Jon Taffer is a longtime food and beverage industry consultant specializing in nightclubs, lounges, and pubs, who’s had a hand in 800 establishments over the course of his three-decade career. He’s also the host and executive producer of the Spike TV show Bar Rescue, which sees Taffer and his team “rescue” failing bars from the brink of closure. New episodes of the series begin June 21.
Here, he gives his tips on what makes a great bar.
1. The “hottest bar in town,” to me, means high energy. So to have the hottest bar in town, you have to have the hottest music, and the hottest music is the music that keeps people moving. Play music with a lot of beats per minute; hire a DJ who keeps the music variety upbeat and different. Of course great service, great cocktails play into the mix to make a bar ‘hot,’ but the number one element here is high energy. And the key to high energy is always going to be music. Don’t forget that.
2. Don’t build a bar for yourself. Build it for your customers. It’s all about them: the walls, the finishes, the textures, the food, the beverages, literally everything HAS to be for them. If you want to make money, I hope you didn’t build this bar for yourself. You’re not going to pay you, your customers are going to pay you. But only if you keep the focus on them. If your main reason for opening a bar is to have somewhere for you and your friends to hang out, then build a bar in your basement, and stay out of the industry. That being said…
3. Don’t drink in your own bar! Keep it a business, keep it professional! No one wants to see the owner of the bar neglecting their customers because he or she is over in the corner with their buddies getting hammered. If there’s a big crowd tonight, and your staff is working hard to keep up with the demand, you better be right there with them, getting these customers what they want! If it’s a slow night, that’s still not an excuse. But the “hottest bars” shouldn’t have slow nights. So get to work!
4. People don’t go to bars they think are uncool. The way you make your bar seem cool to people is the music that you play, the uniforms that you put your staff in, and other visuals. It doesn’t matter if you serve the best cocktail, or the best burger in town! If it looks unappealing, no one will be excited about it; no one will care. Make sure that your bar, the drinks, the food, the design, the artwork, the entertainment, EVERYTHING is cool, not in your eyes, but in the eyes of your customer. Again, they’re the ones paying you, so make it worth their time, or they’re not going to spread the word about your bar—or they will, but it’s not going to be good news. You got them in your bar, now make sure they, and all their friends, come back!
5. Have. Innovative. Beverages. One way to up the cool factor (and simultaneously the “hotness” factor) of your bar? Cool, new, fresh cocktails. Drinks and cocktails have trends just like anything else, so set aside some time with your bartenders learning and keeping up with new recipes regularly. Flavored spirits are really hot right now—they’re always really hot! Make sure you always have the newest flavored vodkas, tequilas, etc. If you want your bar to be hot and contemporary, if you want to reach the maximum number of people, AND get them to keep coming back, then you absolutely HAVE to have the hot and contemporary brands. Beer cocktails are also really hot right now. So have them. Switch it up often, find out what your customers love, and what they don’t. Offer interesting specials, not just whatever you ordered too much of.