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Jon Taffer: How He Turns Failed Bars Into Major Successes

Jan 13 2014, 8:51am CST | by

Jon Taffer: How He Turns Failed Bars Into Major Successes

Photo Credit: Forbes

To further understand the bar and restaurant industry, I spoke to one of the leading experts in Jon Taffer. You might know Taffer from his hit reality TV show “Bar Rescue”, where he takes bars that are about to close and turns them into major successes. His first bar management job was at The Troubadour night club in West Hollywood in 1978, then he went on to serve on the board of NFL Enterprises and in 2010, he become the President of the Nighclub and Bar Media Group. He was responsible for Nightclub & Bar Magazine as well as the annual Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. Taffer is also the chairman of Taffer Dynamics and author of Raise the Bar: An Action-Based Method for Maximum Customer Reactions. For more information directly from Jon, follow him on Twitter @jontaffer or on Facebook.

In the following interview, he talks about the most common mistakes bar owners make, gives us a behind the scenes view of his TV show, the results he’s achieved and his best advice.

Dan Schawbel: What are the three most common mistakes that bars make and why do they make them?

Jon Taffer:

1. Financial reporting. Bar owners tend to be social rather than operators. Most bar owners do not manage their numbers. They do not have spreadsheets or reports to manage their budget, cost or inventory. I would say 90% of independent bar owners do not even have a budget.

2. Arrogance. Somehow they think their business is going to improve because of them rather then what they do. Business increases on marketing, promote and filling their bar; not because of who they are.

3. Targeting/positioning. Bars must be built for the market place. Bars can’t be everything to everyone. They must be everything to someone. What is the conceptcountry, rock and roll, hip hop; those audiences really sit together in the same place. The bar has to understand it’s demographics, lifestyle, beverage taste, food taste, and other factors to position a bar to that specific demographic. When a bar is everything to someone, that someone comes back. Too many bar owners built a bar for themselves…when they should have built what their market and demographic demands!

Schawbel: Can you go over the process for how you decide which bars get rescued, how long it takes to film each rescue and how the makeovers get funded?

Taffer: Each “Bar Rescue” is shot in real time. So the complete rescue is 5 days from my arrival to my departure. I do not see or meet anyone in advance. When you see me walk in, it is the first time I meet the staff and see the bar. The first 2 days are planning out the bar and getting to know the staff. The actual remodel itself is completed in 36 hours. I travel with a team of carpenters and build out team. This is paid by our sponsors and many of my friends and suppliers of NCB (Nightclub and Bar). By putting NCB exhibitors in Bar Rescue we have helped business that were once struggling as well. Example is TurboTap. They were once a struggling business and after being featured on “Bar Rescue” they received over 4,000 phone calls a week. Another vendor is 2TouchPOS; they have triple their sales and size of their company because of BR. We select bars based on a number of factors; are they struggling; we check their financial to ensure they are in jeopardy of losing their business; and background of the bar owners.

Schawbel: Do you go back to the bars you’ve rescued to see if they’ve benefited from your consulting support? Which rescue are you most proud of and was there one big disappointment where it fell about after your support?

Taffer: Spirits on Bourbon is a bar that comes to mind for something I’m most proud of. After the rescue, their sales went up over $100,000 a month. The barber shop chair is one of the most photographed things on bourbon street. They even had to purchase a warehouse just for the cups because they sell so many. Pirates came to mind for failure; I can rescue the bar but I can’t make a bar owner continue to want it to succeed; they need to want it! The Garnet lounge disappointed me that they closed. They are a good bunch of people but the debt got to them. I’ve completed 49 bar rescues aired to date, 9 have closed which puts us at on 80% ratio. Considering how bad these bars were, I’m proud of the percentage that is still operating because of BR.

Schawbel: You talk a lot about psychology on the show and in the book. How did you get interested in consumer behavior and what are the most fascinating insights that you’ve learned in your readings?

Taffer: I love human behavior. I took anthropology classes in college and it just intrigued me. For example, why do 70% of people walk into a mall and make a right hand turn? Facts such as this one intrigue me. But what really captivates me is how to make that 70% turn left. Mastering that behavior (reaction management) makes million.

Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?


1. Own it! If your business is failing is only because of you. Someone is succeeding in the same position. If you own the failure you will fight it. If you use an excuse and blame someone else you will continue to fail. No excuses; own your failure and you will own your success!

2. Have the money! Many bars that would have been successful ran out of money before they could become a success. Nothing is then running out of money before you operate. Some bars open with a bang but close shortly after because of financial reasons. You must have the money to ensure you get there and can continue operating. Sometimes they say, the bar didn’t fail, we ran out of money!

3. It’s your people stupid! Everything comes from our people. Our front line is our bottom line. You must hire people that have magnetic personalities that are true business assets. If there is one quote I have it is, “cancer; the negativism will spread!” In baseball one player can’t lose the game, but in the bar business.

Dan Schawbel is a workplace speaker and the New York Times best-selling author of Promote Yourself. Subscribe to his free monthly newsletter for more career tips.

Source: Forbes

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