Columnist Gordon Kendall interviews the bar expert from Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue.”
Jon Taffer
Countless examples exist of folks who open a bar without doing their homework because they think it will be “fun.” Soon, these entrepreneurs find themselves working ridiculous hours, stressed out and mired in debt.
They can reach out to bar expert Jon Taffer for help. His work to help struggling bar owners is chronicled on Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue.” I was able to catch up with Taffer for a phone interview recently.
Taffer has more than 35 years of experience in the bar business. He has managed, rescued or touched more than 800 bars in 30 countries and has been named to the Night Club Hall of Fame.
A New York native, he started out as a political science major at the University of Denver, where he got a part-time job as a bartender and became infatuated with the craft. He honed his skills to perfection and eventually owned multiple establishments. In 2010, Taffer was appointed president of Nightclub and Bar Media Group. He is currently considered the world’s greatest authority on bar management.
In 2011, he premiered “Bar Rescue,” which features bar owners in dire straits, sometimes living with their parents or unable to pay for food and liquor deliveries. In fact, Taffer said he has seen utility employees arrive to cut the water off while his crew is shooting.
For “Bar Rescue,” Taffer sends scouts to discover various forms of bad behavior by employees, as well as problems such as nasty kitchens and financial mismanagement. Taffer told me that he has rescued more than 60 bars on the show, only nine of which ultimately failed after his intervention. He takes an aggressive approach, often bringing owners to tears. He told me he has never been hit, though he has been shoved a couple of times.
Taffer’s team works with the owners and staff to increase revenue, put delectable food on the menu and, in some cases, eliminate problematic employees. He teaches them how to run promotions, keep customers there longer, and get them to spend more money. He says there is no such thing as expense problems, only revenue problems.
His team will remodel and even change a bar’s name to something with local flavor. Sometimes the owners change the name back after he leaves, and he says he’s OK with that as long as they learn something from him and are in a better place.
Taffer’s tool for analyzing a bar’s current condition is a stress test. He packs the bar with customers to see how they respond. I asked him how he gets all of those people to come out, and he said that his crew of about 50 calls local businesses or hands out flyers inviting folks to a reality show. While the flyers promise patrons a nice time, they cannot say it is “Bar Rescue,” “because then it would not be reality TV,” he said.
Needless to say, Taffer has some interesting stories to tell.
The most outrageous thing he’s ever seen in a bar, he said, happened when he worked at a very famous rock ’n’ roll bar in Hollywood. On this particular night, the bar was packed with more than 700 American Indians. A patron walked in who had just lost a $25 bet on the Washington Redskins football team. Not realizing the regular crowd was not present, the guy blurted out, “Those [expletive] Redskins!” He was promptly punched, and apologies followed the next day for the misunderstanding.
I was also curious about the most unusual drink Taffer had ever seen. He described a drink called the “Green Lizard,” which consists of equal parts 151-proof rum and green Chartreuse, a 110-proof libation made from 130 different herbs and plants macerated in alcohol. Taffer said some of the herbs have aphrodisiac properties, so as one consumes this potent drink, the person sitting nearby becomes progressively better looking. Taffer has created successful promotions featuring this cocktail.
In addition to “Bar Rescue,” the bar expert has some new irons in the fire. One thing he is excited about is Taffer TV, an interactive online service that allows him to impart his 30 years of experience to bar employees and teach them how to create promotions, grow cash revenues and improve business for less per month than the cost of a case of beer.
He is also currently shooting a new series for Spike TV called “Hungry Investors,” which will air this spring. Taffer teams up with James Beard award-winning executive chef John Besh and “Top Chef” all-star Tiffany Derry. The team seeks out “diamond in the rough” restaurants that have a solid concept but are struggling because of a cash shortage. The experts invest in the restaurant and use their expertise to steer it toward success.
Taffer released a book last year titled “Raise the Bar.” In it, he explains his concept of “reaction management,” a set of strategies to promote positive reactions from customers.
Obviously, Taffer works a lot. But when he does relax, he likes a drink called the Godfather, which is Scotch with a splash of Amaretto liqueur served over the rocks in a cocktail glass. He told me he is a big fan of single-malt Scotch because he likes the smokiness, complexity and smoothness. His favorite Scotch is Johnny Walker Blue Label.
Taffer’s high energy and enthusiasm are contagious. Anyone attending one of his presentations or watching his shows will not be bored. The new season of “Bar Rescue” premiered March 9, with new episodes airing at 9 p.m. on Sundays on Spike TV. To learn more, visit
See the full article from The Roanoke Times here.