Nightclub & Bar Show Super Session: Ask the Experts

Chef Duffy gets the panel laughing.

Some of the most recognizable faces in the hospitality industry presented an informative super session that covered operations, mixology, food and design. Moderated Thom Greco (owner of Greco Holdings, Inc. and chairman of the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show Advisory Board), the panel consisted of Spike TV Bar Rescue favorites and industry success stories Brad Bohannan (owner of Spirits on Bourbon), Chef Brian Duffy (president of CBD Solution and Duffifed Experience Group), Russell Davis (president of Unlimited Liabilities), and Nancy Hadley (president of Nancy Hadley’s FAC). After a surprise visit from comedians Ron White and Alex Reymundo (owners of Number Juan Tequila which is currently available in 6 states), the super session got underway.

On Operations

The panel wasted no time sharing their advice and opinions on best practices. The moderator struck first, warning operators to not surprise their guests by overpromising and under-delivering. Thom also told the room packed full of decision makers that food is a key component for success in today’s bars.

On Branding

“Duffy is a brand,” said Russell of his peer, friend and podcast partner Chef Brian Duffy. “We are brands. We’re characters. We need to use that.”

Your name is on the line whether it’s actually above the door to your bar or not. And your name is affected by your branding – it lives and dies with you. Be a professional, but be a character. Be a memorable personality. If you’re not comfortable with that, make sure that a manager or your head bartender is a character that builds your brand and attracts guests.

"Merchandising in the bar is most underrated thing,” said Brad, who knows quite a lot about leveraging his brand and his appearances on Bar Rescue. “These people will come, buy a T-shirt, and walk around and advertise for you.”

Develop it. Brand it. Sell it. Turn your guests into loyal billboards.

On Training

Thom credits his status in the industry as an accomplished nightclub, bar, restaurant, hotel and entertainment entrepreneur to being trained in multiple positions. In his opinion, cross-training put him head and shoulders above his coworkers. Be a cross-trainer in your business. Not only does it benefit you to develop employees who have a multitude of usable skills, cross-training is one defense against losing rock star employees because it keeps them engaged, helps grow their passion for the business, and shows them that you have an interest in pushing them to move up in position.

Training is about communication. Brad cautioned operators to never assume that your employees know what they know. Unless you’ve trained them, explained your expectations, shared your vision, your employees won’t fully understand what you want from them or your bar. You have, as Chef Duffy made clear, “the opportunity every single day to update your training."

Take 15 or 20 minutes every shift to talk about products. Chef Duffy talks about one classic and one new item every pre-meal meeting. Brad seeks out and passes on information about regional products, seeing it as one of his obligations as an owner. Russell told those who attended the super session in no uncertain terms that they need to reach out to suppliers, distributors, etc., and invite them into their venues to educate their staffs. Chef Duffy also shares his sales numbers with his employees. Instead of hiding these numbers, tell your staff how much you need them to sell. Give them a goal and they’ll accomplish it.

On the Wow Factor

A bar, restaurant or nightclub isn’t just about selling food and beverage items. Anyone who has watched Bar Rescue knows that one of the mantras is, “We aren’t in the food and beverage business, we’re in the reaction business.” Thom encourages operators to tell guests what their bars do well. Lead them to your business, lead them to believe you’re the best at what you do, and deliver. He believes that each venue in our industry is a stage and that everyone working in it is a performer. Nancy agrees, stating that each operator has “an obligation to affect your customers' 5 senses."

On Social Media

"Social media is affordable yet it has the biggest bang," said Thom. The entire panel agreed, with Brad suggesting that operators utilize social media schedulers. Not only do they help you to schedule out your posts, many of the available apps will inform you of your current interaction rate. That type of feedback will help you to fine-tune your social media marketing and better target your followers.

Remember, though, that just posting to post is ineffective. If you don’t engage with people, actually talk to them, you’re just “that feed” that posts the same status and images over and over again, said Chef Duffy. He attributes his growth on social media to engagement and said that, in his opinion, not enough people who use social media are truly engaging other users.

The expert panel also took the time to answer questions from the audience. One audience member faced quite a difficult issue: her father is a brewer running a poorly designed bar that serves bad food. Another audience member had just finished a renovation and needed advice on how to market the bar to a specific community and demographic. What these audience members had in common was taking the initiative to go to the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show, connect with other operators, attend education sessions, and ask industry experts questions. We hope to see you at the 2017 Nightclub & Bar Show, taking place March 27 through 29 in Las Vegas.

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