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Lessons from Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue on a bulletproof plan for success

Photo by Benjamin Zanatta

People have been dining out for more than a thousand years—since the first restaurant as we know it opened in 1100 A.D. in China—and have operated in basically the same way ever since. You sit down at a table, a server takes your order, brings that order to the kitchen where it is prepared, and delivers it to the table when it’s ready.  

“I don’t believe that because we did something some way yesterday that there is any reason to do it that way tomorrow.”

Businessman and television personality Jon Taffer has been innovating the restaurant experience long before COVID hit, and he said that while he understands many restaurants are just trying to stay open, now is not the Jon Taffertime to shy away from improving upon operations. In fact, he said, it’s imperative in order to move forward.  

To discuss this strategy, Taffer joined Josh Kopel on the premiere episode of the second season of Full Comp. In this episode, Taffer said the hospitality business isn’t just going to survive—it’s going to thrive, once a viable vaccine is in place, because dining out is the first thing people will want to do once restrictions are removed. Restaurant and bar owners need to be prepared to take advantage of the coming flood of patrons.

“We have to look forward and understand the opportunity that lies in front of us—for those who really think strategically now, manage cash now, certainly, to sustain ourselves, but then have the resources and practices to do this right, and really seize the surge.”

Taffer, long known for his own innovations in cooking operations, was already at work on what he calls “the cleanest kitchen ever”—a new, improved restaurant concept that just happens to be perfect for the post-COVID society. It’s a cleaner, neater, more contained, and quicker way of bringing food to our tables using the sous-vide cooking technique. 

That cleaner way of doing things is going to build more trust among consumers, he said, and that trust is becoming more powerful than brand in the new era of restaurant management. 

He and Kopel also talk about the pros and cons of discounting to lure in consumers (spoiler alert: there are no pros, according to Taffer) and how value and overall experience are the real ways to win the hearts of diners.

Listen to the full episode below, and listen or subscribe on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Ready for more? Check out more episodes of Full Comp:

Episode 1: Building a Restaurant Empire in a Recession: Tender Greens’ Erik Oberholtzer

Episode 2: Creating Opportunity from Tragedy: Serial Restaurateur Darin Rubell

Episode 3: Redefining Cocktail Culture: Death & Co’s Alex Day

Episode 4: The Art of the Pivot: Iron Chef Eric Greenfield

Episode 14: The Benefits of Community Building: Chef Nina Compton, Chef/Owner of Compère Lapin

Episode 22: The Art of the Pivot: Mark Canlis, owner/operator of Canlis

Episode 26: The Future of Restaurants: Dean Alex Susskind, Cornell University

Episode 34: Becoming a Brand: Celebrity Chef Jet Tila

Episode 36: Fighting the Good Fight: Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless


Full Comp, episode 44 transcript
A bulletproof plan for success: Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue

[Josh Kopel]

Today’s episode is presented by Yelp. Yelp’s mission is to connect people with great local businesses. They also offer great solutions for restaurants looking to streamline their front of house and increase sales. Millions of diners are already using Yelp. And these products are a great way to capitalize on that network. Head over to restaurants.yelp.com to claim your free page and learn more about these powerful tools for your business. Now, here we go.

[Jon Taffer]

As an industry, we’re terrified. We’ll choose a music program that pushes 50% out the door. We’ll do pricing that pushes 50% out the door. But we won’t enforce a mask program because a few people might not like it. That is a mistake.

[Josh Kopel]

Welcome to Full Comp, a show offering insight into the future of the hospitality industry. Featuring restaurateurs, thought leaders, and innovators served up on the house.

[Josh Kopel]

If hosting this show has made one thing incredibly clear, it’s that teamwork, data, and resources will be what help us thrive post-pandemic. Understanding that, Yelp and I have created a cheat sheet, offering insight into consumer behavior, popular trends, and free tools and resources to help you get open and stay open. You can download that guide at joshkopel.com/resources. Didn’t write that down? There’s a link in the show notes as well.

[Josh Kopel]

I’m sure you’ve seen Jon Taffer on TV, but have you read his books? They offer a new perspective on a familiar face. And what struck me most was his mind for operational excellence and his love for the industry. Today, Jon offers straight talk regarding the current state of the industry, as well as a glowing vision for the future. We start with Jon walking us through the future he’s created for his own restaurant concept.

[Jon Taffer]

About two years ago, two and a half years ago, but even last year, employment was so low, unemployment was so low we couldn’t find employees. Remember that? And it was easier to find customers than it was to find employees a year ago. And we had a real issue. So the dining restaurant sector had a serious problem. A, there was no labor available. B, the labor that was available were often new Americans. So there were communications issues in training. And we’re a high communications industry, so that presented some challenges as well. And then there was minimum wage going up $15 plus for line cooks and such. So to me, the restaurant model didn’t work anymore. Somebody had to reinvent the business model so that the economics made sense and that the labor burden wasn’t so high. Now, of course, post-COVID, we have employees everywhere.

[Jon Taffer]

But I sat down and I said, “I need to create the kitchen of the future.” So I really sat down and partnered with Middleby, who owns about 60 brands of kitchen equipment, TurboChef, Frymaster, all those kinds of brands. Worked with their technology departments, worked with a company called Cuisine Solutions out of Washington, who are the masters of sous vide, which is very, very high quality vacuum cooking. And then worked with another company, Crown, on a bar side, a great bar equipment company. And really said, “Okay, what does the kitchen of the future look like?” Get rid of the line, get rid of everything, start with a blank blackboard. And we created the kitchen of the future.

[Jon Taffer]

And we created a completely sous vide menu. There’s no raw product in our kitchen, so there’s no color coded cutting boards, there’s none of that. The product quality is exceptional. Line cooks don’t even salt products. That’s how deep the consistency is. So food is sous vide packaged in our special commissary kitchen, very high quality specs production. It’s then finished in each restaurant in very high technology, cooking by light, cooking with ultraviolets, with steam, traditional heat convection, everything. Nothing has longer than six minute ticket times. And the cooking line is one third of what a normal cooking line would be.

[Jon Taffer]

All the equipment is inset into walls. So there’s no place for dust to gather. There’s no surfaces. So it has about 25% of the surfaces of a regular kitchen, half the ticket time, and it uses about 40% of the staff. And I’ll put the food quality up against anyone. So it started with me saying that, “Wow, we have a crisis pre-COVID.” Saying, “Wow, I want to redesign this.” And I wanted to create a vision to redesign this. So that’s how Taffer’s Tavern was created, with this premise of we will be the new dining model of computerized cooking, robotic cooking, right? Limited sanitation exposure, right? Limited procedures, quality at a lower level of labor costs, et cetera. And that was our intention. Then COVID hit. And we launched a franchise about, well, last summer, almost a year ago. Sold a bunch of territories. So we’ve sold Atlanta, Boston, Washington, and New York.

[Jon Taffer]

And COVID hits. And we realized, “Wow, this might be the cleanest kitchen ever.” There’s no exposed protein. There’s no real points of contact between food and hands of kitchen staff. It comes out in its sous vide packaging into ovens, right to plates. It doesn’t cross three hands because there’s no fryer guy, no broiler guy. It’s one person moves with the food. It’s contactless cooking. So we created the Taffer Safe Dining System, which goes down to uniforms, processes in the kitchen. We isolated the three key functions in a restaurant. Transaction, service, and food running.

[Jon Taffer]

Concept being that transaction is a point of exposure, it cannot get anywhere near servers or the running of food. So that has to be isolated in a sanitary compartment, as we call it. Then food running needs to be isolated in a sanitary compartment. That person can do nothing else, period. End of discussion. So all of that step is now a sanitized envelope. And then service becomes a completely different function because it’s not transactional, nor is it bringing food to the table. So we saw it as an opportunity to elevate service, right? By having that service person be able to focus on you more as the guest, connecting with you more as the guest, interacting with you more as the guest, rather than running back and forth to the kitchen for providing typically running services. So that’s how Taffer’s Tavern was created. And I’m very, very proud of it.

[Jon Taffer]

Middleby, we have a new system called the Puck. And we’re one of the first people in the world to have it. It’s a system that is built into the back wall of the restaurant. And it’s a big cutout. And it’s a locker system. And I believe there’s 18 lockers in it. And they’re temperature controlled. And the pickup driver simply uses his phone, holds it in front, the locker door opens. They never come into the restaurant, there’s no contact, there’s no time of employees involved. So we’ve worked with companies like Shift4 Payments and POSitouch to really take transaction to the next level, connecting it much more with delivery, et cetera. It’s been a heck of a process to say, “Okay, let’s start over and reinvent it.”

[Josh Kopel]

Well, but that begs the question of motivation. Because you’re loaded, you’re famous, right? You can do anything you want to do in the world. And you chose to dig into day-to-day operations of a restaurant, which is what so many people are clamoring to get out of. Right? What’s the motivation there?

[Jon Taffer]

Well, I’m not running into operations, I’m running into development. And the franchisee operates it, and I have people on my team that are great operators. So I’m not one who’s going to be involved in day to day operations. And you’re right, I wouldn’t touch that today. Particularly after all the years I’ve put into the business. But I can’t help myself. I love taking an idea and bringing it to fruition. I’ve done that my whole life. When I started with seltzers, which are here, my seltzer line. When I started it, it started with this passion of flavors. So I wanted to create these flavors. So cucumber jalapeño is one of our big flavors. I’m not trying to plug the seltzer, that’s not my point. It started with this love of creating these flavors and then taking this into fruition somehow. So the seltzers were created.

[Jon Taffer]

And Taffer’s Tavern, it started not with the love of food, it started with a problem solving objective. That the model didn’t work. And then when I started picking it apart, well, this was an opportunity to make food better too. This was an opportunity to make service better too. So then we started building these elevating planks built into the whole premise of consolidating it in the first place. So it’s fun how these things develop.

[Jon Taffer]

I get to sit on a board of a hospital and I’m pretty up on medical news. And I think we can all say that the clock is now ticking down and that there will be a vaccine this winter. And I think that’s pretty much a given. There’ll be several options, I’m guessing. But this is going to end. And I suggest to you and the entire industry that the first place that people are going to go after they get their vaccine is out to dinner. Period, end of fricking discussion. So whether it’s four months from now, five months from now, or six months from now, there is going to be a surge. Now, we are losing a certain percentage of our restaurants every month. I have it pegged at about 6% to 7% a month are dropping off, running out of resources, are not going to open again.

[Jon Taffer]

So let’s look forward five months for conversation’s sake. So five months from now, we have call it 40%, 50% less capacity in the restaurant business. And we enter into a post-vaccine market surge. Now, to me, that’s boom town. To me, that’s a reason to invest in the right restaurant companies. To me, that’s the reason to start the right kind of restaurant chains now, to seize this. Because legacy brands are going to disappear, some of them, if they don’t do it right. And new brands are going to become legacy brands. So we have an opportunity as an industry, and nobody’s talking about this part of it. I understand we’re in the doom and gloom mode, but I’m selling franchises. And I’m not looking to plug franchises, but the people who are buying it, like in Boston, says to me, “Jon, unbelievable locations are becoming available in the next few months. We want to seize that opportunity and get those incredible locations. They’re pre-built out, et cetera, et cetera.”

[Jon Taffer]

So I say to our industry that we have to look forward and understand the opportunity that lies in front of us for those who really think strategically now, manage cash now, certainly, to sustain ourselves, but then have the resources and practices to do this right, and really seize the surge. I think it’s actually an unbelievable opportunity for us. And I’m sorry to be so long, but I think it’s an important point.

[Josh Kopel]

I agree.

[Jon Taffer]

Not very many people talking about.

[Josh Kopel]

Well, and to expand upon that, you don’t hear restaurateurs and operators screaming that they want things to go back to the way they were before. Right? Nobody wants to go back to the 80 to 100 hour work weeks. Nobody wants to, after spending so many months with their family, to leave their families indefinitely. Basically to go back to work and either work for free or pay to work for free, right? That is the role of most restaurateurs. And so you do paint a much brighter future. What I want to talk about now are the values that you extol. You talk a lot about the business of the hospitality industry, and you talk about the foundational issues that individual restaurants have and that we have as an industry. Do you want to run through some of those?

[Jon Taffer]

Sure. I mean, the simplest value that I have, and I’ve used this value for a long time, is just get them back. And get them back, make them smile are two three-word phrases, but it really sums up the hospitality industry. Every employee has the same job description. Get the customer back. No matter what you do or how you do it, your job is to get the customer back. Now, there’s a lot underneath that sentence with regard to meeting expectation, branding correctly, marketing, creating the right expectation, over-delivering on that expectation, creating the human connection between employees and customers. There’s a lot of parts to that. But make no mistake, I’m in the restaurant business because I enjoy making people happy. So if I can’t make people happy, I have no purpose. If I can’t provide an experience that I’m really proud of to stand there and watch them and tell me how great it is and how … If I can’t get that out of this, I have no purpose.

[Jon Taffer]

So those who enter the hospitality industry must embrace that premise that it is a subservient business by nature. Our job is to make other people happy. And make no mistake, the happier we make them, the more money we make. So there’s an inherent connection between the two. But that has been my driving force over the years. I call it reaction management. I own that term. And within the premise of reaction management, we’ve developed these subcategories and sciences that we call interactive dynamics, mechanical dynamics, personal dynamics. And all of those elements and how they play upon the customer experience.

[Jon Taffer]

For example, if I can have fun with you for a minute, pick a Denny’s. The lights are bright, the waiter walks fast. Go to a Morton’s. The lights are low, the waiter walks slow. If the waiter walks too fast in that Morton’s, that steak isn’t worth $60 anymore. If Morton’s turned up those lights, that steak wouldn’t be worth $60 anymore. So that’s the science of environmental and mechanical dynamics of pace and energy and movement and how all of these things relate to perceived value. So these are all things that I’ve created over my many, many years in this business, all with a desire to create a smile.

[Josh Kopel]

Well, and culturally, I think most of us do walk into this industry with a servant’s heart. But there has been a huge cultural shift over the last 10 years. When I came up in this industry, chefs used to throw pans across the kitchen, and everybody used to scream. And you are a man that leads, I don’t know how many people are part of your organization, I would assume a shit ton. And on TV, you raise your voice and it makes for good television. But in your organization, do you lead that way? Or do you lead in a more mindful way, let’s say?

[Jon Taffer]

I am a leader who is an extremely tolerant leader if I trust your intentions. If you are here truly well-intended, working hard, committed, focused on your career, committed to the brand, you are really there, then, man, I got your back. I will give you extra time, I will support you, I’ll put assistants around you, I’ll give you resources. And my employees would tell you that. The moment I don’t trust your intentions, everything changes. The moment I find you self-serving on my dollar, everything changes. The moment you are dishonest with me about anything, the moment changes. But I think my employees would tell you that I’m probably very predictable. Because I am open. If I’m not happy with something, I’ll tell you. If I disagree with you, I’ll tell you. But I’m telling you with a purpose.

[Jon Taffer]

And I always tell this story to my young managers, that if you did something I didn’t like and I come up to you and I discipline you, and at the end of that conversation, you want to work for me less today than you did yesterday, I’m an idiot. So discipline should not demotivate an employee, it should motivate them to work harder the next day. Or fire them. What the hell is the point? Discipline, in a strange way, needs to be a motivational exercise. Doesn’t it? Because I want you to work harder for me tomorrow than you did today. So I can’t knock your soul out, so to speak. There has to be a way to appeal to your pride, maybe appeal to your shame, maybe appeal to your money motivation, maybe appeal to your motivation for being promoted, or just respect or dignity or importance. But there are things that will motivate you that have to be included within the negatives of the conversation of discipline.

[Jon Taffer]

So I would discipline you by saying, “Listen, I love you. You’re a great employee. I love having you here. But you got to do something for me.” So I think that’s key. And having people want to work hard for you is key. Bar Rescue is very different. Bar Rescue, I’m given four days to do something that would normally take me 60 days to do. So there’s this clock in my head ticking every minute. I don’t have time for you to get on board. I got to get you on board now. I don’t have time to answer your questions. I don’t have time for your doubt. So I become an aggressive, but it’s all because of that clock in my head and this belief that I know I’m going to get a hug in the end. So as mad as you are at me along the process, I know in the end, you’re going to look in my eyes and give me the hug. So that makes me even more aggressive.

[Josh Kopel]

I want to go back to something you said earlier because I think it’s a big point during a big moment in our industry, which is you said that the goal is to always get people back, right? That you always want to get the guests back to the restaurant. And the techniques and the motivations that have been used in the past are free or discounting. And I don’t know what your perspective is, but just based off my own life and the choices I’ve made in my own business, I have found that I and other people like me have almost discounted themselves to death. And that one of the big issues within the industry is margin, right? One, not completely understanding it. And two, once you do understand it, realizing it’s a garbage margin. And so my question to you would be in terms of getting people back, what strategies do you employ that don’t involve discounts?

[Jon Taffer]

It’s interesting, I’ve always said to myself, and I say this to operators all the time, and they hate it when I say it. If somebody looks at you and said, “Your prices are too high,” that’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying your product sucks. Because they paid that price someplace else. If you sell a sandwich for $12 and somebody says, “Your sandwich is too expensive.” Two blocks away, they’re spending $16 on a sandwich and they’re loving it. So we got to understand what the true meaning of consumer behavior is. If we reduce our price and we become a price-based business, that’s bleeding to death. Guy across the street lowers his price, now we start removing a slice of meat, a slice of meat. We start cutting portion. We’re fighting for this war of price. You don’t win the battle of the competitive wars with price. You win long term competitive wars with experience and value.

[Jon Taffer]

Now, value is not absolute. Value is perceived. Now, you’ll pay $2 more for burger that might be an ounce smaller if the place is great. So I am one who resists discounting in every possible way. I do not do that. I might do a program like your seventh lunch is free, but I won’t give you 10% off every lunch. I will not allow you to get addicted to discounts. To have that become your number one motivator to me is not smart. And companies like Friday’s and Chili’s and Applebee’s, now they’re dealing with this, right? Because they’re dealing with the fact that they had $5 appetizers and $10 all you can eat. And how do you recover from that when that is now customer expectation? Because you did it for a period of time. So I’m extremely anti-discount. I believe you invest in the guest. And put money into everything from music systems to background to employee dynamics training. The fact of the matter is you don’t leave a great experience and say it was expensive.

[Josh Kopel]

I want to quote you here. You said that restaurant and bars don’t live and breathe. They don’t have blood. It’s a business. And most owners and operators don’t see it that way, right? They’re intimately tied to their businesses. They see them as an extension of self. Do you see that as a liability?

[Jon Taffer]

I do. I don’t believe that any business should be personal. It’s not my daughter. It’s not my family. It’s very different. Some of the most, and I say that to you with experience, because the most difficult choices I’ve ever had to make over my life is when I closed something. Is admitting to yourself this isn’t working. Or it’s not making enough money or it’s not worth it, or it’s not serving you well. And having the courage to close it. It doesn’t take a lot of courage to open it. It takes a lot more courage to close it.

[Josh Kopel]

I agree.

[Jon Taffer]

So I’ve learned that lesson over the years and it’s made me look at it a little differently.

[Josh Kopel]

You do look at a lot of things differently. I was doing research and I had no idea that you were one of the people that created the concept for the NFL Sunday Ticket.

[Jon Taffer]

I did.

[Josh Kopel]

Which is bananas. And are you a man that just sees opportunities for innovation everywhere, even in light of a global pandemic?

[Jon Taffer]

I guess so. I’ve been fortunate. And I like to be able to humble. So you put me in a sort of humility box here, but I’ve been told that I can be somewhat of a visionary, that I have this ability to sort of look ahead and create new approaches to things and maybe new ways of doing things. And I’ve been able to do that most of my career. I’ve created training systems and processes and created things like reaction management. And all these things just come to my mind as I go through the process. I’m always just, I guess, trying to do it better. And so I look at everything. And I don’t believe that because we did something some way yesterday is any reason to do it that way tomorrow. So I’m open to reassessing everything all the time.

[Josh Kopel]

Well, and this is that moment. You wrote a book called Don’t Bullshit Yourself. And if you were to ask me, I would say that bullshitting ourselves is one of the biggest causes for what is projected to be a 60% permanent closure rate, that our optimism got the best of us. Would you agree with that?

[Jon Taffer]

I would agree with that. And it’s interesting, if you relate that book to what we’re going through as an industry right now, two quick points I’d like to make. Back in March, I said this. The marketplace is going to come back in thirds. First third is immediate. They’ll come back as soon as we open up. They’re the younger audience. They’re fearless, right? They’re not so worried about the virus. We’ll see them, they’ll come out. The second third is what I call the reserved third. They’re going to watch. They want to make certain people are wearing masks or it looks safe and they’re not too crowded and blah, blah, blah. And if things look good to them, in a few weeks, the reserve third will start to come out.

[Jon Taffer]

Then we have the third third, which I call the certain third. The certain third, they’re not coming anywhere until there’s a vaccine. They’re older, they’re higher risk categories, but they have the disposable income. That’s the third that drives the whole luxury sector of our industry. They’re the last ones to engage with us in this process. And nobody has quite talked about the demographic and socioeconomic flow of what coming out of this pandemic is going to mean. And that’s what we’re seeing now. So for example, here, I’m in Las Vegas. If I go to the strip, I’ll see that first third. They’re all the younger crowd. There’s no certain thirds walking around on the Las Vegas strip. So we have to understand that right now, our market is in huge disruption. Now, if there was hurricane coming next week in Florida, I wouldn’t open next week if I was opening a new business. I’d wait.

[Jon Taffer]

So we as an industry have a dilemma. Do I spend my money now sustaining myself during this massive market disruption? Or do I save my resources so that I have those resources for when the market disruption starts to diminish, I can hit and protect my asset? Now, if you say to yourself, “Boy, I don’t want to bleed to death. So what does not sustaining myself and waiting until the pandemic is over mean? It means maybe I go meet with my landlord and cut a deal with my landlord for a period of time, right? Maybe it means I work out some arrangement with my employees. Maybe it means I only operate two hours a day for delivery only for dinner and sell 50 meals a night or 100 meals a night.” What does this mean? Because if we spend all our money now, in five months, when this is over, we’re screwed.

[Jon Taffer]

We as an industry need to weigh this. And every restaurant is in a different scenario right now. And I’m telling so many of my friends, please look forward. This is not ending next month. So make sure you have not only the resources to sustain, but the resources to really reset once this is over.

[Josh Kopel]

That’s great advice. And it kind of bleeds into what I wanted to talk about next, which is your Resetting America initiative. Can you walk me through that?

[Jon Taffer]

Sure. Things have changed a lot, and I’ll be brief. Let’s say you love hamburgers. And you used to go to this hamburger place that makes your favorite hamburger in the world. And now post-pandemic, you walk over there, place looks a little dirty, a little disorganized. You don’t feel so safe there post-pandemic. So you go down the street to the place that has your second favorite hamburger. It’s really clean there, really organized there. You feel like it’s sterile. That is the most dynamic change to our industry I’ve seen in my lifetime. Trust is now above product. Think about that. Trust is now above brand. We’ve, of course, had great sanitation, but there was no restaurant brand known for sanitation before this. Not one. So trust is now the number one motivator for the industry. The brands that build the most trust are the ones that are going to come out of this pandemic the fastest and the strongest in all categories of dining.

[Jon Taffer]

So we have to look at the way we’re messaging. We have to use words that build trust, images that build trust. If I can give an example for a moment, I saw an image on social media of a guy, a cook on the line. And he’s laying a lasagna noodle in a pan. And the post is, “Our famous lasagna will be available today at 5:00 for curbside pickup.” Okay, not a bad effort, right? But the guy’s not wearing a mask. He’s not wearing a hat. He’s wearing these clear, cheap plastic gloves. We have to be better than that now as an industry. So we have to look at the imagery that we’re putting out, the messaging that we’re putting out. We must build trust these next few months. And that, I think, is a huge change to the way we’re all going to be doing business. And the way we execute our each individual business model.

[Josh Kopel]

You’re offering free tools as well, right?

[Jon Taffer]

I’m sorry. So the answer to your question was I got so into this with all the news shows that I do with the first third, second third, and all that reset. I said, “I have an educational platform called Taffer Virtual Teaching where we sell our training programs and educational programs.” So using that platform, I threw a free program called Resetting America. And I really talked through these thirds and what do we need to do? Because this is not a restart, this is a reset because things are different, right? We’re resetting to a changed market. So all of that is free. You can find it at jontaffer.com. And it’s worth it if you’re in the industry. Watch it for a few minutes. I try to give a bunch of tidbits to help us all get through this. And it’s completely free.

[Josh Kopel]

Let’s talk about the other side of the coin as well. So there are a lot of things that we need to do as hospitality professionals to get ready for the onslaught that I think we all know is coming at some point. But some responsibility is going to fall on the patrons as well. Right? What do guests need to know? And what are they responsible for in light of the pandemic and the reopening?

[Jon Taffer]

Boy, that’s a really powerful question. Maybe the most powerful of all. Because for the past two months, I’ve been saying that the consumer is going to determine the fate of our industry and not us. And what I mean by that is you can own a restaurant and do everything right, sanitize every 30 seconds, right? Have hand washing policies, mask policies, special filters in your HVAC system, you did everything. But customers refuse to wear masks, they stand close to each other in a crowd at the front door of your restaurant. They destroy it for you. And we’ve never been in that type of volatility before where the behavior of a few consumers in front of our restaurant could destroy it for us. So I’ve spoken about this a lot, and I put forth a thought to the industry that’s heavy, but really important.

[Jon Taffer]

In the bar and nightclub industry, if I choose to play country music, I’m segmenting half of the population not to come to my bar, aren’t I? Rock and roll people are not coming. If I choose to play rock and roll, country people are not coming. So we do things that segment our market all the time. If I price a steak at $70, some people are not coming. If I price it at $12, some people are not. So we do things every day that alienates certain parts of the marketplace and connect with others. Why are we scared to do this with masks? As an industry, we’re terrified. We’ll choose a music program that pushes 50% out the door. We’ll do pricing that pushes 50% out the door. But we won’t enforce a mask program because a few people might not like it. That is a mistake. And I’m imploring our industry to reconsider this.

[Jon Taffer]

We need to step in on one side of this issue or not. Either say yes, masks in my restaurant. Not when you’re eating, obviously, but moving about, waiting in front, waiting to be seated, yes, masks. Enforce that policy. If half the people don’t want to come, it’s no different than picking a music format is my point. It’s not an earth shattering decision. We make decisions like this all the time. Why are we scared to do it about a mask? And then the customers ruin it for us because there’s images of our brand without masks and standing next to each other, and we’re screwed. So I really think, as an industry, we need to take a look at this and that we need to stand on one side of this or the other. And I say implement a mask program. It’s part of building that trust. Whether you believe in it, whether you think it’s political or not, none of that matters. This is not my child. This is not emotional. This is a business. Do what’s safest for the brand, and have the courage to do that.

[Josh Kopel]

That is world-class advice. It is an industry podcast. And at the end of every episode, I like to give the guests an opportunity to speak directly to the industry. Do you have any words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share?

[Jon Taffer]

Yeah, I would. I’m sitting here in Las Vegas and one of the entertainment capitals in the world. I look at our industry from its inception and I love this industry. I’ve been in it 40 years. There is nobody better at sanitation than we are. There’s nobody better at guest service than we are. There’s nobody better at running complex operations from purchasing and waste and temperature control and holding and preparation and procedures and sanitation, nobody better at something so complex as we are. We are really good at this. And we have the ability to beat this. A virus is no different than a bacteria. It’s invisible, we can deal with it with chemicals and processes, just like we have with bacteria since our inception.

[Jon Taffer]

We need to be proud as an industry. We are the example of how to do this right. And I’m just incredibly proud of all of us for the way we’ve acted, the way we’ve hung in there. And let’s fight through this. Protect your money during the sustaining period, have it for the boom because I know the boom is coming. So right now, we should be proud of what we’re doing. Soon, we’ll have joy from what we’re doing again.

[Josh Kopel]

That’s Jon Taffer. To see what Jon’s working on next and for access to the tools mentioned in the show, visit jontaffer.com. If you want to tell us your story, hear previous episodes, check out our video content or read our weekly blog. Go to joshkopel.com. That’s J-O-S-H K-O-P-E-L .com. Thank you so much for listening to the show. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, please leave us a review. A special thanks to Yelp for helping us spread the word to the whole hospitality community. I’m Josh Kopel. You’ve been listening to Full Comp.

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