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Can Jon Taffer Fix Restaurant & Bar Franchises?

Jan 19, 2024

Faizan and Adila Kahn photo on a grey background and white text and purple button that says GLO30

Bar franchises get ready, Jon Taffer is out to fix restaurant franchising with Taffer’s Tavern, a low-cost, high-quality sous-vide concept.

As host of the television show Bar Rescue, Jon Taffer shows up to fix other people’s restaurants. Now he’s also looking at the casual-dining sector more broadly, and he sees signs of trouble: “They’re dinosaurs,” he says of many brands that have been around for decades, “and I think they’re facing extinction. All the Uber Eats in the world can’t bail them out.”
 
 
His diagnosis: rising labor costs, plummeting meal prices, and an economy in flux. That’s why starting this year, Taffer plans to spend a lot of time in restaurants of his own. He’s launching a new bar franchise concept called Taffer’s Tavern, which is designed for efficiency — with minimally staffed, robotic kitchens cooking vacuum-sealed food, and data-driven decisions everywhere.
 
The first unit is expected to open in Atlanta in April this year. There are agreements to sell another 50 by then as well, and a television tie-in is in the works. “This is my baby,” he says. “Not only can I build immense value with this, but it could be a heck of a business model.”

This past fall, as he was negotiating the TV deal and developing his first test kitchen, Taffer spoke to Entrepreneur about the franchise industry, how he developed his concept, and why he believes all restaurateurs need to become more efficient.

You’re experienced in the hospitality space, but this is your first step into franchising. Why launch a bar franchise?

I found the casual-dining sector to be incredibly frustrating. I look at these companies doing all-you-can-eat appetizers, two-for-one entrées, $10 all-you-can-eat meals. They’re fighting for customers while, at the same time, labor pools are shrinking. We’re approaching $15 minimum wages — so labor costs are through the roof, and we’re discounting food. The numbers don’t work. It’s going to implode. I said to myself, Somebody’s gotta create a franchise model that works. How do I solve that with robotic cooking, and what kind of approach to cuisine production can I take that assures quality and consistency, and attacks the labor issue? So I’ve been working on test kitchens with sous vide cooking.

Sous vide — that’s vacuum-sealing food in a bag and cooking it in water, right?

I can take a beautiful steak, or any protein. I can season it. I can wrap it in a sealed, airtight, sous vide plastic package. I then ship it. It’s still fresh, with unbelievable quality and consistency. The seasoning is done by me, not the franchisee. Now that package of steak lasts three times longer on the shelf. There’s no exposed protein. There’s no blood dripping anywhere. There’s none of the cleaning or sanitation risks associated with protein. And then the food is prepared in water ovens. It can’t be overcooked. It’s simply put on a grill to sear when it’s done. We’ve taken back-of-house labor costs down almost 60 percent. Our kitchen will never run with more than two people, two and a half people.

But now aren’t you running lots of off-site locations to prep the food, which you’ll have to staff? 

There are 3 massive sous vide companies in the country. One of them creates the sandwiches you see at Starbucks and produces a million a day. So we spec the product, we spec the seasoning, and they produce the product and then handle the supply-side logistics for us. Think about this. Food lasts three times longer. No open proteins. Rather than weeks of training in the kitchen, I have hours. I don’t have the prep. I don’t have the cleanup. Don’t have the grease. I realized, wow, I found an incredible franchise model.

Fransmart is the global leader in franchise development and the exclusive franchising partner for Taffer’s Tavern.

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