Unlocking Success

BAR 17 Jon Taffer Keynote 2

Bar Rescue's Jon Taffer says successful restaurants and bars are great at managing guest reactions.

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers

Internationally known as the host of Spike TV’s docu-reality series “Bar Rescue,” Jon Taffer is an industry leader with nearly 30 years of hands-on experience as a restaurant operator, owner and concept developer. In May, Taffer was the keynote speaker at BAR 17 at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show

A full crowd of beverage industry professionals sat on the edge of their seats as Taffer outlined how to increase revenue. How does he know what works? “I’ve witnessed more failure than anyone you’ve ever known. I know the walk, talk and posture of failure,” he said. “The one reason we fail is excuses. If I blame anything other than myself, I have no reason to change.” 

Taffer’s point is that if you are blaming failure or mediocre success on something other than yourself, you have no reason to change. “If you say, ‘I’m failing because of me’ or ‘Revenues suck because of me,’ then you will freaking change,” he adds. “No one likes looking in the mirror and seeing a failure, but we need to be accountable and own it.” 

Manage Reactions

In the restaurant and bar industry, owners must establish positive emotional reactions. “That reaction is our product,” Taffer says. “When we create reactions, we win and beat the competition. We are in the business of creating reactions; that’s what we do. If we don’t manage those reactions we aren’t managing our future. We live and die by the reactions we create.” 

BAR 17 Jon Taffer Keynote 3Taffer asked the audience, “What drives frequency and loyalty?” Most people in the industry are taught convenience, price value, quality, service and cleanliness, he explains.

However, let’s say a hot new restaurant opens that everyone says you must go to but requires you to drive downtown to a parking garage then walk four blocks to get to it. Would you go? Taffer says yes. Even if the prices are high, portions are small, the food quality is not superior, you wait forever for a drink and there’s no paper towel in the restrooms – Taffer says you’ll still go.  

“If I say this place is cool you will drive further and pay higher prices because we are in the business of relevancy and creating reactions,” Taffer adds. “Those who are the most relevant are the ones most successful. What drives frequency? The emotional reaction and connection – that’s what drives success.”

Reaction Management® is the theme of Taffer’s book, “Raise the Bar: An Action-Based Method for Maximum Customer Reactions,” which explains that by managing reactions you can get more customers to come more often. “If I can manage the reactions of others I can manage my destiny because I’m working at winning you over,” he says. 

Choosing to Succeed

For three decades Taffer has been teaching his keys to success, but it’s up to the restaurant and bar owner whether they practice what he preaches. “Revenue is guest count and sales per guest,” he explains. “Those are the two things that manage revenue and if you don’t know which of those it is when revenue falls, you will fail.” 

There is a problem if guest counts are not sustaining or increasing, which Taffer says means the restaurant or bar is not relevant. Guest counts increase through marketing, promotion, brand relevance and the experience within the bar. Owners need to understand their current guest count level, identify growth objectives, specify tactics for growth and track results. 

Focus on results weekly and be sure to track sales for each shift and each employee. “If sales go down, you must react to determine why,” Taffer says. “Use your POS system.”

To increase sales per guest, bar owners should identify the dollar amount necessary to achieve a 20 percent increase and work to attain that number. “Implement tactics to increase sales results,” Taffer says. “What are the sales barriers in your business? Attack them and find moments when the obstruction is happening and break them down.”

Menu engineering can result increase sales 6 to 18 percent. This includes all prices ending in 95 cents and putting a box around the most expensive items on the menu. 

“A 44 percent increase in sales in 10 weeks changes everything,” Taffer adds. “This will never happen if you think by the month or six months and manage by revenue only. Manage sales separately and do it weekly.”

Teaching Staff

“We use the term ‘training’ in our industry, but we don’t train anyone,” Taffer explains. “That’s behavior modification and it takes years. All we do is teach people to work in our business. Anytime ‘training’ is used it’s been incorrect.” 

A person’s experience in the industry means nothing if they can’t connect to people. The goal is to pick someone with personality and that is often not thought about enough during the hiring process, Taffer says. “Focus on who they are,” he adds. “The experience is secondary.”

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