The outspoken star of "Bar Rescue" wants to solve customers’ disconnect with restaurants.
Jon Taffer is known for making bold statements. Whether it’s to a restaurant or bar owner on his hit TV show, “Bar Rescue,” or general commentary on the industry, he doesn’t hold back.
And he recently made another one: Casual dining has lost its identity.
“I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, and I've sensed, almost out of frustration, the casual-dining sector is a bit lost,” he says.
In today’s industry, rising wage pressures, regulations, disruption from mobile, tech, and delivery, as well as a saturated landscape, continue to stir a dynamic that’s changing hyper-rapidly relative to the past 100 years of foodservice.
On just the labor front, the turnover rate in the restaurants-and-accommodations sector rose to a post-recession high of 74.9 percent in 2018, according to the National Restaurant Association.
And the casual-dining sector has been slow to react, Taffer says. With his new concept, Taffer’s Tavern, he is taking on all of these issues with viable solutions to reignite the category.
“In essence, out of recognizing how disconnected the casual-dining sector is, I want to solve this,” he says. “I wanted to create a franchise that was much more connected to today as far as labor models and robotic cooking, the proper food preparation systems, and the type of environment that fits today.”
The first Taffer’s Tavern is expected to open in Atlanta sometime in March or April next year. Taffer teamed up with Fransmart, which helped grow Qdoba and Five Guys, to target specific states and franchisees. Taffer says he expects the brand to enter 50 of the top U.S. markets and hit 200 units in the next three years. New York, LA, and Las Vegas are up next.
As for what differentiates the concept, it all comes back to where the industry's biggest hurdles are.
“Everyone talks about how hard it is to get employees, and when you get them they’re expensive,” says Fransmart founder and CEO Dan Rowe. “So, it’s like OK, well, let’s figure out how to do a lot of volume with fewer employees. We've engineered that entire model.”
It starts in the kitchen. The days of a space with six to eight cooks on the line are over, Taffer says. At his restaurant, which signed its first multi-unit franchisee agreement in September to expand in Georgia, the kitchen’s layout is smaller and requires only one to two employees to cook for a high-volume of orders. The concept is able to run efficiently with fewer workers because of integrated technology.
READ MORE: 7 Thoughts Jon Taffer has about Future of Casual Dining
One of the biggest departures from traditional setups will be the lack of a hood and vent system. Instead, chefs will cook using a sous vide method. Everything comes wrapped and seasoned, but is still fresh.
The tavern’s packaged sous vide items have a shelf life three times longer than a normal product, allowing operators to maintain more accurate inventory levels, Taffer says. Prep time is almost completely eliminated because everything arrives packaged.
Sous vide enables the ultimate level of control from cooking to flavor, he adds.
“Cooking is exact,” he says. “Everything is seasoned specifically. The spec of every protein is identical. Other casual-dining operations can have more salt, less salt. I mean, some of this becomes somewhat ambiguous on the line, as far as exacting and recipes is concerned.”