Mike Ragogna: Jon, you’re the host of one of Spike’s most popular shows, Bar Rescue. Why do you think that is?
Jon Taffer: They enjoy the transformation and I hope the no bullsh*t attitude that it takes to get the transformation.
MR: What originally got you into mixology?
JT: You know I started attending bar in college and I have gotten a lot of customer contact and the energy of the bar. I can’t tell you that I love mixology per se. I love the bar business. By which mixology is a large part but I love music just as much, I love neighborhood bars just as much.
MR: What are your personal favorite drinks and how do you doctor them for your personal taste?
JT: I am surrounded by the best mixologist in the world so I get to try to the greatest products and recipes. I tend to lean towards scotch, I tend to prefer “Godfather”; however, I have an extensive bar at home and sometimes I’ll play around with juices and flavored vodkas and stuff myself and have some fun. And dare I say, yes, I have played with fluffed marshmallow vodka and liked it. There it is; I put it out there.
MR: You’ve helped elevate the success rate for several bars, thus the series title “Bar Rescue.” When and how did you see the need for such a position and what has your level of success been?
JT: I know the level of success based on independent websites that track it. It’s about 80%. And when you consider that every person on Bar Rescue tells you they are weeks from closing, I am proud of that outlook. In fact, I challenge anybody to do it better. I never knew there was a need for this, I got into this because it was an entertaining television show. Once I started doing it, I realized, wow I am actually changing people’s lives. Then I realized there is a need to do it and I realized I had a need to do it, I was the right person to do this. I can actually get through to people and connect with people in a special way. This show has taught me that and now it is hard not to do that if the opportunity is given to me. The emails that I get from them, the phone calls that I get, notes that I get on how they bought a house, this and that, is very inspiring to me.
MR: I bet you’re not surprised by how popular the show is.
JT: I am surprised, I thought I’d do a pilot and go home, honestly. Then I thought I’d do season one and go home. Now, I’ve finished 85 episodes. Last week we were consistently one of the top cable shows in our time slot. And one looks at the ratings to see how successful we have been, and how long it’s lasted. What really surprises me is how often the episodes are watched and demographics of our audience. Which is almost 50% female.
MR: What are some of the techniques and suggestions that you offer? What’s the most common cause for a bar’s lack of success and is it easily reversible?
JT: You know I’ve said this before, it’s the only answer I have for this, and its “excuses.” People blame the economy, the president, the congress, their neighborhood, construction, the weather, they will come up with a hundred reasons why they failed today. Yet in that exact same situation somebody else is making money. So their excuse is bullsh*t. Accepting that excuse would make me a contributor to their bullshit so I don’t. Everybody who is failing, is failing because of themselves. Period. And it’s up to them to change it. Don’t blame it on anyone else, only blame it on yourself and that will change the course of anyone who is failing. If you own your failure, you’ll own your success.
MR: What’s been your best Cinderella story to date?
JT: A few come to mind. Spirits on Bourbon. Their sales are up over a million dollars a year.
The Barbershop Chair does over $50,000 a month. They sell 16,000 Resurrection cocktails every month. They had to buy a warehouse in Baton Rouge to store 80,000 mugs. Moon Runners. That was a family that was really in trouble. Now, the rest of the bar is doing great, family is doing great, they bought a house and they are opening a second location.
MR: You’ve been known to get up in people’s grills to emphasize points. From your perspective, what is it in your various approaches that makes the difference in a client’s success or failure?
JT: I have to get through, you know other people have said to them, the same things that I am saying. I am not the first person to tell them that the bar is dirty. So I use pride. I try to appeal to their pride. If that doesn’t work, I use fear. What’s going to happen when you lose your house? Where’s your family going to stay? If that doesn’t work, then it’s boot camp time. I beat the sh*t out of them till I get through candidly.
MR: How has Bar Rescue‘s affiliation with Spike benefited the series beyond demographics?
JT: First of all, I love working with Spike. They have given me the freedom to do the show with honesty and based on reality. Nothing is scripted. Nothing is preplanned. The trust that Spike has placed in me is special. As an end result, because of Spike’s trust in me, and their support of the show, we are able to provide the most authentic reality show on TV and I believe that is what drives our success.
MR: What advice do you have for those in the hard beverage industry?
JT: Look at me, I started as a bartender and had no formal college career. This is an industry that unfolds unbelievable opportunities to anyone, in any education level, with any background. If you really want it, I believe you can have it and I also believe that this is the greatest industry in America. I do.
MR: What’s next up for you and the series?
JT: I am very excited about TafferTV and BarHQ. What is next for the series is that for every episode we try to raise the bar. You know, we have mixed up the format; we try to find bigger challenges, and bolder opportunities, and it’s working. The show has gotten more popular; more bars are submitting to be rescued, which has given us a bigger pool to choose from, which is allowing us to wind up with even more compelling episodes.