If you’re a bar owner and Jon Taffer yells at you, there’s a very good chance you’re doing something wrong.
The host of “Bar Rescue” on Spike has spent decades turning around failing watering holes, a process that not only entails refashioning the interior and exterior of the establishment itself, but typically — and volubly — dressing down the establishment’s owner and staff with a thorough tongue-lashing.
“It’s a business, not a social club,” Mr. Taffer told The Washington Times of the biggest mistake bar owners make right out of the gate. “And not only is it a business, it runs till two in the morning, so it’s a tough business.”
The format of “Bar Rescue,” which debuted on Spike in 2011, sees Mr. Taffer at first watching on hidden camera to observe the typical mistakes failing owners engage in: not adequately managing the staff, bartenders overpouring drinks, unhygienic workstations and kitchens, owners giving away more alcohol for free than they sell, as well as a general lackadaisical attitude that will not save their flailing establishment.
“Mistake number one: Bars are inherently profitable,” Mr. Taffer said is another fallacy of the business. “They have a drink in hand and think, ‘Wow, the booze in my hand costs $1 and the drink costs $6. An idiot can make money in this business.’”
Mr. Taffer, 62, who lectured on the bar business for decades before ever becoming a TV personality, is quick to point out that while, yes, the markup on a single drink may in fact be a boon for the bar owner, then come rent, payroll, insurance, bar stock and other expenses eating into the bottom line.
“A good bar will profit at about 12 percent. Now if you pour just a little too much, that profit is gone,” Mr. Taffer said. “If your rent is just a little too high, that 12 percent is gone. If you have a lousy month because it’s snowing, the 12 percent is gone.”
Like his English counterpart Gordon Ramsey — whom Mr. Taffer said he’d be open to working with — known for screaming at restaurant owners on “Kitchen Nightmares,” the New York-born Mr. Taffer is famous for storming into a bar to unleash a verbal tirade at bar owners and staff for their mistakes — be it bartenders drinking on the job or chefs prepping food without safety gloves.
On “Bar Rescue,” his entrance from stage right typically follows reconnaissance out front of the bar on hidden camera until the host can take it no longer. Bar owners are often drunk when he barges in, quick with excuses and none too happy to be dressed down on national television by a 6‘2” stranger with a thick East Coast accent and no-BS attitude.
Day 2 of the episode sees Mr. Taffer return to the bar to chat with the staff and, hopefully, a sober owner, to get to the root of why the bar is failing and what issues bedevil the place. Then comes the “stress test,” with the bar staff under the gun from both Mr. Taffer and his coterie of bar experts and mixologists. Day 3 sees Mr. Taffer and his experts retraining the bar’s staff to make better cocktails for their specific market. Finally, on Day 4, the staff returns to the bar, which Mr. Taffer and a hard-working crew have spent a night and a day refurbishing.
“I don’t know what the concept is going to be until I show up, because I’ve never seen the bar,” Mr. Taffer said of his process of revitalization each episode, adding that after his opening-night yelling at owners, he typically takes their staff aside off-camera to suss out other problems of that week’s establishment.
(“I don’t embrace mistakes, I embrace solutions,” Mr. Taffer is fond of saying.)
Television, the saying goes, is life with the boring parts cut out, and “Bar Rescue“‘s editors trim the hours Mr. Taffer and his team spend gutting and refurbishing the bar. If it is seen at all on the show, it is a time-lapse montage of local workers transforming Mr. Taffer’s concept into reality under such a pressure-filled deadline.
“We design it so quickly we have to make decision on the fly; we don’t have the time to draw up blueprints and detail everything out,” Mr. Taffer said. “And then we’re done in a day.”
But the overhaul must also take into account the bar’s location, its market as well as the clientele Mr. Taffer hopes/believes he can draw into the refurbished location. Accordingly, the host works with brand ambassadors for Bacardi, Captain Morgan or other alcohol mainstays to design a new cocktail concept for the reopened bar.
“My name is on the show, so anything that goes out I’ve signed off on, and every chef and mixologist has been [trained] by myself,” Mr. Taffer said. “The production company gets to walk away from it; I’m stuck with this the rest of my life [as] my name is on it.”
If Mr. Taffer comes off as somewhat of a know-it-all on “Bar Rescue,” it is only because he too has suffered and triumphed in the trenches of the notoriously tough business. He has been fired and failed numerous times, and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to bad decisions, which he details in his new book, “Don’t Bullsh*t Yourself!” a kind of motivational know-how primer on how anyone can avoid failure, not just in the bar business but in life.
Furthermore, his success as a TV personality also came after much naysaying from executives and even his own colleagues, some of whom told Mr. Taffer, “You will never be on television.”
He relates how a former friend of his, a TV exec, told him he wasn’t good-looking enough and was also too old for prime time.
“When he said that to me, it became like a vendetta,” Mr. Taffer said, which spurred him to make an immediate demo reel of himself trying to revitalize a friend’s bar.
“I sent out four clips; I got four phone calls,” Mr. Taffer said, ultimately signing with 3 Ball Entertainment, which brought the concept to Spike, who then toyed with various names until settling upon “Bar Rescue.”
“‘Bar Rescue” is a storytelling show. It’s as much about a bar as it is about the people in the bar,” Mr. Taffer said. “So we pick stories that are compelling. Stakes have to be on the line. Somebody’s house [has to be] on the line, marriages are on the line. Relationships are on the line.
“There’s gotta be a story that people enjoy and want to hear the end of.”
Such yarn-spinning has been a staple of the “Bar Rescue” mythos since the beginning. In the past few seasons alone, Mr. Taffer has worked on a bar in Colorado owned by a former soldier which needed a boost, a business flooded by Superstorm Sandy on Long Island in desperate need of a second chance and a bar owner in Sanford, Florida, whose establishment was literally falling apart beneath her feet.
“I sort of know it when I’m walking out the door, about 70 percent of the time, I can feel in my gut they’re just not right for it,” Mr. Taffer said of the spidey sense he feels tingling even after “fixing” an ailing lounge. “They’re not committed to it, they’re going to go back to drinking, they’re going to go back to womanizing, and sometimes I just can’t change it.”
Stubborn owners come in all demographics and locations, including in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, where Mr. Taffer attempted to revitalize Piratz Tavern, a pirate-themed bar bleeding cash that promptly went back to its buccaneer theme not long after Mr. Taffer’s visit. (The Piratz Tavern closed for good in 2015.)
One of Mr. Taffer’s most difficult rescues came in Chicago this past season at a pub called The Dugout, whose obstinate owner, Ed Cressy, walked out on the rescue, but Mr. Taffer stayed around to give the employees a bar they could in fact work with.
“I did remodel the bar because it was a block from Wrigley Field, the World Series was happening, and the whole town knew I was there,” Mr. Taffer said. “In many cases I give up on those owners and am really motivated by the employees anyway.
“The employees left with me and just threw the keys in his hand and told him to go to hell and walked away,” he said of his Chicago rescue. “That was the most bizarre ending of all of them.”
Mr. Taffer, who has lived in Las Vegas for the past four years, said his aims for the upcoming season include traveling to new cities and states for the show, such as Memphis, Nashville, Oklahoma City and other markets the show has yet to breach.
Furthermore, as Spike TV is set for rebranding as the Paramount Network in January, “Bar Rescue” is one of the properties that will be coming along on the new venture.
“We’re upgrading our show and appearance, so it’s an exciting [season 6] for ‘Bar Rescue,” Mr. Taffer said.
A new episode of “Bar Rescue” airs Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on Spike.
Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.