Jon Taffer is the host of the TV show Bar Rescue. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a restaurant makeover show. Like Gordon Ramsay, Robert Irvine, or any other “angry chef” as I call them, he comes to a failing bar, identifies why the bar is failing, butts heads with the owner some, then reopens the bar with a new look, new equipment, and a plan for the owners to follow for success.
After watching every episode and watching several interviews with Jon Taffer, I’ve noticed that most of what makes him successful has nothing to do with drinks and bars. The same techniques that led Taffer to success can be used by any industry.
1. You’re Selling Reactions, Not a Product
Jon Taffer considers himself in the reaction management business not the service business. What does that mean? The thing you sell is secondary to how it makes your customer feel.
You’ve heard the phrase, “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” It’s similar to that. In his book, Raise The Bar, he explains what happens when you sit at a table and the server brings you your food:
One of two things happens. Either you sit up and look at it and react to it, or nothing happens. If nothing happens then that restaurant is stuck in mediocrity forever. The cook in the kitchen might think he's making an entree. He's not. That's not product. He's making a human reaction...The product is the reaction.
You might think, that’s great for a burger, but what about my app/store/drone furniture moving service? It’s still the same. You want your customer to sit up and say, “I can’t believe how easy it was to move my couch!”
2. Know Your Demographics
Imagine you have a dream of starting an umbrella stand. Which is a better idea: starting it in the Mohave Desert or in the Amazon Rainforest? You’d be surprised how many failing businesses owners don’t factor in the demographics of a town. Every episode begins with Jon Taffer telling his team a bit about the location of the bar—the median age, median income, and a nearby city center or known landmark. He uses that to inform how he’ll repackage the bar at the end.
In an interview with Entrepreneur, Taffer had this to say about promoting to two different potential customers.
"More upscale bar customers will not react well to a card or a coupon, but they will react positively to a mailing that looks like a more formal and exclusive invitation -- it's simply a matter of design and delivery," writes Taffer. "The offer and the premise are the same."
And here’s another observation he made about young and older bar patrons:“When women [are older than] 35 years old, they get very sensitive about their back ends. So I put backs on barstools for an over 35 demographic. When they’re younger, people like to spin and interact, so I don’t put backs on the stools.”
You don’t have to own a bar to make decisions like these. You can decide your web site should have a font or layout that is more in line with the business you want to do. If you have a sporting goods store, should the first thing a customer sees when he walks through the door be the big honkin’ barbells or the yoga mats? Can you emphasize the intimacy of your store by having relaxing lighting levels and soft music, or should you keep the lights bright and the music a little high to keep customers moving quickly?
There’s no magic bullet that appeals to everyone, but here’s something close to it that Taffer figured out: Most people fall into one of four personality or motivational buckets: money, pride, ego, and fear. You will be successful if you can craft your marketing language to play off of one of these motivators. Watch any car commercial and you’ll see how they use at least one of those in their advertising collateral.
3. Keep Your Menu Lean
In the book, Raise The Bar, and JonTaffer.com, Taffer says one key to success is to simplify the selection process. When talking specifically about a menu, he says to “Keep the design straightforward by using 3-4 fonts to differentiate section headings.” Also, rather list similar products separately, present them as one entry with different subheadings. For example, instead of listing Buffalo Wings and Teriyaki Wings, list them as two flavors of chicken wings.
You can keep your offerings simplified whether you serve chicken wings or not. Look at Apple. Apple released one phone at a time for six years, until the 5C and 5S. Even today, you can choose from only three.
4. Innovate Realistically to Service Your Audience
"I do not favor innovation over listening to customers -- I favor innovation while listening," writes Taffer. It’s natural to want to be the first to provide some unique service or a twist on an old one. But first, ask yourself whether it will alienate or benefit your core customer base. Don’t get overly invested in a bad idea. Ask a few peers, or ask your customers directly what they think.
A great example of this mindset in action, is POPSUGAR, and their recent Beauty By POPSUGAR makeup line. After using social media and focus groups to survey over 100 million “beauty junkies,” they designed what they considered to be the perfect makeup for their customer base.
The Final Word
No matter what your business is, your revenue comes from the reaction you receive from your customers. If they feel like they don’t belong, whether it’s from being overwhelmed by an unclear menu, or having products or service that don’t fit them, their reaction will be to not return. You’re selling the smile it brings to your customer’s faces, or the time it saves them using your service, or the extra money in their pocket that your product lets them have. Remember to give your customers great reaction and you’ll be a success.