In the nightclub and restaurant industry, there is no one better than Jon Taffer, the president of Nightclub & Bar Media Group and host of Bar Rescue on Spike TV. He has had over three decades of hands on experience, and he uses his experience to help others. In this interview, I had a chance to sit down with Taffer, talk to him about his views on the nightclub industry here in Las Vegas, his new book Raise the Bar: An Action-Based Method for Maximum Customer Reactions, and his plans to open a bar on the Strip, that will be like nothing we have ever experienced.
If you could "rescue" one bar or nightclub in Las Vegas which one would you choose?
So many have come and gone that I would have; I don't want to piss anyone off. I know who they are; I wonder if they know who they are. I have to keep it to myself.
What are your impressions of the Las Vegas nightclub and bar industry?
As an individual, and the president of Night Club & Bar, I know what the sales are of the top 100. Out of the top ten best nightclubs, seven are right here in Las Vegas. For example, Hakkasan makes 130 million annually, which is not possible anywhere else in the world. No one can spend this kind of money anywhere else. No one anywhere else can spend 750 dollars per bottle at a nightclub (ex. Phoenix, Denver). Las Vegas has adapted, and functions with great exclusivity, and attacks the market differently. Las Vegas has a unique operating system in the world, and I would challenge anyone who would step up to the plate and do what they are doing. Las Vegas has the best nightclubs by far, the way they sell, market, and merchandize them. They have to be good at it. Vegas operators don't realize how good they are to be able to achieve what they do.
What is an ideal bar scene?
Vegas nightlife is energetic. All the top venues such as Hakkasan, XS, Surrender, Marquee, Tryst, Pure, Tao, etc., have really high energy. Out of 40,000 people that attend the Night Club & Bar Show, about 5,000 participate in the nightclub activity, while others scatter to a more low energy, intimate, so they can network and talk. Las Vegas lacks that. There is a huge opportunity here in Las Vegas to create the perfect bar experience. At the moment I am talking to two different companies about opening a new bar on the Strip. I can say it will be the best, and it will have the highest sales. An announcement will be made shortly.
How do you choose which bar to rescue when there are so many applicants?
We have about 1000 applications a season. We have a casting company and there is a process. First we check if they are felons (all the legal stuff). Next we look and see are they really in trouble— or are they trying to hustle a remodel out of us. Once they pass all of that, we send one producer with a camera and interview each employee for about 15-20 seconds. We ask a question or two to get the feeling of their personality. Then we review the short videos and make the selection. It is as much about the people and their personality as it is about the bar. We want to make sure that it will be something that the audience will be interested in and that it has a good story. I also want to clarify that none of the people on Bar Rescue are actors; it is exactly what you see.
How did you get into bar rescuing?
It wasn't a plan; I just got good at it. What people don't know is I was a food and beverage manager, general manager at a hotel and I know how to run a property. I have taken properties, bought restaurants and sold them. I love the business. I invested in my future at a very young age. I was really career focused and worked twice as hard as anyone I know. I believe what you put in is what you get. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were insomniacs and really good at what they did because they worked 20 hours more than anyone. I was a freaking nutcase—20 hours a day and slept one day a week—and I still do.
The nightclub/bar industry has really taken by storm in the recent years. What in your opinion was the reason behind it?
It's rewarding. Drive down Sunset in Los Angeles and there are billboards everywhere, and there are pictures of DJ's who are playing here in Las Vegas. The DJ's drive the billboards, and many of them are more famous than bands. Having a DJ at the club sounds like having a celebrity there. It seems like all of a sudden a nightclub can't be on its own without having a famous DJ. At the same time we should be sensitive to trends. The pendulum swings back and forth, and it's great for now, but I wonder how long it will last.
Can you tell me about your newly released book, Raise the Bar?
I wanted Raise the Bar for food and beverage professionals. At the end of the day we are not in the hotel, food & beverage industry, we are in the business of reactions (trademark- reaction management). For example, a chef isn't preparing an entrée, he is cooking a reaction. He/she who creates the best reaction wins. Almost all food & beverage service quality (textbook) is wrong. Quote me, it's BS. It's "restaurant 101"; we are in the business of making reactions.