Jon Taffer, host of Spike TV's Bar Rescue, is in town tomorrow for his Rescue Tour Workshop, which is basically how to save your bar from yourself.
I've watched Bar Rescue a few times, often grimacing at the dumb things people do and wondering, "Why are these people even in the business?" And I appreciate Taffer's comin'-right-at-ya' approach, which actually doesn't seem contrived for reality TV. If his mom didn't pack his lunch right in the third grade, I bet she heard about it before he even got in the car.
Taffer's rescues involve any and every aspect of running a bar, from cleanliness, to where and when an owner eats dinner (don't let your patrons see you sitting on your ass eating, particularly with your back to them).
So, when the press release for the workshop landed in my in-box, I shot Taffer a few questions. Here's our exchange, which involved a lot of exclamation marks, but that should come as no surprise:
What is the most common, yet easiest to correct mistake that bar owners make? Bars need to be conceived and built for the local audience, not the personal tastes of the owner. Huge mistakes are made with regard to market research and concepts. Research and capital are paramount!
Has social media changed bar ownership? Not really. Very few have figured out how to really turn social marketing into real sales successes. Millions [are on] Facebook, very few make money off of it. The future of effective, predictable and consistent social marketing results is yet to be seen.
I think you take it really easy on people on your show. I'm amazed at some of the things people do. Have you ever had a situation where you wanted tell someone to throw in the towel? Easy on people? I hear lots of opinions, but never that I'm too easy on people, rather I hear the opposite. I shut down Downey's in an episode of Bar Rescue quite loudly and lose my temper often. On Bar Rescue, failure is not an option. I have to try to turn the business around. In my off-TV life, I have told a few that they should get out of the business, but I did not say it so nicely. In fact, I rarely try to say things nicely. I'm more about impact then courtesy.
What's your personal favorite bar to pull up a seat at and enjoy a drink? One of my favorites is the Scotch bar at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. It's warm, intimate and has amazing cocktails. On the total other side of the spectrum, a beer at a casual bar like Barney's Beanery is just as much fun. Bars are about experience and interaction, so often, the people make the bar. I'm far more about the energy, experience and interaction over a particular drink.
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Then, I responded with more questions because I was particularly surprised by his shake off of social media, and I also needed to apologize for saying he was too soft on people after having just watched an episode where he kicked an ex-hockey player out of his own bar. I apologize for suggesting you were soft. My mistake, sir. On another note, doesn't social media offer owners an opportunity to interact with loyal patrons and craft their message on a regular (free) basis? If my favorite bar posts about drink specials, it makes me think about going. Yes, for existing customers to drive frequency. Marketing has only three objectives: New customer growth, increasing guest frequency and increasing spending. That's it. Social marketing and Internet blasting drives frequency just like it did for you. That has significant value. Our tracking shows that if a bar or restaurant can increase guest frequency by only one visit a month, it can be up to 12 percent of increased sales. That's big.
But, new customer growth in a bar or restaurant must be about 20 percent of all guests a month to keep it going none-the-less and growing. So, social marketing has its limited role in frequency and some other things. But you cannot develop and build a business based upon it.
Don't all social media outlets, including review sites, hold owners more accountable to what customers are saying? Yes, I love the accountability Yelp creates. And, that's valuable for sure. But, again, there are new customers, demographics and other limiting factors to social marketing. If there's one cure all, I'd lean on powerful neighborhood marketing.
Before you consult on a job, do you read Internet-based reviews to get a general sense of what people are saying about the place? Always. My view is certainly experienced and seasoned and I challenge you to find others who know more about my business than me, but when a customer says it, it's gospel. When a sizable group of customers speak, I always listen! The "customers view" is key to my confidence in decisions.