3 Small-Business Tips I Learned Watching "Bar Rescue"

Bar Rescue follows a now-classic reality show format. An expert (in this case Jon Taffer, who has 35 years of bar/hospitality experience) comes into a failing business and revamps it, retrains the staff, and teaches the owners how they can make money.

In each episode, Taffer puts a failing bar under surveillance and sends in scouts to do recon work. Once he has established what's wrong, he then enters the bar and takes the owners/manager to task. Generally, the bars are rundown and lack basic cleanliness standards, and employees are often giving away what should be sold.

Over his four-day visit, Taffer breaks down the owners and staff as well as the bar before building them all back up. He usually guts the bar itself and puts it back together with a new concept geared to the market and a staff trained to execute it.

Each episode is packed with business lessons that apply well beyond the bar business. These are three of the major themes that might help any small-business owner.

1. Remember that you don't know everything

Before Taffer enters a bar, he shares with viewers how much it's losing each week and how much it has lost overall. The numbers are usually staggering, but this does not stop the owners and managers from clinging to methods that have not worked.

In most cases, the mistakes are obvious. Things like dirty kitchens and dead bugs in uncleaned bottles are common, as are poorly trained staffs. Eventually, many of the owners and managers come around and listen to a man who has a track record of fixing failing bars. A small group, however, never get over themselves and either never implement Taffer's changes or go back to what wasn't working soon after he leaves.

2. Your business must fill a market need

In many cases, bar owners on the show opened their establishments without doing a market study or considering the needs of the community. A seaside location in a community that draws tourists may support a pirate-themed bar, while a downtown business location probably will not.

You also need to consider the income and discretionary spending habits of potential customers. A swanky cocktail lounge might not be right for a lower-middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood, while a beer dive might not fit in a fancy shopping district.

Remember, it's not about what you like but about what the market will support.

3. It's not them, it's you

Many of the Bar Rescue bars have poor managers, out-of-control staff, and customers that wreak havoc. Those, however, are symptoms of the bigger problem -- the owners don't take command.

It can be hard to discipline or even part ways with bad managers or incompetent staff members. That can be compounded by the fact that in small businesses (like in bars), staffs often include family members and/or friends.

No matter how much you like someone or feel indebted to them, you have to separate the business from the personal. If someone does not carry his or her weight and can't (or won't) shape up, then you have to get rid of them.

Take a step back

Taffer rarely uncovers anything that's not obvious to customers or anyone looking at the bar. Owners can become blind to the faults of their businesses.

Don't let that be you. Take a step back and use a very critical eye on your company. Try to put yourself in your customers' shoes and look for faults. Chances are, even if things are mostly going well, you will still find some room for improvement. Keep doing that regularly, and you can avoid the slow shift into a bad state that so many of the Bar Rescue businesses find themselves in.

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