Bringing Your Kitchen Back to Basics

Nightclub & Bar

Editor's Note: The following is the second in a series of blogs provided by the experts who have worked incredibly hard to make Bar Rescue InsiderSpike TV's "Bar Rescue" reality program, starring Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer, such a success. The Bar Rescue Insider blog series will deliver tried-and-true tips and tricks to help bar owners, operators and managers solve common problems and increase their bottom line. The author of today's blog, Chef Brian Duffy, is the Corporate Executive Chef/Product Development for Seafood America. He appears monthly on NBC Philadelphia’s “10! Show,” travels the country as the culinary spokesperson for the GE Profile Series and works with Residence Inn by Marriot for a series of videos showing guests how to maintain balance while on the road. He also has been seen on NBC’s "Today" show, “Irish Stew Showdown 2006” and “Irish Chef Showdown” as well as Food Network’s “Date Plate” and “Hot Trends” and has appeared on DIY Network, HGTV and Fine Living Network. When he’s not working in the kitchens or making appearances, Duffy has a thriving consulting firm, teaches cooking classes and volunteers his time with local shelters and kitchens. Tune in to every Wednesday for the next edition of Bar Rescue Insider!

Starting as a busboy for “Old Man Keegan" at the ripe old age of 15, I’ve been in the restaurant business for 25 years. I have seen every single scenario that could possibly happen in the industry. I have seen things that would frighten almost anyone: abusive owners, dirty chefs, rude servers… if you can name it, I have seen it.

Those of you lucky enough to have seen Season 1 of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” starring Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer know the show involves Taffer’s particular brand of bar science. One of the country’s top restaurant and bar consultants, Taffer delves into every business facet of running a bar, from creating a profitable drink/food menu to music selection to managing crowds, as well as dealing with disgruntled employees. I’ll tell you what: After all of these years “in the biz,” it would have been a hell of a lot easier just to follow his rules. Like Taffer always says, “Do something about it!”

I had the privilege of working with Taffer on several episodes of “Bar Rescue.” Taffer asked me to help him with Downey’s Irish Pub & Restaurant — a landmark in Philadelphia's Old City area — not only because of my expertise in Irish food, bars and pubs, but because I was the chef at Downey’s in 2000. 

The pub’s former owner, Jack Downey, was a man with many stories and an Irish attitude to boot. He was a superb bar operator; the man left no stone unturned. Jack would have been shocked to see what his pride and joy had become; it pained me to walk into the pub — a place I myself took so much pride in only 11 years ago — and see it in its downtrodden state.

The place smelled — and I mean bad. As you walked in the front door, the windows and floors were dirty, and the bar was a hodgepodge of free product from every beer and liquor vendor this side of New Jersey. More than 50 flavors of vodka lined the shelves — in an Irish bar! The fruit flies that surrounded the bar were a telltale sign of the neglect that the place had suffered since the new owner had taken over. I walked upstairs to the second floor where Jack once had spent $75,000 on updates to allow for private parties, dancing, elaborate Sunday buffets, holidays and other events. It had been a great space at one time; I remember working a party held there for all of the Miss America contestants! Unfortunately, the new owner had turned the area into a storage facility for all of the junk that had broken over the years: chairs, equipment, glasses and plates. A general disregard for the space was evident.

The walk into the kitchen opened my eyes and heart to an entirely new feeling of disgust, one that would take me a while to get out of my head. The kitchen was a disgrace, and this was a chef-owned property! The kitchen’s equipment was dirty, broken and usually either broken or not calibrated properly — even the refrigeration was above temperature. The trash area was piled 10-feet high and 20-feet long, and the trash was not scheduled to be picked up for two days!

I could go on and on about the problems at Downey’s, but more importantly, I want to share a little bit of what you can do in your kitchen to help ensure your bar doesn’t start swirling the drain.

 (For more on how Taffer and I helped turn Downey’s around, check out “Downey’s — Back From the Brink” at

First, let’s take a look at the essentials: 

1) What kind of bar do you own? What is your concept? In Downey’s case, the concept was simple: an Irish pub with simple food and a terrific bar. Any of my clients will tell you that my mantra is, “Do what you do well, above and beyond what your competition is doing and exceed your guests’ expectations.” Each bar operator has the opportunity to get into the kitchen, train the current employees the basics of cookery and LIMIT THE MENU to 20 to 25 items that you know will sell, including a delicious burger, a few salads and four classic pub (or in Downey’s case, Irish) favorites. Don’t forget to cross-utilize every item on the menu! If you have shrimp, you better be able to prepare it two ways; if you are making your own burgers, be sure to have another use for that ground beef. If you don’t cross-utilize, you run the risk of product spoilage. One product with two utilizations creates a faster product turnover rate.

2) What’s your system? Every business needs a system, guidelines on what your employees need to do. Downey’s staff needed everything — from prep lists to order sheets to daily cleaning lists. I use these types of tools to make sure all of my employees know what they have to do. Without a system, I guarantee you will have anarchy!

3) Is the chef present? If your chef is hiding out in the office at noon on a Friday, that’s a problem! A chef’s job is to manage his or her employees to make sure that the guests have the greatest experience possible! “Office time” should not occur during service. A TRUE chef will lead his or her brigade, and the staff loves it when the chef is there to guide them.

4) Keep it simple! There’s no need to be all things to all people: Bring the kitchen back to the basics, do what you do well and excel at that.

Make sure to follow my blogs on over the next few months: I'm going to be touching on the importance of server education and bar food sales, relationships between the kitchen and service staff, chef interaction with staff as well as guests and finding and utilizing a great chef for your bar or pub to increase overall sales. I also am interested in your questions and comments, so feel free to contact me through Facebook at, email at [email protected] or Twitter @Chefbriduff. Be sure to check out my new website at!

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