Last week I met with Jon Taffer, head of Taffer Dynamics as well as the Nightclub & Bar Media Group and the colorful host of Bar Rescue on Spike (Sundays, 10/9 central). Below is the continuation of our conversation.
VM: Where did you start, where are you from, and did you always picture yourself in this business?
JT: No, you’re going to laugh. I grew up in New York. I went to the University of Denver majoring in political science. Thank God I didn’t go into politics is my view today. But I started tending bar in college, and I just fell in love with this business. I’m going to say it’s all the things you and I just talked about—the social aspect, the fun business, the music, the entertainment, center of the party, all those things. And I fell in love with it. And after three years of college, I left college, I didn’t finish, and pursued this career—and skied a little bit too, I must confess—and started in Los Angeles at a famous place called the Troubadour in Santa Monica. It was the first place I ran…. [In] my entire career I’ve always worked in famous places. I always said to myself, even as an employee, if I’m going to work for somebody, then I’m going to work for somebody I want to be, somebody I want to emulate. And so I’ve always worked in famous places, the kind of places that I’m proud to tell you that I worked in. That’s a great way to launch a career. If you’re proud of where you work, it makes you work harder. People are envious of your worst day.
My dad went to Columbia Law. He was one of the first Jews actually to graduate from Columbia Law, hung his shingle, hated it, bought a women’s garment manufacturing company at a bankruptcy he was handling, and he bought the darn thing and went into the belt business, believe it or not. My brother graduated from Michigan Law, one of the top in his class,… actually wrote the Fair Credit Bill for Jimmy Carter—he was working in the Senate Banking Committee for Senator [William] Proxmire, hated it, [and] became vice president of American Express. He went into hospitality marketing and the two of us would always see each other.
VM: Is it difficult for you to enjoy going out? Do you find yourself constantly nitpicking?
JT: My wife and I have been at this hotel since yesterday afternoon. Like any other hotel, I’ve been doing nothing but complaining from the moment I got here. The bacon was cooked yesterday morning, not last night for my sandwich. The room is about the size of a postage stamp. The bed is [too] high from the ground. I feel like I’m 30 feet tall. The silverware is [too small]. So yes. What I can’t let it do is affect my attitute toward life. Because it’s very easy to let these little frustrations in life just bum out your day, and I don’t want to do that. I’m a positive guy, as you probably know. So what I have the ability to do is look at it, get frustrated by it, and then blow it off. “And then blow it off” is the key, or I’ll never enjoy a dinner, I’ll never enjoy anything I do in my life.
And I’m a bit of a cocky guy in that I was a resort general manager. I’ve been a hotel general manager, a hotel vice president, a bar manager, and when I sit there I realize that I can do it better than them and that what they’re doing is inexcusable to me so I can get very angry sometimes.
VM: Do people know you’re here when you’re here?
JT: Most of the time. Before I did this show, because I consulted with … all these companies, I speak at all their conventions, so most of the GMs know my name, the food and beverage director, they’ve read articles or been in seminars or conventions I’ve spoken at. But since I’ve been on the TV show, it’s been a whole different thing, because every server knows me, every bartender knows me, and probably the greatest pleasure for me doing this show has been the industry response.
When we started working on this show … it was really important to me that I did a smart show. I love my industry. George Washington was the first distiller of this country. The second public building ever built in America was a bar. We didn’t have hotel meeting rooms then. We didn’t have city halls. The Declaration of Independence was discussed where? At a local pub. Our Constitution, the state borders, it’s the fiber of our country. I’m proud of it. So I won’t do a T&A bar show. I won’t do something that stupidifies my business. So I wanted to do a show that was smart, that … showed that this is a sophisticated business….
VM: Did you have to learn much in the way of acting?
JT: It wasn’t hard for me to learn to be on TV, and here’s why. I’ve been a public speaker for 30 years. So I got my chops speaking at the podium and I’m the kind of guy, I do four-, five-hour speeches…. I rant and rave, I scream and yell, I run up and down the aisle, I shake people, I’m that kind of a speaker. And not a lot of people book a speaker for four hours—they will me. So I got those chops doing that, not allowing somebody to nod off, watching the body language, working the room and understanding that as a consultant I’m willing to work the room, win the employees over, when to push, when to pull them in, and a lot of that happened from public speaking, so the camera was really natural to me, which is one of the reasons the show was picked up initially after the pilot was yeah, what you see is what you get with me to tell you the truth.
To be continued.