The untold truth of Jon Taffer

Jon Taffer is the Gordon Ramsay of bars, known by most of us as the one that yells, screams, berates, and sometimes humiliates failing bar owners in order to help them rehabilitate their business. Taffer has visited a pretty shocking range of bars with a horrifying number of problems during Bar Rescue, and while those problems might be obvious to an outsider, how he fixes them is often inspired. Just how he built up this stockpile of marketing and business knowledge is a little surprising.

He started his career by losing $600,000

When Taffer spoke with Business Insider in 2015, he was quick to point out it hasn't been all smooth sailing for him, and he knows exactly what some of the Bar Rescue owners are facing. His first experience as a business owner was a shocking failure, and while he's keeping quiet on most of the details he has said he lost $600,000 on the deal.

Let that sink in for a moment: $600,000. Taffer says he picked the wrong business partner, and even though friends warned him not to get involved in a business with one person, Taffer went ahead anyway… and learned the hard way. "I did the deal," he said. "I got ripped off for $600,000 — every dime I had. And I've been very conscious about ever having a partner since." It's an important lesson, but it also means he's worn the same shoes as those asking him for help.

He's made a lot of people angry

Bar Rescue was more than 100 episodes in when The Huffington Post ran their 2016 interview with Taffer, and to say it caused a shocking amount of outrage is a bit of an understatement. Munchies covered the reactionary side of the interview as bartenders and experts across the country took to social media to call him out on some of his statements. 

Comments that attracted the most amount of attention included his claim that tequila, mezcal, and mescaline are all related and have hallucinogenic properties. Not only is this far from the truth, but employees of Del Maguey mezcal were quick to point out it's precisely the urban legend they've been fighting to help people get past. (Huff Po replaced the comment with a correction.) There were other comments, too, including his suggestion to save all tipping to the end of the night (awkward, if you're part of a group that's buying by the round), and his questionable recipe for an Old Fashioned. It's not the only time other industry professionals have called him out, and he's also gotten some hate (via Drink Philly) for other drinks he's made on television.

He says he wouldn't open a bar today

Owning a bar seems like it would be anyone's dream job, but it's much, much harder than it looks. Putting fun before business is what leads to most people seeking Taffer's help in the first place, but when he talked to Fox Business in 2017, he said it's a lot harder than people think — so hard, he wouldn't do it himself.

At least, not in 2017. He cites things like higher food, beverage, and labor costs, along with the small business crisis gripping the entire country and making it harder for mom-and-pop shops of all kinds. 

Taffer says, "I got in the bar business in 1978 and owned my first one in 1989 and back then the music was different, the level of violence was different. I mean, people didn't even lock their front doors. Today, there is a whole separate consideration when you go into this business."

He's in the Nightclub Hall of Fame

Yes, there is a Nightclub Hall of Fame, and according to Business Insider, Taffer was one of the first inductees.

Taffer was inducted for all the reasons you might expect, including his role as president of the Nightclubs & Bar Media Group and his work organizing the Nightclub & Bar Convention Trade Show, all along with running the Nightclub & Bar magazine. There's no word on how he finds so many hours in the day.

He promoted a bar with some seriously cringe-worthy promotions

Viewers of the show know there are a lot of things that make him mad, and that includes owners and employees who create an uncomfortable atmosphere for women. But he's also masterminded some bizarre promotions, and he told The New York Times all about them (via Philadelphia).

In 1982, Taffer organized a contest called Thanks for the Mammaries, which was a 10-week long event where girls competed to win a breast augmentation. He didn't specify what they had to do, but he did say they needed to give the bar before-and-after bras that were then bronzed and hung over the men's room urinals.

Yikes. He went on to justify it by saying it was a different time, and added, "… it was a very different political time. I mean, I did midget-tossing in Long Beach, California. We would throw midgets. So this was a different time. I would never suggest doing anything like that today."

His study of "bar science" started with a random encounter

Taffer's work is built on "bar science," and admittedly, it sounds like something that's completely made up. But Taffer says his interest in studying the psychology of bars came after a chance encounter made him realize just how much of an impact the layout of a bar has on customers and their interactions.

He told Observer it started when he was just sitting in a bar one day, and saw a man scouting out a pretty girl. He was trying to act nonchalant, but when he ran into a dead end it became painfully obvious what he was doing. A staircase would have prevented the embarrassment, and Taffer knew then that watching how environment dictates behavior was key to building a successful nightclub, bar, or restaurant business.

He unwinds with an expensive toy

All that yelling, screaming, and rage you see Taffer spitting on pretty much any episode of Bar Rescue could lead to some serious stress-related conditions, but when Vice got to go behind the scenes of one episode they found he has his own way of relaxing and unwinding between takes. How? He hops in his $200,000 black Mercedes convertible and goes for a drive around whatever town he's in. That'll do it.

His first job involved getting an entire staff fired

One of the things you know Taffer doesn't tolerate is staff that's skimming, either out of the registers, by overpouring, or by offering free drinks. That's an attitude he's always had, going back to his earliest days working the nightclubs. He told Vice that when he started at Barney's Beanery — just after dropping out of college at 24 years old — he was immediately pulled aside and told the staff had all agreed to take $100 each night they worked. Failing to do so would throw the books off, so they said he was obligated.

Rather than hopping on board, Taffer decided to set the tone for the rest of his career. He told the owner of the company, and that led to the firing of the rest of the staff and his promotion to lead bartender.

He created NFL Sunday Ticket

No matter where you're from, there's something special about your home team. Thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket it doesn't matter where you end up, you're almost guaranteed to be able to head out to your favorite sports bar and watch that home team play — even if you're across the country. It's easy to forget it wasn't always like that, and sports fans can actually thank Taffer for it.

When Taffer talked to Fox Sports about his career in the bar business, they touched on just how Taffer created NFL Sunday Ticket. He says it happened in the 1990s, after he got a call from the company ComSat. They wanted him to work up a plan for getting "out of market sports programming" into the bars and restaurants he was already known for helping, and the plan he ultimately assembled was Sunday Ticket. The plan was originally offered only to commercial establishments and was so successful individuals were offered the opportunity to buy licenses, too. Taffer adds that he didn't "invent" the idea, but he did make it all happen.

He has some surprising heroes

Taffer might berate bar owners into crying puddles before saving their failing businesses, but it's likely more than a few of them consider him something of a hero for putting them back on the right track. Who does a person like that look up to?

He answered that exact question in a Q&A on his own site, naming his first mentor as Thomas Jefferson for "his vision, his convictions, his ambition, his politics, and his finesse." Jefferson was followed by Howard Hughes, for his inventiveness and fearlessness in going off the beaten path, and then came Walt Disney.

Taffer says Disney pioneered the same thing he's using in his bars: reaction management. He says Disney's monitoring of people's reactions as they were approaching and leaving his theme park were the seeds of the same thing he's doing, adding, "… he created the human transaction experience. And then he made the transactions twice the price!"

The screaming isn't just for show

Taffer says he does what he does more for the employees than the owners, and according to a Q&A on his own site, it's the expressions during a big reveal that keep him doing what he's doing. He says he's grateful to be able to change lives, and if he has to shout a bit to do it, that's just part of the job.

"It's not something I like to do, but when I do yell, it's deliberate," he says. "When I get angry, it's with a purpose. My purpose is to solve a problem, and I never lose sight of that."

And, if you're wondering whether or not he's ever strained his voice with all that shouting, he has. The bar in question was Bourbon Street's Spirits on Bourbon, and he says it wasn't a particularly rage-filled episode, but just that it was so loud he hurt himself screaming. Perils of the job.

He has a huge soft spot for the punk genre

What do you imagine Taffer listening to on his down time? A bit of classical music, perhaps, or some light jazz? According to his conversation with Vice's noisey, he's kept the soft spot he has for punk.

Taffer got his start in the bars and nightclubs of the 1980s, and part of his job was booking the music. While he doesn't take credit for discovering some of the giants of punk, he does say he had the chance to work with many of them early on, and that he appreciates their pure innovation. We're talking about people like the Dead Kennedys, Adam Ant, Black Flag, and FEAR, along with rock bands like The Knack.

Now, here's a bonus fun fact: at the same time, he was booking comedy acts like George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Those are some seriously big names.

It doesn't bother him when some of the bars fail

Entrepreneur sat down with Taffer to get some idea of what he considered to be the most important principles he used to build his empire — and the fundamental concepts he encouraged every business owner to abide by. One of the key points he had to offer answers the question we're all wondering: how does he feel when the bars he tries to help ultimately fail?

"A big part is not to take things personally," he says. "It's all business. Projects and deals are not children or family. … Businesses come and go. Treat businesses non-emotionally."

In 2014, Taffer talked to BroBible about his Bar Rescue record, which he said was about 80 percent success. He said that number helped make him completely comfortable talking about the other 20 percent, and he knows exactly what went wrong with every one of them. Taffer also said he's totally fine with owners who choose to sell immediately after getting their upgrade. He doesn't count those as failures, because, "… at the end of the day, I got to leave them in a better place."