Earlier this week I sat with Jon Taffer, one of the country’s top restaurant and bar consultants, president of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group, and chairman of Taffer Dynamics. But perhaps Taffer is best known as the in-your-face, tough love host of Spike TV’s Bar Rescue (Sundays at 10/9 central). His intensity is the same off camera as it is on—he’s the kind of guy who gets to the point and looks you in the eye. But he is also more friendly and engaging, probably because I’m not butting heads with him over whether or not to throw out a room-temperature days-old chicken pot pie.
VM: So tell me about some of these cases.
JT: These are people whose houses are on the line, marriages are on the line, partners are ready to kill each other. I walk into some very desperate situations, so it becomes very personal. When you look in somebody’s eyes and they’re sinking…
VM: Your role seems to be like that of Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction. You’re a fixer.
JT: Yes, in a sense. And you know, a “fixer” is a great word because I’m there to fix the business. But fixing the business is actually easy. It’s fixing the person that’s the problem. And if I have an approach to this that’s hard, here’s why. I believe that if I tell somebody, “Don’t do this, do that. Don’t do that, do this,” when I leave they go back to what they used to do. So I got to change the way you think. And to change the way you think, I got to shatter the way you think now to open your brain. That’s ugly. You’re going to kick your heels in, you’re going to push back, you’re going to scream and yell, a lot of people don’t like it. The episode this coming Sunday is the epitome of that. For five days, this guy and I screamed and yelled at each other face-to-face like this, we had to bring in security.
VM: Is there a commonality to these cases?
JT: The one common denominator across all of them—and I’m going to say small businesses, big businesses—every failing business has a failing owner or a failing manager, right? When you talk to that failing manager, the common denominator is excuses. “Oh, the economy! Oh, I have a new competitor! Oh, prices! Oh, my costs are too high! The new tax!” It’s always an excuse. It’s never looking at me and saying, “Jon, I’m failing because of me.”
As soon as I get them to realize they’re failing because of them, now I can get somewhere…. I recognize in today’s political environment, I know that we have stresses upon us. I know the uncertainty of our regulations, the uncertainty of our taxes, the uncertainty of insurance, particularly for my industry that has typically a lot of part-time employees who have other jobs. All of these things scare the heck out of us. I get that. But you can still win. You can still dig your heels in and win. And there are people winning in every city and every market, so inasmuch as it might be more difficult, certainly more than it was a few years ago, you can still win. So I don’t accept those excuses.
VM: How often are the struggling owners guys who had the fantasy of running Cheers?
Everybody gets in our business because it is social. People don’t get into the business of manufacturing wooden widgets because it’s sexy. But they do get into the bar business because it is sexy and it’s fun and it’s social. That’s not the reason to start a business, because it’s social and fun. Because no business is fun when you’re losing money.
VM: You’re better off as a regular than an owner.
JT: Absolutely. Spend your money because it’ll cost you a lot less than losing $20-$30,000 a month.
To be continued.