Creating Interactions: An Interview with Bar Rescue’s John Taffer

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John Taffer is the President of Bar & Nightclub Media and the Host of Spike TVs Bar Rescue (new episodes start October 6th!). I sat down (ok, had a call) with Mr. Taffer recently to discuss the new season of Bar Rescue, his new book and his years in the bar business.  John has been creating and running bars for over 35 years. To say the least, he’s seen it all.

How did you get into the business?

“I went to LA to pursue music. Having been a bartender in college, I got a job at Doug Weston’s Troubadour in West Hollywood. One night the owner told me run the place for a few hours.” Taffer never looked back.

What are you most proud of?

In 1983, Taffer opened Pulsations in Glenn Mills, PA. The seven (yes, seven) floor club featured a four ton spaceship that descended from the ceiling, a dancing robot, and could hold 4500 people. Taffer says, that people, himself included, had tears in their eyes at the opening. It was Philadelphia’s answer to Studio 54.  They even filmed some of Rocky 4 in the place.

What happened after Pulsations?

By the late 1980′s, Taffer had 17 bars and nightclubs. He sold them all as tax laws changed. His key to success is to not get emotionally attached to a place. It is business, plain and simple. It was after selling these bars and nightclubs, that he got into the Bar Rescue business by helping hotel chains revamp their ailing bar scenes. 

What are some of the crazier things you have seen?

While at the Troubadour, a patron came to the nightclub after a Dallas vs Washington football game. Taffer had a $20 bet with the guy on the game. That night, there was a gathering of Native Americans at the Troubadour.  Let’s just say that the Cowboys won, the guy came in spouting about the Redskin’s game performance in colorful language and ended up with a broken arm (ed note. could be time to change that nickname).

Another almost unbelievable episode unfolded when a drunk customer went into the bathroom and decided to climb into the drop ceiling. He climbed over to the ladies bathroom and in true sitcom fashion crashed through the ceiling onto the floor of the ladies bathroom.  As you can imagine, the ladies didn’t take kindly to this.  The 15 or so ladies present proceeded kick the shit out of him. Ever been kicked in the face by a pair of stilettos?

What is the most important thing for a new bar owner to know?

Taffer’s first piece of advice: “don’t drink in your bar. Don’t go into the bar business for social purposes or if you like hanging out in bars. Do go into the bar business because you love the hospitality business and making money. Great bar owners do not hang out. They are constantly training, taking inventory, running operations.”

Taffer’s second piece of advice” “even profitable bars lose money their first few months, so have enough money to get you through.”  Taffer provided a personal example where he ran out of money and had to sell fifty percent of a $1 million dollar business for $100,000.   The kicker, the place was profitable soon after.

What’s the most important thing in any bar?

“The faces of your customers.”  Taffer believes that a customer’s face is all you need to know about quality of the product and service. A person’s face will tell you if the beer is cold or stale. It will tell you if the place is friendly or intimidating.

In fact, Taffer will tell you he is in the business if creating human reactions. Those who create the best reactions, wins. Simple as that. He even owns the term “reaction management.” Taffer details his process in his new book Raise the Bar: An Action-Based Method for Maximum Customer Reactions

What is your favorite bar of all time and why?

£10 at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. This scotch bar features ice balls made from the same water as the scotch whisky. That’s right, the bar flies water from each distillery in Scotland to Los Angeles so they can make ice. There is no walking up to the bar at Ten Pound. All drinks are made table-side and served in cut crystal glasses. Prices range from $20 – $65,000.

What is the most innovative bar product you’ve seen?

“Flavored spirits, the guy who changed industry is the guy who first made flavored vodka.  Flavored spirits have provided bartenders with the opportunity to play with and have fun their ingredients. Now even the beer guys are getting into the flavored game.”

What is your favorite drink?

“Dry Godfather. Only a few dashes of amaretto.”

What can we expect in the new season of Bar Rescue?

Taffer says, they “raised the bar” this season. Taffer and Team visits niche concepts in larger cities. Taffer and Team will be more aggressive in the makeovers, adding a few more twists and turns. Taffer and Team will have the element of surprise.  Bar owners won’t know when Taffer will show or when he will pack the place with hundreds.

How does Bar Rescue work?

Taffer tells me everything you see on Bar Rescue is real.  There are no scripts. Each episode is shot over five days with Taffer and Team taking the following actions:

Day 1 – Discovery
Day 2 – Stress Test
Day 3 – Training
Day 4 – Transformation (36 hours)
Day 5 – Grand re-opening

Check out the new season of Bar Rescue on Spike and John’s new book Raise the Bar: An Action-Based Method for Maximum Customer Reactions

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