Jon Taffer Tells Us What Really Happens Behind The Scenes Of Bar Rescue - Exclusive Interview

Jon Taffer is a busy man. So busy that, after hearing him discuss his shooting schedule working on each episode of his beloved show "Bar Rescue," (which will celebrate its 200th episode this season) we were compelled to ask Taffer: "When do you sleep?" His response to Mashed?

"Not much. I'm pretty tired right now as we're speaking. But it's been rough. Right now in the middle of this season between shooting "Bar Rescue" and my Taffer's Tavern franchises, our mixology line and such, we're having a very, very busy year." So how does the author, TV star, business owner, creator of the NFL Sunday Ticket, and Nightclub Hall of Fame inductee manage it all? Teamwork. "I have a great team around me and that's the trick to being able to be this successful, is to understand that it can't all come from you. No different than a restaurant. It's your team that makes you successful, and I have a great team."

For a man who has achieved so much in his 66 years on Earth, Jon Taffer manages to remain refreshingly affable in affect and humble in character. Perhaps that's because so much of his work involves helping out people who are at a low point in their own lives, often professionally and emotionally. That's one thing he reported we'd be seeing a lot of when season eight of "Bar Rescue" begins airing: emotion.

We talked to Taffer about rescuing bars, bars beyond rescue, favorite drinks, the unseen parts of Las Vegas, and more.

Jon Taffer details all the preparation that goes into shooting a Bar Rescue episode

What goes on behind the scenes of "Bar Rescue"

We have no actors, we have no scripts. "Bar Rescue" is completely real. The fact that I don't know anything when I get there means that the audience finds out when I do. And it's genuine and it's real. There's nothing that I wouldn't want to show. And I invite press on set all the time, so I'm very proud of what we do on set because it is so real. The things that people don't see is how difficult it is to design a bar. I get there and do recon. At the end of recon when the cameras stop, I put all the employees in vans in the parking lot and I have to go in and design the bar that night, first day. I've got about a half hour to do it. The second day, while we're doing stress tests, I have to pick bar stools, wallpaper, finishing work with my art team to put the entire concept together.

By the end of the second day, I have to have logos done, everything ordered, food ordered, recipes. Everything has to be done in 24 hours. Nobody sees that part of it on camera. And then the third day we remodel in 36 hours, just like people see on television. And then I reveal it the fourth day. So I'm really only with these people about two and a half to three days when you take the construction out of the process and that whole design and putting all the elements together is something that people don't get to see. I wish they could because I'm actually very proud of it.

How the bars that appear on Bar Rescue are selected

How do you choose which bars and nightclubs will appear on the show?

Well, I stay out of that because I don't want any knowledge of the people before I get there. So we have a professional casting company. And we get thousands of applications as you can imagine every year. So we have to pick the cities because economically we can't do one in each city and move an entire crew. We have a crew of about 57. So we tend to do three in a city, move to the next city, do three, move to the next city, do three. That's the way production works. 

So we have professional casting companies. I create the standards. We want a certain amount of employees. We want to know that it's real, that they are actually losing money. We want to know that there are stakes involved. I love family stories and things like that. So I'll direct the casting company to some degree, but what I think makes "Bar Rescue" so successful for so long is the fact that I don't know. And I'm not involved in those things. I walk in completely cold.

How do bar and nightclub owners respond to Jon Taffer's suggested changes?

Do you ever get pushback on your suggested changes to people's businesses?

Well, people are ... it's interesting — they want the help, but they don't like the style of the help sometimes. So sure they push back. We have a lot of arguments. And I'm there to help them, but sometimes helping them can get a little ugly along the way. Because I'm going to hold my ground on doing what I think is right to help them. So sure there's pushback. And there are things that they don't like sometimes. But candidly, they're the ones who are failing. I'm the one who's been successful for 40 years. So I follow my own instincts, never theirs.

And what is the success rate of the establishments that appear on the show?

Well, I would only answer that pre-pandemic, because I don't know what the impact has been pandemic ... But there's an independent bar website called Bar Rescue Updates that we have nothing to do with. It's run by an independent group, I guess. And they have their own advertisers and everything that they do. They had us tracking at about 68% success on all of the operations. I must say when, and there've been articles written on this, when compared to the other restaurant and bar transformation shows, our statistics are far higher in many cases by over two times.

What is the success rate for bars and nightclubs in general?

Well, it's interesting when you look at a first-timer their success rate is not very high. I've read and seen that one out of 10 or so will make it for first-timers. But for second-timers, people that have experience, it's about 50/50. So, the trick is if you know what you're doing, you can open. And it's about 50/50 that you're alive a year later. Average bar will last five to seven years."

Jon Taffer shares the secret for bars to stay relevant for years, and even decades

How does a bar manage to last for many years and remain feeling relevant?

Remember anything that's trendy is endy. Right? Trends end. So classic neighborhood bars last forever, classic nightclubs last a much longer period of time. So to those that are interested in this business, I've always been one who says: "I stay in the mainstream." I stay in the mainstream because it's the biggest marketplace. It's the smartest marketplace. It's the easiest to realize. So mainstream concepts that target a mainstream audience are always going to be the longest lasting.

Well, it's interesting, historic is cool, relevancy is cool. There's nothing hip about Barney's Beanery [in West Hollywood]. It's got a jukebox, a bunch of old pool tables, and an interior that hasn't changed since I worked there 30 years ago. So there's nothing hip about Barney's Beanery but what's hip about Barney's Beanery is its history, its persona. Sometimes what it used to be can carry through to what it is for a long time. Barney's was a place where a lot of celebrities went. A lot of musicians hung out. It developed a very, very rich history. 

Not as many musicians hang out there [today]. It's not quite the same type of customer base, but that persona continues to live on. And many venues like Studio 54, going back to a famous time period — all of that lasted when those celebrities came and that relevancy was its highest. But the relevancy dies. Again, we're back to the trendiness. The only way that a bar stays relevant is when it really listens to its customers, and does what their customers think is relevant not what the owner thinks is relevant. That when I say it, it's an opinion. When [customers] say it, it's a fact.

You could say the same about the Roxy. You could say the same about the Troubadour, those kinds of venues live on because of the history that empowers them.

How Jon Taffer can tell a bar is great, or not-so-great

Can you tell when you step into an establishment or a bar or a nightclub just on your own, can you tell this is a great one?

Oh sure. Within three steps. It takes me probably about eight or 10 seconds. Think of what you see in eight or 10 seconds. I hear the music. I smell the environment. I look at the tabletops. I look at the back bar, I see the organization, I see cleanliness. I see who they chose as employees. I see how those employees are dressed. I see what's on the tabletop. How is the tabletop setup? I could find the positioning and I'll tell you probably the profitability of a bar within three or four steps into it every time.

What are some of the signs you just stepped into a bad bar?

One of the biggest is smell, cleanliness. Cleanliness is something that results from discipline. Nobody likes to clean a bar. Nobody likes to clean bathrooms. Nobody likes to do those kind of things. When you see a lack of that, it's a lack of discipline. A lack of discipline in a bar business doesn't work. It's not a t-shirt shop. Those t-shirts sit there and still maintain themselves as inventory. Bars have wasted product, wasted food. If I don't sell it now that opportunity is gone forever. Because I live by sales per hour. So, the pressure to manage product and drive revenue consistently is a huge one. And operators that don't have that discipline to really understand their numbers and work their environment, their music, their video systems, all those things, a lack of discipline causes failure every time. And the first indicator of discipline is cleanliness and orderliness.

What Jon Taffer wishes more people knew about Las Vegas

So what are things people get wrong about your adopted home of Las Vegas?

Well, first of all, people think that I have blinking lights outside my bedroom window. I don't. There are beautiful residential areas, just like any other community. The Strip is The Strip, and we have our non-tourist residential areas that are beautiful. Las Vegas per capita is the most charitable city in America. We raise more money per capita than any city in America. And it speaks to the character of the city of Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a city that has a singular economy based upon tourism. Our 650,000 residents, a great majority of them work in tourism. Because tourism is so important to our economy, the cleanliness of our city really matters to all of us. The safety of our city really matters to all of us. We want to be a great destination. So the people's support for the city, the charitable nature of the city, and candidly, the sense of community in Las Vegas when you live here is remarkable. I've lived in Southern California. I've lived in New York. I've lived in Florida. I've never experienced a sense of community like there is here in Las Vegas. It's a very special place to live.

What are things in Vegas too often missed by visitors?

There's a lot of great things. Las Vegas has a remarkable history. The Neon Museum is an incredible opportunity. Those of you who watched a promo for this season of "Bar Rescue," I shot it at the Neon Museum. So you'll see a lot of those old signs. Las Vegas has a wonderful rich history to it. It's also a culinary capital. The best chefs in the world have restaurants here. We have the largest volume of nightclubs in the world. We have a great bar culture. Las Vegas now leads the world in hospitality, culinary, and nightlife entertainment, there's no city that can touch us. Plus, 25 minutes from my house I'm up in the mountains.

Bad drink orders and Jon Taffer's go-to drink of choice

Are there drinks you think people should just never order from a bar?

I don't want to say what someone should never order from the bar. I mean, it's like saying, "What should you not order from a restaurant?" It's a very difficult thing. Taste is very personal. I always got a kick out of somebody who orders, and I've seen this happen, I saw it just a couple of weeks ago, they ordered Hennessy and Coke. So they took one of the most expensive spirits you have and they mix it with a product that you couldn't taste the difference. So I get a kick out of when people order the super premium spirit and then put it into piña colada when it doesn't matter. So things like that I think are a little foolish, but there's no drink that I would think of that I think anybody's foolish for ordering if it's their taste.

What's your favorite drink to order from a bar?

A godfather, which is scotch and amaretto, I've been drinking it for years. But we're so influenced by our parents. In my early days of drinking, I drank Crown Royal. My father drank Crown Royal. He drank Crown Royal and ginger ale. I drank Crown Royal and ginger ale. So it's interesting how we're influenced by our parents and past generations. But for the past 10 years or so, I've been drinking godfathers. That seems to be my go-to these days.

Jon Taffer discuses the worst bar he's seen and his proudest bar transformations

What is the worst bar you ever stepped into?

Probably the worst bar I've ever stepped into is Headhunters in Austin, Texas. It was an episode I did with "Bar Rescue." We went in, I did recon with my wife who was wearing open-toe shoes, and cockroaches were walking across her foot. And we found that the place had a Class 5 infestation. I had to shut production down. I had to shut everything down, put it in a tent and fumigate the entire building before we could go back in. And the owner's comment was, "Well, there are bugs in Austin." So that was acceptable to him. So that was just outrageous. And thousands and thousands of ... I mean, when we fumigated this place, it was, I don't know, two inches deep in cockroaches.

What bar's transformation are you the proudest of?

There's a few of them that I'm very, very proud of. Spirits on Bourbon, I'm very, very proud of that. Their Resurrection Cocktail, they sell almost 20,000 a month. The concept has been very strong. MoonRunners is another one that has proven very, very well. I think they're on their second or third unit now. They have a MoonRunners food truck and such. That concept has done very, very well. And I must say there's a few this season that you haven't seen yet that I'm particularly proud of.

What Bar Rescue fans can expect to see on Season 8 of the show

Is there anything that you want to tease that you're exceptionally excited about for this upcoming season?

Yeah, this [season of] "Bar Rescue" has emotion, "Bar Rescue" has tension, "Bar Rescue" has gratification. This is a very emotional season. Think about this, these people didn't ruin their businesses. It isn't their decisions that caused their failure. It was the pandemic or government action that shut them down. And I'm not suggesting that the government action is incorrect. That's not where I'm going. I'm just saying that they were forced to close their business. It wasn't their option.

So it's a very different season. I'm helping people whose businesses were taken away from them. Not people who caused their own failure. It's very emotional. I'll give you a little snapshot. There's an episode where a family that we show up to rescue their restaurant had lost their house three days earlier. And the mom and the dad and four young boys were sleeping on the floor above their restaurant with nothing, no money, nothing. And those are the kind of things we're dealing with this year. We're dealing with the level of failure that is challenging their very existence, not just their business. It's intense. It's intense.

"Bar Rescue" returns to TV and various streaming platforms on Sunday, May 2, 2021, for Season 8 and its 200th episode.