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Raising the Bar

A little friendly advice from Jon Taffer, the host of Spike's 'Bar Rescue.'

8:37 AM, Sep 17, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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According to the intro to Bar Rescue, a reality series on Spike TV, "last year, more than 5,000 failing bars nationwide closed their doors for good." As a last-ditch effort, some of these bar owners have decided to seek the advice of the show's host, Jon Taffer, one of the country's leading bar and restaurant gurus. The conditions are fairly straightforward: For one week, the proprietor gives Taffer full control of his establishment in order to turn things around. And if he accepts Taffer's advice and often blunt criticism, conditions should improve. The problem is, many of these headstrong owners don't take his advice and they really don't like his criticism. Roll camera!

I met Taffer earlier this week at a downtown D.C. hotel. He was friendly and engaging but the intensity of his personality is the same off camera as it is on. He looks you in the eye. And while the premise of his show is similar to Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, Taffer reminds me less of the chef and more of Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction. He's a fixer.

Taffer agrees.

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.

I asked him if a commonality existed when it came to failing bars.

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.

The interview goes on and you can read more here. Unfortunately it's not the whole interview because I was working late on another deadline. Friday is our busiest day—it's when we close. My computer was slow. Also, I think the server might've been down. And the Internet. Plus the traffic this morning...

Bar Rescue airs on Sundays at 10/9 central on Spike.

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