In-your-face business consultant Jon Taffer has spent 20 years turning around struggling food, beverage, and nightlife companies. Now, he is set to host a new Spike TV mess-to-success show called Bar Rescue. Taffer recently spoke with Inc.com's Nicole Carter.
Bar Rescue is being compared to Kitchen Nightmares. How is it different?
When I look at these disaster bars, I'm thinking like a businessman, not a bar guy. For example, I know that if an item on the menu is boxed, sales of that item go up 20 percent. And I know that customers' eyes are drawn to the brightest spot in the room, so I'll move the spotlights from the wall art to the liquor shelves. Those are things that Kitchen Nightmares never touches. Gordon Ramsay isn't sitting down with P&L's, but I am.
What's the most important lesson you've learned in business?
One word: connection. You have to connect with your market and your employees. First, understand that what your market says is fact and what you say is opinion. Then, take the time to create a good connection with your employees. Without those two key connections, your business will be stuck in mediocrity forever.
Is this true of businesses outside the service industry?
I realized many years ago that I'm actually not in the service industry.
We sell human reactions, and we get that through food and drinks. If I'm a restaurant owner, and you don't react to a plate of food, I've failed. If you sit up and smile, I've succeeded. I focus on that reaction, and the product gets better. The same is true for selling cell phones or houses or anything. Unless you focus on the human element, your company will struggle.
So how does that play into your hiring strategy?
Resumés don't mean anything. It's all about personality and being able to create those human reactions. You give me someone with the right personality, and I'll give you a bar manager in three weeks. You give me someone who has been a lousy bar manager for 30 years, and in three weeks, you'll still have a lousy bar manager. It's a tough world, but that's the truth. Consumer businesses are so much about the people and personalities that run them.
What was your first experience in the business world like?
I was 12 years old and in summer camp. I started a company called Aardvark Industries, which provided basic services to camp counselors. I'm not joking. I had eight kids working for me. We would give massages, make their beds, get them sodas—do whatever little tasks they needed. But I marked those services up 30 percent and made a fortune. I guess I've just always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
For more articles on the food and beverage industry, check out Clarissa Cruz's blog at www.inc.com/author/clarissa-cruz.