.
Nightclub hours don't clash with your studies, and if you're the kind of student who likes a party, then it can seem like a dream job.
However, Save the Student has spoken to a number of students who've revealed that working in nightclubs has left them in uncomfortable situations, feeling unsafe and having to deal with unwanted attention. Here's what they had to say...
Unwanted attention and harassment
We asked a number of students about their experiences of working in nightclubs at uni, and the majority told us they had been put in uncomfortable situations and frequently had to fend off unwanted attention.
Selina, who works as a promoter for both student nights and Mayfair club nights while she studies, summarises her experiences of dealing with customers at work:
I’ve had to deal with certain situations when people are drunk and it can be scary at times.
You don’t know how people are going to react or treat you when they’ve got some alcohol in them.
I’ve also experienced guys who’ve tried to touch/dance with me. I just tell them no.
Unfortunately, Selina's case isn't rare. In some cases, incidents are handled effectively by nightclub staff and doormen. A first-year student from the University of Brighton told us:
Before going into the job, I expected that there would be rowdy customers and I’d probably unfortunately have to deal with unwanted attention – which I did.
But the bouncers and staff were always there and did make me feel somewhat safe in that regard.
But many students also complained that they were offered little support or protection from their employers. Georgie May used to work as a VIP hostess at a chain nightclub, and she said:
There were no doormen allowed in [the] VIP [section] so it could often become scary. I used to be grabbed and abused and nothing used to be done about it, as the men were either friends of the boss or people who spent a lot of money in there.
They were never asked to leave – whatever they did – which is why I left in the end.
That isn't to say that some students don't enjoy their nightclub jobs. Club promoter Selina also told us that, despite some harassment from guys, she enjoys her line of work:
I always have a great time – it’s just nice to be with friends and see everyone enjoying the night.
Being a promoter, you're bringing the people to the party. It seems like it’s not much but it goes a long way and you get some good money out of it.
Different types of nightclub work
Of course, not all nightclub jobs are the same. Working behind the bar will be a very different experience to working behind the camera as a club photographer, and not all jobs will come with the same level of harassment.
A first-year student at Kingston University works as a club photographer and told us how her job is very different from working behind the bar, as she's in such close proximity to the customers.
Unfortunately I do get a quite a bit of unwanted attention (mainly from men). Things like [people asking for a] kiss on the cheek as a "thank you for taking my photo", or insisting on standing very very close to me when I am showing them their picture.
A lot of men insist on taking selfies with me. I used to try to refuse but they usually start arguing, and the music is so loud nowadays I usually just do it really quickly, as that makes it easier than trying to resist. They use it as an excuse to have their face almost by my lips, or to "accidentally" touch my bum, boobs etc.
Georgie May's job as a hostess also involved working closely with customers but, for her, it was the uniform that caused the most problems.
I had to wear horrible revealing dresses and was put in many horrific situations [...] they basically wanted you wearing nothing.
And a second-year student who worked in promo at a big-name nightclub also told us how she felt management didn't care about the inappropriate behaviour of customers.
Someone tried it on with me once in front of the owner, and kept grabbing me. However, I was just told to do my job properly, without even being asked if I was okay. It was disgusting behaviour.
Lack of support from employers
Most of the students we spoke to said one of the main problems is a lack of support or advice on how to deal with this kind of behaviour.
For example, the student club photographer we spoke to said she's been given no training on how to deal with uncomfortable situations:
I work for a photography firm which then hire us out to the nightclubs and I haven't heard them say anything regarding this, but to be fair I haven't said anything to them either, as I can't really see that they can do anything.
Similarly, a promo girl at another big club chain left after just two months due to bad training and mismanagement. She told us:
We were given no training at all, nothing was done or organised properly. It was all cash-in-hand and a few of us were even getting underpaid.
Despite unwanted attention and inappropriate behaviour from attendees being such a major issue for nightclub staff, it appears very few students are given even the most basic support or advice on how to deal with it, or who to report it to.
Your legal rights as a nightclub worker
Unfortunately, event organisers can't control the behaviour of every single customer that walks through their doors. Depressing as it is to admit, this kind of behaviour isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
However, there are a number of steps employers can take to ensure that people who act in an inappropriate way are removed from the venue, and that staff are given the necessary training to report these situations.
So if you do feel like you're being placed in uncomfortable situations at work, and your employer is doing nothing to help, what are your options?
Stacey Caine from ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), a public body that helps with employment relations, said:
Employers have a duty of care to look after students’ safety and welfare whilst they are at work. If this is not being practiced then employees should follow a grievance procedure.
The grievance procedure is a pretty simple process that allows you to make a complaint to your employer and demand action:
- Write a formal letter to your employer making an official complaint about the way you've been treated and outlining a solution to the problem. The employer then has 14 days to arrange a meeting with you to discuss the matter.
- If the matter is still not resolved, you should resign from the job and pursue a claim of constructive dismissal, which ACAS can assist you with. This is when an employee is forced to quit their job against their will because of the employer’s conduct.
Top tips for working in nightclubs
The stories told by the students we spoke to are truly shocking, and unfortunately quite common – but it is still possible to work safely in nightclubs without being ripped off or made to feel uncomfortable.
If you already have a nightclub job, or fancy getting one, make sure to give these tips a read:
Make sure you're getting paid the minimum wage
No matter what or how your employer pays you, always make sure that you're at least receiving the minimum wage. Anything less than that is illegal.
Even if you're working on commission (meaning you get paid based on how many sales you make), you still need to be paid the minimum wage based on how many hours you work.
The minimum wage changes depending on how old you are, and whether you're an apprentice or not. Use the table below to see the minimum you should be getting paid.
Age Minimum wage (per hour) 25+ £8.72 21–24 £8.20 18–20 £6.45 Under 18 £4.55 Apprentice £4.15
Beware of cash-in-hand work
It's technically not illegal for your employer to pay you in cash – but doing so without a payslip is.
Your payslip should show your pay, income tax and National Insurance Contributions (NIC), as well as your PAYE reference, and come in either paper or online form.
If your employer pays you in cash without a payslip, it's likely they're trying to avoid paying your income tax or NIC to HMRC to save money – and this is illegal, regardless of whether or not you're earning enough to pay tax.
If you don't receive a payslip you should ask for one, and if you think your employer is acting illegally, you should report them to HMRC.
Don't suffer in silence
If you do end up in a role where you're subjected to inappropriate touching or unwanted attention, make sure you tell someone about it.
Many people are afraid of speaking up in these situations, in case people think they're being too sensitive or they risk losing their job.
We know it isn't always easy, but it's super important to always report these experiences to your line manager or nightclub staff. They might be able to discipline the individual at fault, remove them from the club or put measures in place to stop it from happening again.
And don't forget that under the Equality Act, if you're treated less favourably because of your reaction to sexual harassment it's classed as unlawful and you can make a claim against your employer.
Know when to walk away
If you find yourself constantly being put in situations you're uncomfortable with, and despite you and your employer's best efforts, nothing seems to be improving, then it might be time to walk away.
Although we know that part-time jobs are a lifeline that many students rely on just to survive at university, chances are there are plenty more jobs out there.
No job is worth sacrificing your personal safety or mental health over, so if it isn't working for you, walk away.
Working behind a bar is one of the best-paid part-time jobs for students – read our guide to find out what else makes the list.