Jon Taffer is willing to flip over any plate of nachos, shatter any glass of alcohol, and shout any obscenity in order to do his job on Bar Rescue: saving America’s worst establishments from total ruin. There’s no limit to his aggressive outbursts, which routinely go viral. He’s pasted pictures of bar owners’ children to the bottoms of beer glasses to scare them into quitting drinking. He’s pushed dozens and dozens of plates of food off counters to send the message that he’s pissed off about mismanagement.
And he’ll do it again, if he has to. Over Bar Rescue’s eight seasons on air (the show started on Spike, and moved to the Paramount Network for its sixth season onward), Taffer has helped revive over 240 bars around the nation. Even though the show began all the way back in the summer of 2011, new college kids are still tuning in—they were barely walking and talking when the show began!
“I get a particular kick out of the college kids who love Bar Rescue,” Taffer says, Zooming from his home in Las Vegas. “They love Bar Rescue the most, all the time. Every year, the new freshman class comes in!”
Those youngsters (who, he admits, probably only tune in to watch him “go crazy”) are what excites him the most about unveiling a new season. But he doesn’t attribute the show’s success with Gen Z solely to the popular YouTube clips of him throwing wings onto the floor or ripping fungi out of walls. Rather, he tells me, the show itself is entirely timeless.
“If I was showing up at your bar this week, and you were in debt $40,000 and blew your parents’ retirement—the minute I looked in your eyes, it would be like the first episode again,” he says. “The other episodes don’t matter. The only thing that matters is getting you out of this situation. It’s pretty deep to me, when I actually go through it that way.”
Taffer has faced backlash for his harsh words to bar owners, as well as for his controversial comments comparing restaurant workers to hungry dogs on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show and for featuring Donald Trump on his podcast. Still, new audiences keep tuning in for more episodes of Bar Rescue as Season 9 premiered this weekend.
Ahead of the new season’s premiere, Taffer chatted with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed about the show’s social media popularity, working with Gordon Ramsay and Maria Menounos, and why he had Trump on his podcast in 2020.
A lot of younger generations are watching Bar Rescue now. You’ve got a big Gen Z audience, even though most of them were really young when Bar Rescue began. Some can’t even drink! Why do you think that is?
In the end, it’s about people, not bars. It’s about people who are struggling. We all have struggles. People want to accomplish something and can’t quite get there—we all have that. Falling short. Somebody who’s disappointing his wife or his family or their spouse or their kids. Somebody who’s disappointing their partner. There’s typically a very deep story going on in Bar Rescue, some real human suffering here.
When I get there, that’s what I think about. I think about the bar, this family, these people, the trouble that they’re in, and how I’m their last hope. That’s why I’m so tough. If I don’t show up and do everything I can—including screaming at you—to make it successful, how dare I? The bar is just the vehicle that I use to change their lives. But it’s about the people more than the bars, to me. That’s why it doesn’t get old.
How do you capture the short attention spans of young Americans, who still tune into Bar Rescue even as TikTok becomes the dominant form of entertainment?
At the end of the day, Bar Rescue isn’t a format. If you look at some shows, sometimes you’ll see I sit down with the owners, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes there’s a meeting before the Stress Test, sometimes there’s not. I find the story. There’s no network executives on my set telling me where to go, what to do—it’s all real time. I know that people like it when I go crazy. I get that. But I can’t go crazy for no reason, because that’s not fair to the bar owner.
Talk to me about when you “go crazy.” How far is too far, when you’re getting aggressive with bar owners?
I’m not sure that there is too far, to be honest with you. When their life is on the line, I’m not sure that there is too far. Going a step further might wake them up. I’ve got to take that step, even if it is “too far.” I go at it very methodically. First, I try to appeal to their pride: “Don’t you want this place to be successful? Don’t you want people to look up to you as a successful business person? Don’t you want your employees to respect you?” If pride doesn’t do it, then I go to fear: “What’s going to happen when you lose your house? What’s going to happen when your wife walks out on you? What’s going to happen when your husband leaves?”
And then I try to play with fear. If I can’t get those two things to work, then I start to use things like their children. I’m very aggressive in those kinds of ways. But in the end, I’m fighting for them, not with them. The reason why they don’t get mad at me is because they realize that.
“In the end, I’m fighting for them, not with them. The reason why they don’t get mad at me is because they realize that.”
If you were struggling in a similar situation, would you want someone to speak to you the way you speak to Bar Rescue owners?
I would want somebody to be honest with me. If I’m being a jerk, tell me so. If I’m being ignorant, tell me so. If my ego is getting in the way, tell me so. If I’m letting my wife down, definitely tell me so! So, yes.
Also, here’s something that people don’t know. We’re wearing our microphones under our shirts. When we hug at the end of the show, our microphones are covered. You can’t hear what’s being said. The things they whisper in my ear are unbelievable. “Jon, you’re the father I never had. Jon, you saved my marriage. Jon, I can’t believe what you’ve done in helping me communicate with my children.” The things they whisper in my ear mean so much to me that I’m more aggressive next time.
You get a lot of comparisons to Gordon Ramsay, I’m sure you’ve heard. Would you ever work with him?
Gordon and I have met, we’re friends. Sure! I’d love to work with Gordon. It would be a lot of fun. The problem is we’re at different networks, and contractually, you know how that stuff goes. It’ll probably never happen. But I love him. I respect him. He and I go about it very differently. He’s a chef, so he starts in the kitchen. I’m not a chef, I’m a businessman, so I tend to spend more time in the front of the house.
You say this show applies to life on a grander scale, not just bars. What lessons do you hope viewers take away from Bar Rescue?
My famous quote is, “I don’t accept excuses, only solutions.” That is part of my persona. And that’s really who I am, by the way. I don’t like excuses. That’s why last season of Bar Rescue was so hard on me, because COVID was a valid excuse. I don’t want to let you have an excuse! I want you to hold yourself accountable, not blame it on something else.
What changes have you seen with COVID in terms of Bar Rescue?
From a Bar Rescue standpoint, last year, COVID was a valid excuse. “People aren’t coming, I don’t have employees, the state has closed me down, etcetera.” Now what’s happening, in today’s environment, [is that we have] we have inflation and rising costs. They’re really a challenge to businesses today. What it has done from a Bar Rescue standpoint is that it allows me to look at an owner and say, “Hey, you can’t blame that stuff any more. You’ve got to step up and make this business better to overcome these things. You’ve got to train, you’ve got to hire, you’ve got to do everything better than you did before, or you’re not going to make it.”
What’s the most common issue you’re seeing on Bar Rescue post-COVID?
Not managing costs, because the costs are going up every day. I can’t charge you the same for something today that I charged you two years ago. That’s just not possible. But if you go to a lot of bars around the country, that bar drink is the same $6, it hasn’t gone up at all. We’re scared to raise prices. Yet, customers understand right now. If I put on my menu, “Due to increasing prices, we’ve added a dollar surcharge to every menu item. We hope you understand.” Wouldn’t you understand?
Consumers have a mindset where you can raise prices a little bit. So many operators are scared to do it, and that’s unfortunate, because now they’re losing money.
Viewers were displeased that you had Donald Trump on your podcast during COVID. You two don’t always agree—he was certainly against wearing masks at a point where you were advocating for them. Where’s your head at, heading into the 2024 election?
I want to add a little caveat to what you said. I also invited Joe Biden to be on my podcast. One said yes, one said no. I went at it in a completely neutral, center kind of way.
I’m a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. I believe in almost every social freedom that our society has on the table now—I’m pretty much for all of them. But I worry about our fiscal policies. I worry about our money, I worry about our debt. I worry about future generations. So when I look at forecasting the future, I worry about these deficits and these economic struggles and the inflations. Things that are affecting everyday business. Social problems work themselves out—gay marriage worked itself out. These things move down the road in a direction that they should.
Let’s talk about the new season. Maria Menounos is a recurring star on your show, and she’s back for Season 9. Are you familiar with her popular Noovie pre-show? That’s big with Gen Z too.
I’ve never thought of it quite that way! Maria’s one of my best friends. She and her husband Kevin are some dear, dear friends of ours, and we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years. I must say, she laughs at me and says, “Jon, after this one, I’m never talking to you again. I got sick to my stomach from the food, the drink was the worst thing I ever tasted. My hands are all sticky from sitting here. That’s it! I’m never talking to you again.” And then I get her back again next season. [Laughs]
In the season premiere, we watch JJ’s Sports Bar and Grill get rescued. The restaurant appears to be thriving now, but what happens when the rescue doesn’t work?
A number of things can happen, unfortunately. They’re deep in debt, they owe taxes. Sometimes we leave and the IRS comes in, they just didn’t have the time to get themselves out of it. This is the one that bothers me the most: Sometimes, they’re behind on their lease. They haven’t paid their rent in four to five months. The landlord knows I’m coming, so he doesn’t evict them because he gets me to come remodel the bar. As soon as the remodeling is done, the landlord serves the eviction papers.
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