A Bouncer’s Guide to Breaking Up Bar Fights


You won’t find me condoning random acts of violence in public places, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to be the “bouncer” and step in when situations get a little out of hand. Throw some alcohol and testosterone into a room, and sooner or later someone’s going to want to take it outside.

If you’re one hell of a civic-minded guy and want to add “bar brawl de-fuser” to your list of boy-scout skills, here are some pointers for breaking up bar fights.

Code Yellow: Step in before it’s too late

A fight usually breaks out as a last resort. But along the way, there are plenty of dirty looks, insults or passes at somebody else’s girlfriend to guess where something is headed.

It’s easy to sense when someone crosses the line and friendly banter drifts into something more serious. Actively step in here with some well-placed humor, and you could spare everyone a few scrapes or black eyes.

Be calm, relieve some of the tension verbally, and suggest everyone takes a step back – ask the person who’s getting riled to step out for some air with you or call for the check.

Code Orange: De-escalate

Bouncers, God bless ‘em, know precisely what to look for when it comes to bar fights: they know that belligerent gleam in a drunk patron’s eyes, the swagger, the first movements that suggest someone is looking for trouble.

In fact, it’s before anyone’s thrown a punch that bouncers do most of their work.

If you’re in the position of playing peacekeeper, your work begins before people tear into each other. As the diffuser of a situation that’s gotten out of hand, your best bet is to see where things are going and separate the two – even getting someone to leave the room entirely if possible.

If things are looking more serious, step physically between the two trouble makers, turning to face the one who seems to be instigating things. Ask someone nearby to remove the other person or get them to cool off somewhere else.

Code Red: Break it up

Maybe it happened so quickly it took everybody by surprise. Maybe you didn’t have time to talk the fighters down or get people to sober up and take a breather. But now there’s a full-scale brawl underway, and the place resembles a fisticuff in an old Western.

And you?

The best thing is to go into damage control mode: you need to minimize the damage being done in front of you without incurring any yourself.

First, identify the angriest/most aggressive party and focus on them. Grab him from behind and pry him off by wedging your arm under his and grabbing firmly behind his neck. Grab his other arm and pin it behind him, your goal is to get him out of attack mode as quickly as possible. Hopefully, you have backup – get your friends to remove the other party and hold your guy firmly till he calms down.

Avoid throwing your punches at all costs and use only as much force as you need to stop the fight. Restrain him too eagerly, and you could find yourself the next target.

Clean up

If you’re in a public place, it might fall on you to make your apologies and get the hell out of there before the bar staff decides to get unfriendly. Keep things as calm as possible, and try to get the troublemakers to leave separately. There’s usually no point in a discussion once everyone’s already hot-headed – pay for your drinks and call it an evening.

You can address the topic of anger management over your hangover breakfast in the morning…