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5 Things I Learned from Bar Rescue

There is a television in our cookie kitchen

A giant one. It was there before the conversion to bakery, so it’s grandfathered in and thus is allowed to stay… On Tuesdays, I spend my whole workday with my friend Jon Taffer watching Bar Rescue. He doesn’t know we’re friends but that’s okay. He’s given me so much free business advice and guidance I can’t help but consider him my friend.

Bar Rescue

In case you don’t know, Bar Rescue is a show on SpikeTV.  Jon Taffer and his varying team of experts go around the country and attempt to rescue failing bars. It’s. So. Great. Often on Tuesdays they show episodes back to back all day. I can’t turn it off, whether I’ve seen that episode before or not. I survived college by working in bars and nightclubs. Perhaps that contributes to my fascination of the show. Now as an entrepreneur I’m always looking for business wisdom. I know cookies and cocktails seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, but most of the issues raised in Bar Rescue are vital to any business that serves customers anything they might eat or drink:

  • How do we grow?
  • How do we stay relevant?
  • What can we improve?
  • What should we be doing that we aren’t?
  • Are we giving our customers what they are looking for?

There are themes that repeat throughout the episodes that are vital to my business, if you work in food and beverage service, I bet they are critical to you as well.

Top 5 lessons from Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue

#1: Cleanliness is….Everything.

If you’re offering edible-anything to customers, you better run a tight ship. When you’re done cleaning, clean some more. Not so easily said for bakeries, where powdered sugar and flour like to float through the air to tiny crevices of worktables and mixer handles. Theoretically proper insurance would cover us if someone ever got sick from our products, but that money won’t restore the the damage to our brand and reputation. Don’t take that risk. When your workplace is unclean you’re gambling with the health of your clientele. Doing that makes you a jerk. Don’t be a jerk, clean, clean, clean.

#2: Systems are your friend.

Everything should have a system or a process. You can’t just wing it.

How do you charge/bill customers?

How do you account for inventory?

What glass is that cocktail served in and how is that cookie packaged?

Have systems and reevaluate: are your systems working? If not, how can you improve them? Where are the lapses?

#3 Efficiency is King.

This piggy-backs on the systems philosophy. Again and again I’ve watched as Jon Taffer and his team have scrutinized the layout of the back bar, counting every wasted step as lost money. Look at the layout of your workspace. What’s working? What’s not working? Our space has expanded as we’ve grown, and we reorganize about once a month to try to optimize efficiency. Three steps might not matter when we have 5 orders, but when we have 50, it’s everything. If our drivers show up and we aren’t ready to load, then that’s lost time. If I’m working faster in my station than the gal in the next station because she keeps having to cross the room for one step of her process, then that needs to be fixed, yesterday. Efficiency is king and time is money.

#4: What’s your market?

Who are you selling to? If you don’t know you better learn quickly. If you’re in the cocktail business, you can’t just say, “Anyone over 21,” that’s not realistic. If you own a birthday cookie cake business, you can’t just say everyone who likes cookies…that won’t work either (believe me, I thought that when we first launched). Location, location, location.

If you’re brick and mortar you had better do your research to learn who lives and works near your location and market to them. If you’re just starting out and choosing a location you need to know the demographics. I like Taffer’s approach: know your market and go after it.  A business in a “Dual-Income, No Kids” area can cater to families, but it won’t succeed. Your business is a ‘victim’ of your location with a storefront. You have to cater to the population at hand. If you don’t know what that is you’re in trouble.

With an online business like ours, it’s a little different. We have a massive delivery range. Theoretically, our reach is greater than a single location. For an online delivery business like ours, the question has to expand to “How do we reach this segment of our market?” At CookieText, we try to work in waves, because too many ideas spread too thin are ineffective. The question for us is what’s the next-best customer/demographic to introduce our product to and how do we reach them?

Often it’s a subset of people: college parents for nearby universities (we make this push at August move-in), people who have birthday celebrations(we form strategic partnerships with places that host children’s parties), corporations who give gifts (we approach them in the Fall, prior to Holiday gift-giving), friends and family of expectant mothers…

Maybe our working in waves is actually a result of a small marketing budget, but I prefer to think it’s from the wisdom that one eats an elephant one bite at a time. Anyone who’s marketing and doesn’t know who their target market is is wasting time and money. Do your research, don’t generalize, and focus.

#5: Your employees make or break your business, and you can make or break them.

Hire wisely. Treat your staff well. Evaluate their effectiveness: quite simply, can they do the tasks you need them to do? If not, it’s probably your fault, not theirs.

Did you train them? Consistency is an integral part of customer service. Training is key. Everyone needs to learn to do things so they turn out the same way. You don’t want to have 2 margaritas at a bar and have them taste entirely different. Nor do I want a CookieText made by Liz to taste or be packaged differently than one made by myself. It’s all in the training. On those systems, you established back in step #2.

Remember your employees are not your underlings. Treat them with kindness, respect, and gratitude. Owning the business does not dub one king or queen of the world. Being the boss means the final decision is yours, but you’re an idiot if you ignore the insight of your employees. You’re a jerk if you treat them as subordinates, or don’t realize that for every good employee there are 10 bad ones waiting to take their place. Do all that you can and should to keep good employees, and don’t just keep them, keep them as happy in their job as you can by appreciating them and acknowledging their contribution to your success. That said, there are no free rides. If a properly trained employee consistently underperforms, it’s time to let them go.

Check Out Bar Rescue

Jon Taffer is all about exceeding expectations and eliciting good reactions from your customers. The Five Lessons I’ve learned barely scratch the surface of what a motivated business owner can learn from him. You can learn more about him at or find his book Raise the Bar on or His show on SpikeTV airs new episodes Sundays at 9pm Eastern Time.