Jon Taffer is perhaps best known for his no-nonsense approach to whipping bars (and their oftentimes negligent owners) into shape on his hugely successful Spike-TV show Bar Rescue. In reality, though, the internationally-recognized hospitality expert and management guru knows just as much about running restaurants as he does bars, and he’ll have the chance to show off those skills alongside renowned chefs John Besh and Tiffany Derry in Hungry Investors, premiering on Spike on May 4 at 10/9 central.
On each episode, Taffer, Besh, and Derry will analyze two struggling restaurants and deliberate about which one deserves their help the most. Each restaurant has different things holding them back — from poor kitchen equipment to a boring menu — and after the judges make their decision they’ll work with the restaurant they select to bring them back from the brink.
“We’ll give each restaurant an 'invest test,' Taffer told us. “We judge it on four criteria: the physical potential, like seating and location, the production potential, the food quality potential, and finally the wild card, the human factor. Then we’ll meet with the principals from each restaurant and they give us their pitch and tell us what they’re looking for, and then we make our decision.”
For those looking for a “rescue mission” like those usually found on Bar Rescue, this will be a very different type of show.
“The big difference is that the businesses in Bar Rescue really have no redeeming qualities; I tell the network to give me the biggest challenges they can find,” Taffer said. “On Hungry Investors, we’re there to look at an investment, a company that’s fighting for its life. We do a full brand evaluation and if something’s wrong we fix it.”
Taffer has seen a lot in his more than 20 years of consulting for just about every variety of restaurant as well as most national chains, and probably knows more than anyone else what the most toxic habits a restaurant owner can have is. “Most of the time when a bar or restaurant is failing, the owner blames the lack of success on everybody but themselves.”
“Most of the time when a bar or restaurant is failing, the owner blames the lack of success on everybody but themselves,” he said. “If you blame someone else you won’t do better. You need to take ownership of your failure, and once you do you can start to make changes.”
When Taffer enters a restaurant for the first time, he knows whether it’s worthwhile within three steps, and told us that so does everybody else, even if it’s subconscious.
“Management and environment are everything,” he said. “Is the lighting too bright? Are the tabletops not organized? Does it not smell good? As soon as we walk through the door there’s an expectation about the food and drink that we don’t even think about.”
But in a country that’s seemingly overrun with mediocre bars and restaurants, are there any that Taffer believes are absolutely perfect? Amazingly, there are: He’s a big fan of £10 (Ten Pound), a lounge in the Montage Beverly Hills that he calls “the world’s finest Scotch bar” (where bartenders prepare your drink tableside and pour whisky over an “ice sphere of water imported from the Scottish Highlands”). As for restaurants, he believes that Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills and Las Vegas steakhouse CUT is “flawless,” and John Besh’s New Orleans restaurant August a “perfect dining experience.”