Mandala Lounge Is Facing Failure


In 2007, Greg Hawkins opened Mandala Lounge in San Mateo, CA. Owning his own bar had been Greg’s dream since his early days in the nightclub business. When Mandala Lounge first opened they were the only bar that was providing custom cocktails. Unfortunately, Greg’s success was not long lived.

With the economy crash in January 2008, Mandala Lounge went from bringing in a little over $60,000 a month to $24,000. Despite Greg’s experience in other bars and nightclubs he couldn’t pull the lounge out of the whole they found themselves in. As the business fell apart, Greg began to take more and more of his frustration out on his staff and Greg’s step son Angelo took the brunt of it.

With pressure mounting at the bar and Greg out of creative ways to turn the bar around, his personal life started to unravel.  Greg’s bad attitude left Mandala Lounge with a complacent staff, a lack luster clientele and an underutilized space. Now, losing $5,000 a month and on the brink of losing the bar for good, Greg reaches out for help to Bar Rescue.


Mandala Lounge is supposed to be an upscale martini lounge that caters to women. However, that’s not the impression you get when pulling up to the front door.  Your first impression consists of a cheap black sign covered in what looks like stove burners that disappears into the rest of the building.

Bar Rescue

The inside of the bar doesn’t get any better.  The inside of the bar is PINK.  Really pink! Johns Hopkins did a study and it identified that they when people look at the color pink it diminishes their appetite. Therefore, customers are inclined to eat less and drink less concluding that a pink room is not conducive to sales in a restaurant or bar setting.

Pink walls aside, the bar is located in a great area. San Mateo, CA is just south of San Francisco with a population of roughly 160,000 and 43% of the population is 25 or under. The demographic is young, tech driven and single. They also have a decent amount of disposable income to spend on nightlife and entertainment. However, Mandala Lounge fails to attract this young vibrant crowd needed to succeed.

It’s easy to see that there are a number of issues with the bar that turn customers away. Mandala Lounge is a narrow 22 hundred square foot space with opaque walls, cramped seating and an underutilized patio. The bartenders are currently averaging able a minute a cocktail when you should be roughly around 30 seconds a cocktail. Not only are the slow but the cocktail recipes on their menu are mixing spirits together that are not compatible.

When you’re pairing two different spirits the congeners are very different and the only reason they would be doing that is to add the ‘flavor’ instead of using an actual ingredient to make create the flavor in the cocktail. Congeners are the substance other than alcohol that produced during fermentation and it’s responsible for most of the taste and flavor in all distilled alcohol based beverages. The congeners of whiskey and flavored vodka are very different and incompatible.

Greg, however, thinks that his drink creations are top notch. He’s one of those managers who is constantly looking over your shoulder every three seconds to see what you’re doing. But, when put to the test by Jon Taffer he failed miserably on executing standard bartending techniques. His arrogance and know it all attitude is perpetuating his failure. 

For the stress test Taffer challenges the bartenders. He provides all of the guests with chips before entering the bar.  Every time a customer is served a cocktail they will give the bartender their chip.  The average guest consumes 2.5 cocktail in the first hour. For the purpose of this challenge their goal is to serve 110 drinks in the first 55 minutes. At a capacity of 55 people that’s only 2 drinks per person.

At the end of the 55 minutes the team fell short of their goal by about 20%. In addition, throughout the stress test Doug was quickly making drinks but was not collecting money for them.  At the end of the night Taffer surveyed the crowd and several people admitted to receiving free cocktails from Doug. The stress test also revealed a lot of bad habits behind the bar that Taffer and his team need to correct.


For the Bar, Taffer brings in 2014 Speed Rack Champion Mia Mastroianni. Mia’s sharp knowledge and expertise on craft cocktails will give this confused martini lounge the cocktail menu it’s been striving for. Moving forward the bartenders need to pay special attention to the recipes and details in addition to staying organized.

Bar Rescue

Mia starts off her training by correcting some glaring mistakes that the bartenders and Greg are making. One, it’s illegal to transfer liquor from one bottle to another because employees could be pouring cheap alcohol into a premium bottle which misrepresents the brand and misleads the customer.  Two, liquor bottle pour spouts get dirty and sticky and if not cleaned properly can break bottles. An easy way to avoided breaking the bottles is with a V-Rod.  It’s a standard bar tool that’s designed as a bar key on one end and a second key specifically designed to remove pour spouts from the bottles.

The taper neck of the pour spout is used to create a suction cup between the pour spout and the side of the bottle. Suction cups work by pushing out internal air creating a vacuum seal. In order to break the suction air needs to enter the sealed space raising the internal air pressure and breaking the seal. When pulling straight up on a pour spout it is difficult to increase the internal air pressure due to the design. However, by tilting the spout at an angle the suction is easily released and the spout can be removed.

After correcting the classic mistakes being made, Mia gets to work training the staff on proper technique and speed that will allow them to properly execute the new beverage menu that Taffer and his team have planned.

Once the bartenders were provided with all that Mia and the team had to offer they are sent home to study the new recipes and practice their newly learned techniques. Once the staff clears out, Taffer can start the renovation. He needs to create a contemporary look both on the inside and outside of the bar.  Therefore, the team gets started re-facing the outside and redesigning the inside to make the venue seem much larger than it is. They utilize technology to give the perception of windows on the walls that look out from the 38th floor of a building; giving it a sleek sophisticated feel. The also remove the completely awful pink walls.

One of the areas within the venue that was underutilized is the back patio. Here, Taffer and his team completely revamped the space adding comfortable seating and heat lamps that will allow customers to get comfortable and stay for a couple for cocktails adding revenue to the bottom line.


Bringing in all of the illusion and spaciousness of a luxury high-rise, Taffer transformed Mandala Lounge into the 38th Floor Bar. The new concept did $1,100 dollars their first hour open. Six weeks after the re-launch, with Greg’s ego in check, sales are up 40%, Angelo was promoted to Manager and Greg has hired an additional two female bartenders. 

Bar Rescue

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