Bar Rescue's Jon Taffer: "Excuses Are the Common Denominators of Failure"

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Bar Rescue executive producer, host, and nightclub consultant Jon Taffer is like Jesus, except he saves bars. He has the ability to take a failing bar and turn it into a profitable one, and he does it within days.

On Spike TV's Bar Rescue, Taffer shows us how this is done. West Palm Beach residents in 2012 may remember when he took the bar formerly known as Mystique and transformed it into Aura, shedding the skin of the bar's unsuccessful past.

Recently, Taffer traveled to Spirits on Bourbon in New Orleans -- one of his most successful turn-arounds -- to visit with co-owners Steve Smith and Brad Bohannan and to sign copies of his new book, Raise the Bar: An Action-Based Method for Maximum Customer Reactions.

See Also: Top Chef Ron Duprat on the Florida-New Orleans Creole Connection

In his book, Taffer writes about the science of "reaction management," a term he uses to describe how to predict and react to customer behaviors on the fly using simple methods he picked up from his 30-plus years of working in the industry. After reading his book, we had some questions of our own. We sat down with Taffer to have a frank discussion about reaction management.

Clean Plate Charlie: What is the most common mistake that you see owners in the industry make?

Jon Taffer: You know, Steve said it a couple of minutes ago: excuses. If Steve and Brad wake up tomorrow morning and say their sales aren't good because of the competition, our sales aren't good because of the president, because of Congress, or our sales are terrible because of Ukraine! It's Ukraine! I mean, you can make every excuse in the world. But somebody's making money. Why not you? When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, either you're a success or a failure. Look yourself in the eyes and be honest. If you're a failure, you're not going to like it, and you'll change. If you blame it on somebody else, you keep failing every day. Excuses are the common denominators of failure.

You write about how your mother helped you understand how to predict and react to shifting moods. How did she do this?

My mother was tough, and if she was in a bad mood, then there were consequences. So I learned at a young age how to keep her in a good mood. It taught me sensitivity, how to watch her, facial expressions, and keep her happy before she turned unhappy. At a young age, I learned that trait. As I got older, I started doing it with people. Right now, if your body language weren't like that, I'd change midsentence and adjust to it. It became a subliminal trait for me. As I talk to people, I watch everything that you do, and I will change right in the middle of a sentence if I'm not getting the right reactions out of you. I'm extremely contrived. There is very little that comes out of my mouth that isn't contrived. Or deliberate is probably a better word. I'm a very deliberate person.

Some owners give a little discretion to bartenders when it comes to overpouring, since they believe that the expense is negligible if it means building customer loyalty. You suggest other methods?

How about using a different ice cube, pouring less liquor and making the drink twice as strong with less liquor. Science, my friend. Overpouring isn't the answer; it's the way the drink tastes that's the answer. How about rather than more liquor, you use less mix? Same frickin' thing. Less money. Science.

What exactly is "reaction management"?

It's managing the reactions of others and the premise is that he or she who creates the best reactions in life wins -- end of fucking story. The bar that creates the best reactions wins; the girl who creates the best reactions wins, right? And the manager who creates the best employee reactions [wins]. We're not in the business of selling food. Ryan in the kitchen might think he's making an entreé; he's not. He's making a reaction; he's achieving it through the entreé. If the entreé doesn't create the reaction when it hits the table, then it ain't worth shit. We're not in the food and beverage business -- that isn't our product; that is our vehicle. The product is the reaction.

A lot of people, when they see you in action on the show, often ask why do you have to be such a dick?

I'll tell you why. I have five days. (Normally in life I have 30 days.) I have five days, and one of those days is only one night, when I go in for recon, and one of those days are remodel. I have three days to change the way he thinks. If I come here and say don't do this do that, or don't do that, do this, then they'll do the same shit over again. I got to change the way he thinks. Right? So the way I do that is by getting in your face, challenging you. My job is to push until their brain opens a crack and I walk right in. In the Spirits on Bourbon episode, you see me scream at Steve, but you don't see us being productive ten minutes later and having a positive relationship. The fact of the matter is, yes I'm aggressive and I scream, but the reason why I can get away with it is because I have the ability to pull them back in. If I didn't have the ability to pull them back in, I couldn't have done it. That's really powerful.

In the book you consider the term "nice guy" as a code for patsy. Why?

I have a friend, Kevin, who was a carney for ten years. The guy used to travel with murderers. Somebody who was a murderer once said to him a murderer can be a nice guy for 20 minutes. "Nice guy" doesn't mean shit. The biggest asshole in the world can be a nice guy for 20 minutes. The guy who robs from you, stealing tips off credit cards, can be the nicest guy you ever met. Integrity means something. Ambition means something. Honesty means something. Compassion means something.

Is there room for real nice guys in this industry?

There's room for people who are honest, have integrity, and have compassion. That to me is a nice guy. But the term "nice guy" can be a thief; that's my problem.

You prefer personality over experience, but could you teach/mold somebody to have the right personality for the job?

Yes. You can be somebody who's never worked at a bar in their life. With the right personality and three weeks, I'll show you the best damn bar manager you ever saw. Teaching and training are two things. So, we as an industry say that we're going to train you. Bullshit; we don't train anyone. All we do is teach people to work in our business. Training is behavior modification; it takes years. We don't train anybody; we just teach people to work in our business.

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