From the Outside In

Nightclub & Bar

Editor's Note: The following is the very first 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, Nancy Hadley, is the premier on-camera designer for bars, nightclubs and restaurants, having provided insight on ABC’s "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Trading Spaces," Gordon Ramsay’s "Kitchen Nightmares," and, of course, her favorite, Spike TV’s "Bar Rescue." Tune in to every Wednesday for the next edition of Bar Rescue Insider!

The life of a traveling design consultant and renovation expert is not an easy one. Working on the road to transform spaces, living out of a suitcase and completely redesigning a home or business on the fly in less than 48 hours is challenging to say the least, but when you see the lasting effects simple design changes can make in the lives of others, it can be the most rewarding job on earth. Walking into a financially troubled establishment that has weeks, or maybe only days, before it ruins the owners’ lives always gives me a singular thrill, and that challenge — that responsibility — motivates me more than I can describe.

During Season One of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” the show’s star, Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer, and I saw plenty of bars on hard times, and it was my responsibility to assess the establishments’ design and create some cost-effective, easily implemented and fast solutions that would turn the owners’ fortunes immediately.

We never had more than a few days to coordinate the makeover for each “Bar Rescue” establishment, so my team and I had to hit the ground running for each episode. Some of the problems were more common than you might expect. More often than not, I couldn’t figure out what kind of establishment was being advertised, because the signage was poor or non-existent; many times, I had trouble simply finding the bar’s front door!  This issue always amazes me; each day, hundreds or maybe even thousands of potential patrons are passing by great bars, merely because they never see the entrance or understand what the bar is offering. 

Taking the time to really look at your business from the street is incredibly important. I walk up to each bar with fresh eyes, and I know right away what the public sees as they walk past. It doesn’t cost you a dime to walk outside with a friend or customer and ask what they think of your exterior and signage. Is the bar’s exterior and signage visible from a moving car? Does it concisely describe what you offer to your customers? Is it lit at night? Is anything obstructing your signage? Is it clean and inviting, or are there cigarette butts and dead potted plants on the ground and staples in the walls?

Season One of “Bar Rescue” is rife with examples: Kilkenny's (a Redondo Beach, Calif., bar we renamed Breakwall Bar & Grill) signage solution, although quite costly, was lovely. By upgrading the bar’s signage to a more sophisticated construction and design, as well as branding the space for the local surf community, we generated great interest in the bar.


New signage shines at Breakwall Bar & Grill in Redondo Beach, Calif.

Downey's Irish Pub & Restaurant in Philadelphia had brand identity that worked in the community, but its signage was non-existent; the owners had just painted on the building. Because there was a lot of competition in the neighborhood, we came up with a cost-effective way to draw attention to Downey’s signage. From the upper balcony, we mounted flags perpendicularly that featured the bar's name printed vertically. The fluttering of the flags created movement, which drew onlookers’ eyes to the building and gave the impression of life and vitality to the establishment.


New flags wave in the breeze at Downey's Irish Pub & Restaurant in Philadelphia.

At The Abbey in Chicago — which is famous for live entertainment, but for years had found it impossible to increase traffic to the adjacent bar/restaurant — we added a tagline to the signage: “The Green Room @ The Abbey." The tagline provided a modern flair to an established brand, providing an air of exclusivity, and, most important, drawing more customers in for The Abbey's food and spirits before and after music shows.

The Abbey

The Abbey's new tagline provides a modern flair for the Chicago venue.

As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” However, you can't make any impression if your business is invisible. While word of mouth can drive customers to your bar or nightclub, it is even more important that signs are easy to find and able to convey a feeling of welcome from the outside. Cleanliness and pride of ownership can be seen the moment a patron walks up to your door, and it is those determining factors that invite your patron in — or keep him walking.

Once customers are inside, you can focus on creating great interactions, driving your patrons to stay longer and spend more money. However, the first step to a successful bar is fostering a feeling of pride of ownership — and that begins before your patrons ever set foot in the door.

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