Jon Taffer is “The Man” when nightclubs, bars, or restaurants begin their slide into obscurity, failure, and perhaps eventual closure, or foreclosure. Jon has a staggeringly impressive resume: the current president of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group, has restored over 600 bars and nightclubs, is one of only 6 people in the Nightclub Hall of Fame, and is a “Pub Master” in the United Kingdom. He truly is an internationally recognized expert in nightclubs and restaurant entertainment.
When Jon is confronted by egotistical owners, arrogant owners, owners on a seemingly endless steroid-induced rage, viewers often are left wondering how these people could be so stupid as to question Jon’s leadership, guidance, credentials, and planning. I am often stupefied. Then, I remember; “Oh yeah, Jon is dealing with people. Yes, we are often not the most rational of creatures, often bury our heads in the sand, and have behaviors that actually work against and hurt ourselves. Duh.”
“BAR RESCUE” is a great show. The show is great simply for the superficial entertainment value on Sunday night. I do not like to particularly waste my time watching TV. Yes, HIMYM, Big Bang Theory, and 2-1/2 Men are guilty pleasures. However, most of the time, I want to LEARN something. Watching BAR RESCUE will encourage you to look deeper than the mere interpersonal dynamics of the show, and realize how many different levels the show successfully addresses.
Here are 5 Reasons Why You Should Pay Attention to BAR RESCUE on SpikeTV.
#1 – Learn about the restaurant business. I do not have a restaurant background. My father brokered food for the restaurant business, has many friends in the restaurant business, and encourage my interest in the restaurant business. Sort of. My father impressed upon me how hard the restaurant business can be. How hard the restaurant business can be managing people, food, prices, and primarily, customers. Jon takes 5 days and gives each owner essentially a “crash course” not only in the restaurant industry, but literally in how that particular restaurant should work. From cleaning the kitchen, developing a menu, lighting, signage, bar layout, drinks – you name it, Jon is the master. Proper management techniques are outlined, from who is responsible for the dining room, the kitchen, and the bar, to the responsibilities of the General Manager (GM), the chef, the restaurant manager, and the bar manager, all of the responsibilities exposed. And, these owners need guidance. Many seem to have simply no background in restaurant management. Many hire managers, yet won’t let them manage. Watching Bar Rescue is like taking a workshop in restaurant management
#2 – Learn to be a better Owner, Manager, Employee. From watching a season of Bar Rescue, viewers should have a better understanding of a “pour” (an ounce to 1-1/2 ounce serving of alcohol), an appropriate number of menu items, the inventory of a properly stocked bar, the importance of a Point-of-Sale system, and some of the finer details of ordering food. In the grander scheme, Jon instructs the General Manager as to his/her role; “Let your managers manage,” “Pay attention to your floor,” and “Help out,” are required skills for a good GM. A terrible GM is a micromanager, or one that sits around and does nothing but hit on women, and drinks the bar stock. Essentially, either end of the spectrum. A good GM needs to know payroll, needs to know food costs, alcohol cost per drink, and needs to know the clientele. More on the clientele later. The GM should keep the managers on task, and also delegate duties, and handle personnel issues or customer issues, when necessary. Often, managers and employees appear to be poorly trained, especially the bar staff. Not knowing how to make a simple drink, like a Manhattan, a Margarita, or Long Island Iced Tea, or pouring too much alcohol seems common. Laziness seems endemic; using plastic shot cups then reusing them (yuck), not cleaning the kitchen, not maintaining the building, and most importantly – taking the customers for granted. Many of these owners seem to think “the customers will come to us; we don’t need to come to them.” Wrong! Watching Jon change minds and behaviors, and then witnessing the power of that change, through higher revenues, tips, and customer traffic is simply amazing.
#3 – Learn the Power of Geography. I am evangelical when discussing the usefulness of geography. Geography is about two concepts: Site (Where) and Situation(Why). Two concepts. The first, “Site,” is easy, referring to where some thing is located. Where is as simple as a city, ZIP Code, and street address.The second concept, “situation,” is more complex. Answering the question of Why? can be much more troubling to solve. Bar Rescue is great geography and Jon goes into detail to explain the situation of a particular bar. When the time arrives for Jon to consult with owners/GM, he regularly does two things.
First, he pulls out A GIANT MAP constructed from AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY or SATELLITE IMAGERY! How cool is that?! On the map, Jon has identified the restaurant’s location, along with the location of the competing restaurants. Notice how Jon ignores fast food? Those establishments do not compete. People wanting fast food are not heading for the Blue Frog, not wanting a restaurant. Ignore them.
The second Tool of Geography Jon uses is Demographics. Jon looks at the surrounding neighborhood, looks at the composition of the population, breaks that population down by Age, Gender, and Income. Local demographics are very important details for the restaurant business, and often marginalized or undervalued. People use disposable income for dining out. Restaurants wanting to cater to a specific clientele need to be aware of needs of such clientele. Why locate a restaurant for high wage earners clear across town, in a lower wage area? Not a good business decision, perhaps. Jon covers geography with his clients, educating them to the importance of knowing your area. Because you think you know, does not actually mean you know the real-world situation. Outstanding consultation by Jon.Yes, consulting is a science, and Jon has the credentials for a Ph.D in Bar and Restaurant Science, if there is some such accolade.
Furthermore, as Jon often illustrates, the mere design of a restaurant involves placement of tables, beer stands, and the understanding of traffic flow around tables and the bar area. Those problems are really no different than understanding urban or metropolitan vehicular traffic patterns, the scale is only larger. Finally, even the placement of food items on the menu is a geography question. High margin items go at the top, where we tend to begin reading. Colors also drive food choices. Bar Rescue illustrates some of the science of human behavior, why menus and bars, particularly those of chains like Applebees, Rafferty’s, and O’Charley’s can be successful. Design happens for a reason.
#4 – Learn successful business behaviors. Jon fully emphasizes proper management styles and techniques. Many times, owners/GMs seem to know what should be done; they seem to lazy or insecure to follow through. Or, GM/Managers are often contradicted by ignorant or egotistical owners. Staff should always be properly trained. Staff should always perform their duties. Checklists should be created, maintained, and followed for opening, closing, and cleaning. A chain-of-command should be established, and chain-of-responsibility. Managers should always be attentive, conduct themselves ethically, set rules for all staff, rules that also apply to him/herself. GMs should always be knowledgeable about their own business patterns, total revenues, net revenue, food costs, labor costs, alcohol costs. Jon pulls managers and GMs aside and educates them regarding the skills they need to learn, or what really needs attention.
#5 – Learn successful business skills from others. Jon does not do all of the work on his show by himself. Jon regularly enlists the help of other successful business leaders. His wife, Nicole, acts as a “Recon Specialist.” Nicole has experience in construction, design, and advertising. She has an eye for detail. Celebrity Chef Brian Hill utilizes his special skills to document and solve problems in the kitchen. For bar evaluations, Diageo Masters Peter O’Connor or Elayne Duke examine deficiencies, outline solutions, and train bar staff. Jon even went so far as to take one owner to the Boston Brewing Company, home of the great Sam Adams beers, for guidance.
Jon often seems to care more for the restaurant than the actual owners, which I often find incredible. He fights for the success of establishments to the same extent owners “fight for mediocrity.” Owners and GMs whine and moan about falling revenues, yet fight against change, fight to keep failing. The interpersonal dynamics make the show fascinating to watch. Obviously, part of the Human Condition is we get worn-out, crushed by failure, or by tragic circumstance. Jon, his expertise, and his team of experts, can help people rebuild their restaurant, and in a sense, rebuild their lives.
If they would only listen.
Watch “BAR RESCUE” on Sunday nights (9e/8c) on SpikeTV.
I originally wrote this post in 2011 after becoming entranced by the show. Rereading the post, I have corrected some grammatical and punctuation errors. All of the contents are as true today of Bar Rescue as in the show’s first season. perhaps even more so. Any young person wishing to have their own dining establishment needs to set aside their ego, pay attention to Jon, take notes, and watch this show.
Growing up in KCMO, I had the opportunity to enjoy a number of fine restaurants, shadowing my parents, and my father who enjoyed the dining experience immensely. Now, due to the ravages of cancer, he is unable to enjoy solid food and fine dining, anchored by a food tube, the result of years of smoking. Through him, though, I was introduced to good bourbon, KCMO Irish pubs, steak, fish, Rocky Mountain oysters, and turkey fries. I can only believe my interest in food is distilled from my experiences in KCMO. I still will not eat anything made exclusively from blood or brains, though.