Thursday, April 23, 2020 / by Ken Couture
Jon Taffer has spent 45 years in the hospitality business, saving bars while often employing some inhospitable methods. In his club-salvaging “Bar Rescue” TV series, Taffer can be rough, even brutal, in his on-site assessments.
The industry veteran makes his opinions painfully clear. But always, his point is to make businesses better. Years ago, after reducing a tavern owner to tears, Taffer said, “I will hurt your feelings. But in five days you’re going to hug me.”
Taffer’s latest “rescue” project is larger than any neighborhood tavern. His aim is to lead the conversation about how Las Vegas — and all tourist destinations — can reset business in the face of the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Rather than freaking out about the pandemic, I’ve just been focused on, ‘What do our businesses look like when we’re open?’ ” Taffer said in a Skype interview Monday afternoon, which is also in line as next week’s “PodKats!” episode. “Things are going to be different.”
Taffer emphasizes that “trust” — a word he wields repeatedly — is crucial in any plan for the Las Vegas hospitality industry to return to business.
The strategy of incrementally opening a hotel, for instance, depends on consumers simply feeling safe in a building.
“It would seem to me, if we can manage with 300, 400, 500 rooms, then we go up to 800 or 1,000 rooms, we need to prove we can be trusted and we can be safe — that our processes can be trusted,” Taffer says. “We need to prove that people an come here for their 2.7-day stay and leave and not be infected.
“If we open in a large scale, the likelihood of us having some large-scale infections and some cross-contamination is worrisome to me.”
It’s important to open safely and intelligently, simply from a business perspective.
“We live in a culture of accountability right now,” Taffer says. “If we open a property, and someone gets sick in that property and it’s traced back to that property, it will cut our legs off a second time, and that second time is going to be more painful than the first. We have to do this in a smart way.”
Taffer considers customer habits changing, with big results, even in casual-dining spots.
“You’ll go to a restaurant that has your second-favorite hamburger rather than your first-favorite hamburger, because you trust them more, with regard to their practices,” Taffer says. “That is a big change in the whole dynamic of doing business.”
Taffer has studied restaurant floor plans in the new era of social distancing and says that operators need to adjust their business models accordingly. He figures that social distancing will cut 40 to 60 percent of dining-room capacity in most restaurants.
Taffer has also reviewed how clubs and restaurants serve customers and says that duties will change, too. Taffer has seen floor plans where customers pay exclusively at a cashier station at the front of the room. Food servers only serve food. The wait staff only takes orders. Those who have visited the Peppermill, for one Vegas example, know this system well.
“It’s the old diner model,” Taffer says, but he adds that it can be implemented even in fine-dining restaurants.
“It’s a compartmentalization that I think will take over operations,” he says “It’s not overwhelming. It makes sense.”
Taffer says Las Vegans and visitors to the city will need to change attitudes regarding social contact, and wearing protective masks in public. That includes in nightclubs, restaurants, casinos and entertainment venues.
“It’s not just in Las Vegas, but across America,” says Taffer, who adds that he’s seeing his neighbors in Summerlin wearing masks whenever he goes to the store. “It’s a national expression, and we need to embrace it, certainly.”
Taffer emphasizes that international airports can take the lead in health-screening systems and hand off that protocol to operators in such heavy-traffic cities as Las Vegas. He is especially concerned that the message that our city can be trusted is accepted and embraced in such important feeder markets as Southern California.
“We must take steps,” Taffer says, in his “rescue” persona. “Not taking steps is not an option. Not reopening is not an option. We have to reopen, and we have to take steps to reopen.”
A couple of cards
Mat Franco’s Facebook Live shows remain a highlight of the week, virtually speaking. Fellow card-manipulation great Jeff McBride will be Franco’s guest at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Franco has been a fan of McBride since he was a kid. To prove such, Franco has posted a great throwback pic of the two from 2000, where Franco sports a tight buzz cut and McBride wears what was known as a “bilevel” cut. Magic, twice over.
Shawn’s on it
Shawn Eiferman’s “That Vegas Show” online series has surpassed $10,000 for donations to more than 30 Las Vegas musicians. Eiferman opened the project on his Facebook page in mid-March and achieved the total “by butchering tunes in my (expletive) bathroom.”
He’s not butchering anything. Eiferman is a great artist. But he’s right about the loo location, where the lighting is good and the sound reminds of Sam Phillips’ Sun Records.
DJ Aktive is billed as a “master turntablist.” If you are going to be a turntablist, “master” is the way to go. Aktive has also worked with such stars as Kanye West, John Legend and Janet Jackson. The headlining DJ is heading up this week’s installment of “The Wednesday Spin” presented by Park MGM, which uses the platform to promote its clubs’ industry nights.
DJ Soxxi (Mama Rabbit) is at 7 p.m., with Aktive (On the Record) closing at 8 p.m. These sessions are actually fun. I have even been called out by a DJ. The next step is to set up party cannons in my condo.
We got the Request
All Request Live, a highlight of Hard Rock Hotel’s closing party, is up next in Station Casinos’ “At Home Sessions” at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Friday it’s Christine Shebeck, followed by Swing City Dolls on April 29, Tony Davich of Phoenix and Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns on May 1, and Derrick Cordero of C-Notes on May 3.
Jimmy Denning, recovering from a presumed case of COVID-19, is set for an antibodies test and a possible plasma donation the first week of May. Meantime, the Tenors of Rock singer and his wife, Yvette Clutterbuck, have hauled out the Christmas decorations. “We’ve watched ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ to forget the world is going mad,” he says. “ ‘Elf’ is on tonight.” And, we presume, figgy pudding delivery from Postmates.
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