What The Cameras Don't Show You On Bar Rescue

Fans of Bar Rescue pretty much know what they're going to get when they tune in. There will be a bar that's the sort of place you'd immediately turn around and walk out of if you happened to be there in person, owners that fully embody the words "train wreck," and employees desperate to keep their jobs... and probably a few employees that just want to take advantage of the situation while they can. There's also a crash course in bartending, a full remodel that leaves viewers wondering what the final price tag must have been, and invariably, a lot of yelling.

But we also know that we're not seeing the whole story. There's no way all that can be condensed down into a single television show without leaving some things out, and that's okay. Who wants to see a bar remodel in real-time, anyway? It's just something we all kind of accept when it comes to reality TV, which is full of half-truths and sometimes even outright lies. 

But if you've ever wondered if there are things that get dropped from the show that you might actually be interested in, the short answer is: yes, definitely. In fact, Bar Rescue and its host, Jon Taffer, leave quite a bit on the cutting room floor. Let's pull back the curtain and see what fascinating little tidbits the cameras of Bar Rescue don't capture for the audiences.

Those signature cocktails get the go-ahead from someone above Taffer

One of the things that always happens on Bar Rescue is the appearance of a professional mixologist or bartender who's there to get bar staff up to their A-game... or at least their C or D game, which is invariably a major improvement on whatever staff were doing before. Los Angeles Magazine spoke with Joseph Brooke, one of Bar Rescue's behind-the-bar specialists, about what it was really like. Brooke said that his goal is to get most bartenders to master the free-pour. Anything that comes after that is just gravy — or garnish, if you will.

He also talked a little bit about what might be the best thing about the show: the new signature cocktails that invariably have audiences scrambling to jot down some notes for their next cocktail evening. Brooke says that it's not just the mixologist on hand who comes up with the cocktails then serves them with Taffer's blessing. In fact, it's much more complicated.

Bar Rescue is sponsored by Diageo, and Brooke says they're absolutely involved from the beginning, including picking one or two of their brands that they want front and center in each episode. They give those guidelines to the mixologist, who then comes up with around 10 different drink possibilities for the signature cocktail. That gets cut down to the one that eventually makes it into the bar and onto the show, with Taffer giving the final go-ahead.

Bar Rescue meetings are not as short and sweet as they seem

It's inevitable that, once Jon Taffer gets his foot in the door and sees just what's going on at each bar, he's going to call everyone together for a meeting. Watch an episode of Bar Rescue, and you might think it's a wham-bam! sort of get-together that's short, sweet, and right to the point. However, according to what Taffer told the International Business Times, that's not the case at all.

You know the feeling you get when the boss calls you in for a meeting and tells you that you'd better all get coffee first and get bathroom breaks out of the way because you're in for the long haul? That's a more accurate picture of the Bar Rescue staff and owner meetings. Those meetings can drag on for hours, Taffer says. To be fair, that's probably something audiences would fast forward through anyway, right?

Taffer says those long meetings only add to the pressure felt by owners, staff, and Taffer himself. From start to finish, he has just five days to get in, get everyone on board, and do what he needs to do to help out a struggling establishment. He says: "There's a clock that ticks in the back of my head every second and I'm under pressure all the time on 'Bar Rescue'. I can't fall behind [...] That's what causes my aggressiveness."

Here's how Bar Rescue fills the bar

One of the biggest problems nearly all Bar Rescue bars suffer from is a lack of customers. So, when Taffer fills the bar for the stress test on day two of filming, that brings up the question of where the patrons come from. Are they hired? Lured there with free drinks? Are they friends and family of those who know he's in town?

Taffer says that the stress test happens on the second day he's on-site, and, true to the name, that's the same day that's also filled with training and getting ready for all those people to pour into the bar. In a Reddit thread on r/IAmA, Taffer said that this part actually takes quite a bit of legwork. He gets all those customers by heading out into nearby businesses and inviting them personally. This on-the-ground work doesn't make it into the final show, however, as much as those other businesses might like the publicity.

He also says that when he's recruiting for a stress test, he'll sometimes post on his social media pages but that there's a catch. If you're interested, you'd better be happy with just getting the chance to get in on the scene of a television show, as there's no free food or drink for these extras. Anyone who opts for participating in a bar's stress test is going to have to pay for their own beverages, no matter how bad the service or drinks might be.

Bar Rescue might have to address a bar's social media problems

Social media is huge, to say the least. We also know that image is everything, especially when you're trying to promote something like, oh, your struggling bar. When you're relying on image to get customers and keep your business afloat, social media grows even more important. According to Modern Restaurant Management, a 2018 survey found that 48 percent of businesses named social media as their most valuable marketing tool, and 93 percent said that social media had a positive impact on increasing their traffic. That's a huge deal, but it's also one that Bar Rescue seems to gloss over. Why?

Taffer focuses a lot on making the bar look good from the outside and keeping people coming back, but what about teaching bar owners to use social media to increase the number of new customers? On r/IAmA, Taffer was asked that very question when a Redditor wondered if he'd ever thought about featuring social media and advertising training on the show.

His response? "I've tried it but there is always better things to show..." which seems to imply that they do get some kind of insight into the best ways to use social media, but it just doesn't make for good television.

Bar Rescue has a hard time updating a bar's signs

Most bars on Bar Rescue don't just get a complete makeover, they also get a new theme, name, and signage. But how many episodes build up to a big reveal of this complete rebranding, only to unveil the sign outside and it's... well, to put it politely, "less than good?" 

In r/IAmA, Taffer was asked what was up with the trend of badly designed signs, and he had a very good explanation for it. "Signs," he wrote, "are one biggest challenge because of city codes." 

Oftentimes, the Bar Rescue team will find itself up against city or town codes. Getting planning permissions for new signs can a lengthy process of submitting new art and designs for approval. With just two days from design to reveal, that doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room to get a sign up, especially when you're dealing with a committee.

Other times, Taffer says the bar's landlord can add an extra layer of complications. There's a variety of restrictions, rules, and various regulations that they need to comply with but have no control over when it comes to signage, and anyone who's ever dealt with local government knows how slowly things get done.

Bar Rescue really does surprise owners

On Bar Rescue, bar owners and employees know they're going to be on the show, and they know there are cameras in place. So, how are they so consistently surprised by Taffer?

Taffer explained what the cameras don't show in a Reddit thread on r/IAmA. It all starts a few days before he knows he's going to be there. That's when the cameras are put in place, and the bar owners are given a heads up on the day he's going to be arriving. Only, it's not the real date. He said, "Typically they think I'm coming tomorrow, was supposed to come the day before or i come a few hours early. We need to catch them."

On Reddit, Taffer went into further detail, explaining that sometimes, they tell bar owners and staff that something unexpected came up, and he's not going to be able to make it at all. Sometimes, they're told he's tied up at another bar, and then — surprise! — Taffer strolls into their bar anyway. 

And yes, Taffer's just amazed by it as you are. In an interview with BroBible, he says that they know approximately when he's going to show, making the lack of preparation even more shocking. "You'd think [...] they'd clean up before I come because they know I'm going to go ballistic," he said. "I've found that it speaks as to why you're failing. Even when you know I'm coming, you still can't get it together."

The Bar Rescue crew takes up a lot of space

One of the biggest things the camera glosses over is the sheer size of the Bar Rescue operation. Viewers see Taffer, his experts, and maybe a handful of people who are on-site for the renovation, but he's definitely the star of the show and it looks like he's doing a lot with little help. That's absolutely not the case. 

On Reddit, Taffer was asked why most of the bars he went to were in the suburbs. He replied that it was a simple matter of logistics. The Bar Rescue team is actually composed of at least 57 people who come rolling into town with five huge trucks, a mobile command room, more tech trailers, and all their equipment. On top of that, they also take over quite a bit of office space to set up not just administrative operations, but workshops for artisans like their carpenters. Rome, it's said, wasn't built in a day, and Taffer's definitely not doing all this work with just crew members featured on-screen.

But it looks more impressive this way, right?

Bar Rescue requires more reconnaissance than you might think

Jon Taffer has spoken about just how grueling it is to film an episode of Bar Rescue. Even though he's only on-site for five days, it's a long, busy five days. It doesn't start with what you might think, either. Judging by the show, you'd think it all starts with Taffer rolling into town and sending someone into the bar to test the employees on how they behave around and serve a customer.

There's a little more to it. What's not shown is that Taffer spends part of the first day doing not just reconnaissance in and around the bar itself, but also throughout the whole neighborhood. He checks out who the local customers are going to be and sees what's already in town. Identifying the target consumer and the nearby businesses that are already established is the best way to see how struggling businesses might shape up and fit into their surrounding community, and that's something that ends up on the cutting room floor.

Taffer keeps tabs on previous Bar Rescue bars

A typical Bar Rescue episode might end up with Taffer heading back out into the wild blue yonder to help the next bar in need. Yet, that's not actually the end of the story.

BroBible talked to Taffer about why so many bars failed even after renovations, rebranding, and training. He said that he knows early on whether or not a bar is going to succeed or fail, for the simple reason that he's watching even after he leaves. When he updates a bar's cash registers and POS systems, he doesn't just hand the reins over to the old owners. One of the things they don't show him doing on Bar Rescue is linking all the bar's sales data to an app that reports directly to his phone. He says: "You know what's amazing? I have an app on my phone because of all the cash registers I put in these bars all report back to us. I know everybody's sale every day right on my app."

That allows him to keep close tabs on exactly how each one of the bars he's rescued is doing, long after the cameras stop rolling. While audiences might have to be satisfied with a few update shows and checking in on bars via their Yelp reviews, Taffer gets his updates in real-time. Yet, even a bit of Big Brother hasn't always been enough, as some bars still failed after Taffer's intervention.

Taffer admits TV isn't 100% accurate

Any regular viewer of Bar Rescue kind of knows what they're in for when it comes to the bar owners. They are almost always in desperate need of help, for one. As a result, there's a good chance most people who watch the show have found themselves shaking their heads at the screen more than once. Is it real, or is it carefully crafted for the TV?

When BroBible asked Taffer about the most notorious failures of Bar Rescue, the infamous pirate-themed bar Piratz did, of course, come up. Taffer had this to say about the bar's owner: "Tracy is not quite the fool she comes off as on TV. She was a marketing communications specialist in corporate America before she opened this place." Piratz eventually did close, but Taffer says she cashed out, noting, "She's a bright lady, but she acted like an idiot."

Florida Today reported that Tracy Rebelo may have closed Piratz, but she also went on to open a place called Bar Refuge in Florida. Yes, it was a total dig at the show, and that was in 2016. Even as she noted she was "very proud of being the anti-hero of Bar Rescue," she also promoted her new place as a refuge from the show. That new place was sold in 2018, according to a follow-up report from Florida Today.

Pre-interviews on Bar Rescue are important but rarely make it to the screen

There are some episodes of Bar Rescue that just seem too insane to be real or at least not staged somehow. How do these people get hired? Why on earth would they still have jobs? Are bar owners clueless, or are they just bringing in characters that will make for good television?

Taffer told BroBible that they're very particular about making sure everything's on the up-and-up within each bar featured on the show. Not only do they go to great lengths to make sure each bar is actually struggling and regularly losing money, but they also film pre-interviews that don't make it onto the show, but serve an important purpose. Taffer says, "I send the team in with a cameraman and we interview every employee for five minutes to make sure they are real employees and they all really work there, and they're not actually actors or characters or anything."

Bar Rescue only invests its time in a bar once they know they're dealing with "real people." It just goes to show that some things really are too wild to be made up.