Nightclub King Jon Taffer Sets A High Bar

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Jon Taffer is the king of the bar business. Over the past three decades, he has managed dozens of bars and nightclubs, and is a consultant for bar owners all over the country.

Most recently, he has put his expertise to use as the host of the popular reality show Bar Rescue. Bar and nightclub owners with failing businesses ask Taffer for his help. In return, Taffer brings a team of bartenders, chefs and designers with him to revamp every part of the operation. On the show, as in person, Taffer is a tough, no-nonsense guy.

Bar Rescue is now in its third season, and Taffer has just published a book of bar wisdom called Raise the Bar. He sat down for a drink with NPR host Arun Rath.

Interview Highlights

On making money in the bar business

It's a tough business. People think it's inherently profitable but it's not. You know the alcohol in a drink is only about 20 percent of the price. So for every dollar a drink costs, the cost to the bar is only 20 cents. But that doesn't include labor, insurance, rent. When you're finished, bars are not inherently profitable. You got to work at them to make them profitable.

On the dual nature of running a bar

It's almost like show business, you know, on-stage, off-stage. When you're on-stage, you're expected to perform in the bar business. You shake hands, you smile, you're all positive energy, you add to your environment. When you walk in the door to the back of the house, that's like a stage door. You're off-stage now. You're a business man, you're in the hospitality business and you're focused on costs, managing your employees, and all the other aspects of business. It's a dual existence, really.

On bars in American history

You know, you got to remember what bars are. The second public building ever built in America was a bar. The first was a church. The first distiller in America was George Washington. Made about 10 thousand gallons of bourbon a year. So bars are a part of the fiber of America. And when they work, they make people feel good. People connect to a good bar, very personally.

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