The first public building in what was to
become the United States of America was a
church. The second was a public house—a bar
in today’s language.
Alcohol, the atmosphere of a public drinking
place, and the inevitable hangover are parts
of the foundation of this country. No one
understands this better than Jon Taffer.
You probably recognize the name even if you
aren’t already a fan. Taffer is the host and
brains behind “Bar Rescue”, the Spike TV show
where the industry expert helps transform
struggling bars into profitable businesses. He’s
founded, flipped, or owned more than 600
bars and clubs in his career, making him the
preeminent voice of the hospitality space.
He was in a rainy Phoenix and filming an
episode for the fourth season of his hit show
when I had the chance to talk to him about
the show, his expertise in business, and a new
exciting venture for the Taffer brand.
But before we talked about “Bar Rescue”,
I wanted to know where he found his passion
for the hospitality industry. What I didn’t
expect to hear was that it all started
when he was a political science major in
college, when he thought he would go into
politics. After finding a love for cultural
anthropology—specifically an interest in
primate and human behavior—and tending bar
in college, these life aspirations shifted.
It turns out bars, restaurants, and clubs are
great places to observe human behavior. As
he quickly moved up the ranks and through
the restaurant and hotel industry, and learned
more about the market—which is driven by
human reactions—Taffer knew this was where
his passion met his expertise.
What he couldn’t predict, however, was the
success of “Bar Rescue”.
“I thought we were going to make a pilot,
and that was it. Then I thought we’d film just
a couple of episodes. Then I figured we’d be
cancelled after a season. I never would have
thought we’d make it this far.”
People connect with the show—its drama,
its problem solving, and the final reveal of
the new and improved bar and staff. But the
biggest draw is Taffer himself.
It’s easy to misconstrue Taffer’s aggressive and
often unforgiving demeanor on the show as
plain old meanness, but that’s not the case. His
passion for the industry, for doing things the
right way, and for providing a unique brand
experience are what underlie the attitude.
“These people own businesses, take risks, are
in debt up to their eyeballs, and often have
their house and family life on the line,” he said.
“They have made thousands of bad decisions
to get them in this hole. I show up and have to
change the fundamentals of how they make
decisions. I have two and a half days to learn
how they think and change it. You can’t play
nice with those terms.”
The key to the show is creating a new brand
identity for the bar—one that patrons see
as unique and authentic. Each week is a
new challenge to make sure the rebranded
bar isn’t like any of the other 100 or so
Taffer has helped revitalize on the program.
When redesigning, he always looks for one
characteristic—a “thread”—that he can build
the design, menu, and atmosphere around.
But according to Taffer, most people don’t
understand what the heart of branding
“At the end of the day, a brand is as emotional
as it gets. A brand has attributes that a
consumer connects with. It’s about how
someone feels about it—it’s not factual, it’s
abstract and based on human reactions.”