Nicole Taffer: From Steel Toes to StilettosOctober 25, 2011 By: Robert Plotkin
Nicole Taffer quickly has become America’s favorite undercover agent. In the beginning of each episode of Spike TV’s new hit reality show “Bar Rescue,” celebrated bar guru and Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer sends his wife in to reconnoiter the featured operation where she inevitably must brave bad drinks, lousy service, microwaved food and unsanitary conditions. A field-tested pro, Nicole endures the brunt-force trauma with humor and grace and then reports back to Jon what she’s observed with tactical precision. Growing legions of fans flock to the show — in part — to watch the unflappable Nicole Taffer do her thing.
Her laudable “calm-under-fire” demeanor is likely a product of her broad and diverse professional experience. “Before working with Jon, I was the project manager for a construction company in Chicago. That’s where I learned how to deal with challenging circumstances and detailed large-scale projects from beginning to end. When I moved to California, I started a business selling advertising specialties, which was a civilized break from being out in the field every day. I literally went from steel toes to stilettos overnight. Both experiences helped me develop character and a skill set necessary to work with Jon on his consulting projects.”
Working closely with Jon has afforded Nicole a unique perspective on the food and beverage business. For example, attracting a female clientele is a high priority for the majority of beverage operators, yet most create environments that women find off-putting. It’s a contradiction Nicole finds difficult to reconcile.
“Developing a female marketing program begins with letting women know that you are indeed ‘female-friendly,’ meaning that we have an active and alert security staff, fun cocktails and a food menu with items such as small bite plates. Another important aspect is developing promotions that women will respond to. In fact, some of Jon’s most successful promotions have been female-oriented, such as bachelorette parties, divorce parties, girls’ night out parties and ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.’ Knowing that, place event calendars on each table to give them something to look forward to.”
As important as attracting a female clientele to the front door is getting those same women to return another night. It’s a crucial aspect of financial success. Where women socialize, men like to socialize. Scoring a return trip also means you engaged the female clientele effectively on their first visit.
Years of working with Jon have given Nicole insights into what beverage operators need do to prompt women to come back on other nights. “The strategy starts by having doormen greet them at the door politely, making women feel important and welcome,” she says. “The bartenders and servers need to be friendly and outgoing, which helps establish more of a warm and genuine relationship with the house. Women also like variety. We are more likely to read specialty drink menus and be wooed by the latest concoctions, whereas men typically like their old standby.”
Nicole adds that getting women to stay long enough to order a second drink entails not overpouring the first. “If I’m feeling tipsy from my first drink, chances are I’m going to leave before I get too impaired. You don’t want your female guests doing ‘soda sips’ their last hour in your place.”
Cleanliness is a huge issue with women — not just in the ladies room, but throughout the entire operation. “Most women have encountered the situation where we’ve celebrated a bit too much and the stilettos must come off,” she says. “The last thing we want is a piece of glass or some unidentified grossness assailing our feet. Gentlemen, that’s a major turnoff. I call these places a ‘one-drink maximum,’ because I don’t want to use their ladies room.”
In the critically acclaimed series, both Taffers are forced to interact with bartenders and servers who — to be polite — haven’t quite mastered the nuances of their jobs. Dealing with ineptitude goes with the territory, especially considering the nature of the show. But suffering with incompetent employees is something Nicole has no patience for.
“In this business, employees can start to feel like family, which often leads to our making emotional decisions regarding them as assets,” she says. “Jon often talks about the difference between family and teams. Family members back each other up regardless if we’re right or wrong, good or bad. However, teams are different. Team members are accountable to each other and need to always strive for excellence; otherwise, they have no purpose being on the team. Businesses are teams. Employees that detract from the success and image of the business need to be dealt with unemotionally for the best of the team.”
The meteoric success of “Bar Rescue” hasn’t yet profoundly impacted the Taffers’ lives. That said, maintaining their privacy is becoming something of a challenge. “Most people are courteous and respectful. However, others think they’re being flattering by asking to shake hands or take our picture while we’re having dinner. It’s even more surprising when it’s an employee… haven’t they seen the show?!”
Before leaving I asked Nicole if she thought there was a bar that even the inimitable Jon Taffer couldn’t fix. She smiled, and without missing a beat responded, “No, there are owners he can't fix, but not one place he can't make work.”
Could there be a better preview to Season Two of “Bar Rescue?” Stay tuned to www.nightclub.com/barrescue for updates.