Bar Rescue's Jon Taffer: "Excuses Are the Common Denominators of Failure"

Categories: Interviews

David Minsky
Jon Taffer (center) with Spirits on Bourbon owners Brad Bohannan (left) and Steve Smith.
Bar Rescue executive producer, host, and nightclub consultant Jon Taffer is like Jesus, except he saves bars. He has the ability to take a failing bar and turn it into a profitable one, and he does it within days.

On Spike TV's Bar Rescue, Taffer shows us how this is done. West Palm Beach residents in 2012 may remember when he took the bar formerly known as Mystique and transformed it into Aura, shedding the skin of the bar's unsuccessful past.

Recently, Taffer traveled to Spirits on Bourbon in New Orleans -- one of his most successful turn-arounds -- to visit with co-owners Steve Smith and Brad Bohannan and to sign copies of his new book, Raise the Bar: An Action-Based Method for Maximum Customer Reactions.

See Also: Top Chef Ron Duprat on the Florida-New Orleans Creole Connection

In his book, Taffer writes about the science of "reaction management," a term he uses to describe how to predict and react to customer behaviors on the fly using simple methods he picked up from his 30-plus years of working in the industry. After reading his book, we had some questions of our own. We sat down with Taffer to have a frank discussion about reaction management.

Clean Plate Charlie: What is the most common mistake that you see owners in the industry make?
Jon Taffer: You know, Steve said it a couple of minutes ago: excuses. If Steve and Brad wake up tomorrow morning and say their sales aren't good because of the competition, our sales aren't good because of the president, because of Congress, or our sales are terrible because of Ukraine! It's Ukraine! I mean, you can make every excuse in the world. But somebody's making money. Why not you? When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, either you're a success or a failure. Look yourself in the eyes and be honest. If you're a failure, you're not going to like it, and you'll change. If you blame it on somebody else, you keep failing every day. Excuses are the common denominators of failure.

You write about how your mother helped you understand how to predict and react to shifting moods. How did she do this?
My mother was tough, and if she was in a bad mood, then there were consequences. So I learned at a young age how to keep her in a good mood. It taught me sensitivity, how to watch her, facial expressions, and keep her happy before she turned unhappy. At a young age, I learned that trait. As I got older, I started doing it with people. Right now, if your body language weren't like that, I'd change midsentence and adjust to it. It became a subliminal trait for me. As I talk to people, I watch everything that you do, and I will change right in the middle of a sentence if I'm not getting the right reactions out of you. I'm extremely contrived. There is very little that comes out of my mouth that isn't contrived. Or deliberate is probably a better word. I'm a very deliberate person.

Some owners give a little discretion to bartenders when it comes to overpouring, since they believe that the expense is negligible if it means building customer loyalty. You suggest other methods?
How about using a different ice cube, pouring less liquor and making the drink twice as strong with less liquor. Science, my friend. Overpouring isn't the answer; it's the way the drink tastes that's the answer. How about rather than more liquor, you use less mix? Same frickin' thing. Less money. Science.

What exactly is "reaction management"?
It's managing the reactions of others and the premise is that he or she who creates the best reactions in life wins -- end of fucking story. The bar that creates the best reactions wins; the girl who creates the best reactions wins, right? And the manager who creates the best employee reactions [wins]. We're not in the business of selling food. Ryan in the kitchen might think he's making an entreé; he's not. He's making a reaction; he's achieving it through the entreé. If the entreé doesn't create the reaction when it hits the table, then it ain't worth shit. We're not in the food and beverage business -- that isn't our product; that is our vehicle. The product is the reaction.

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