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October 25, 2014

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Q+A: Jon Taffer previews 2014 Nightclub & Bar Convention — NSA spyware a big concern?

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Pizza Rock

Russell Davis, Tony Gemignani and Jon Taffer at Pizza Rock on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in downtown Las Vegas.

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Jon Taffer of Spike TV's "Bar Rescue."

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Singer CeeLo Green and Jon Taffer of "Bar Rescue" cut a ribbon to kick off the 2013 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show on Wednesday, March 20, 2013.

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Jon Taffer.

'Bar Rescue' Transforms Gipsy

An after shot of Gipsy on Paradise Road, now SBLV (South Beach Las Vegas), after a makeover courtesy of Spike TV's Launch slideshow »

Is National Security Agency-type profile spyware coming to your neighborhood bar and lounge? Will rival nightclubs poach valuable data from each other to get the ultimate “steal them away information” in customer needs?

Apparently so! It’s just one of the innovations going on display for the first time in the 28-year history of the 2014 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. Modern-day technology will be a startling feature at the March 24-26 educational and entertaining event already being dubbed “the greatest conference and nightlife programs” since moving to Las Vegas.

Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” host and Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer told me: “We have bar, beverage and nightlife industry professionals coming from all over the world. Representing 200,000 on-premise establishments, they are responsible for $20 billion in beverage sales annually.

“They will gain incredible amounts of knowledge while learning the newest and best parts of our industry. Las Vegas is the greatest environment in the world to host this event. Bottom line: If you’re in our business and you’re not there, you need to find another line of work.”

Celebrities are again joining this year’s action, including opening keynote speaker Adam Carolla, Reza Farahan from “Shahs of Sunset,” cast members from “Rock of Ages” and “Jersey Boys” and “Absinthe’s” Angel Porrino; plus, MTV’s BMX stars T.J. Lavin and Ricardo Laguna; former Houston Rockets star Ralph Sampson; and sexy singer and actress Christina Milian.

On Monday, I reported the transformation of the Hard Rock Hotel into the Bud Light Hotel for the convention and the opening pool party.

Here’s my full interview with Jon:

“The whole Bud Light Hotel element at Hard Rock, all the parties and the pools, there’s a monster activation there; it’s pretty exciting for us. Bud Light took out the Hard Rock Hotel, and they’re turning it into the Bud Light Hotel, just like they did at the Super Bowl.

“The entire hotel is themed Bud Light, so the opening party on Monday (March 24) is in the pool at the Bud Light Hotel. It’s a huge commitment by Anheuser-Busch to really bring a different level of entertainment to the show. We’re very excited about it because it will be one hell of a party.”

A lot of celebrities are now connected to the business?

I have Adam Carolla doing our keynote, which will be fun. Adam is cutting the ribbon with me to open the convention. Our speaking program this year is the most ever; 77 classes over the three days. We’re expecting 45,000 people. We’ve become a major factor in Las Vegas conventions. Our parties are the best of the year.

It’s year 29 of the show, of which the last 24 in a row have been here in Las Vegas. When we first started, we had about 60 booths and just 300 people at the Crown Plaza Hotel outside the Atlanta airport. We grew and grew and grew. The seventh or eighth year, we took off. Coming to Las Vegas gave us a big shot in the arm.

Now this year we’re going to have close to 800 booths on the floor — we’re No. 1 in our industry, and our exhibit growth is about 24 percent over last year. We had to take more space in the convention center about four weeks ago. We’re looking at the best show we’ve done in maybe 10 years.

People come from all over the world. We work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We’re very aggressive in bringing those international delegates. Last year, we had 28 countries represented.

It’s more than just pouring a drink and figuring out how to make a maximum profit. What is left to teach?

There are always new drinks, new products, new spirits, new promotions, new technology, new marketing. This year, technology is huge. We have a bunch of new flavored spirits. There’s some interactive television technology things now that are really, really neat.

We’re going to start to see 3D video menus with a plate of the food. You can turn it fully as a hologram, 3D-type image. We’re seeing these new technologies start to roll out this year.

There’s been a lot of news about Google glasses. Could they figure into the nightclub and bar business?

They have one now where I look at you, and it says in the lens “Robin Leach.” So if you’ve ever been in social marketing anywhere, the computer knows who you are. As you walk down the street, it tells you everybody’s name. It can tell you the nearest bar you can go to. I don’t think anyone has started yet with it specifically for our industry, but there’s all sorts of talk about it. You bet!

Even sign recognition. When you look at the sign of the business and don’t go in, they’ll know it. When you look at a sign and do go in, they’ll know it. So suddenly they can start talking to scientists of signage and what captures you and what draws you and what did you buy when you were in there. They know everything.

Is this good, or is this NSA technology running and ruining our lives? I like to go to a pub and say I’m going in for a pint, but I don’t need to be told I should go in and order a specific beer.

Right, or be tracked that you don’t. You know everything in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. I always thought bars were that way. You want to go out with a couple of friends, you want to have a couple of beers; maybe you have one extra; maybe you had too many, but it doesn’t have to be displayed publicly.

I think there’s a cross between what’s wrong and what’s right. Years ago, there were Internet cameras in bars on the dance floor. You could see all the action online. But people would call, saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t want to be on the dance floor; I don’t want people seeing me there.” So there is an element to keeping privacy in our industry, and it does concern me.

What’s the newest piece of that puzzle we’ll see on the floor this year that will surprise us?

It’s a tough question. I think you’ll see that the most change is the joining of social marketing and Point of Sale systems. So when you come in and use your credit card to make a transaction, it goes back and pulls data from your social channels, it tracks who you are, where you go, where you live; it knows everything about you, pulls up all your information.

The database can be programmed so finely that it will know people who have a tendency to come on Wednesdays, and then you market to them. Give me people who just eat steak; I do a steak promo and market just to them. Give me people who like wines; we’ll do a wine event, promote to them. It’s the combination of that database with social marketing right down to tracking your transactions.

What worries me as an operator is that the data knows you came to my place and knows you ordered steak. What stops my competitor from across the street from accessing that information and trying to sell them that same steak? So there’s a competitive component that’s worrisome. That’s my secret information; the fact that a specific customer ate a steak in my restaurant two nights ago is no longer secret. So now everybody in the city could market to the same customer for steaks.

It’s the NSA part of it that scares me.

That is scary.

I understand the promotional benefits of selective marketing, but knowing all the other things is a little worrying. One has to be cautious about allowing privacy invasion coming into this hospitality industry.

Well it doesn’t remain private. They know what you drink, when you drink it, how much you drink, how much you spend. You’re wearing a yellow shirt; obviously, you like yellow, so I can market you yellow things. I mean I can go crazy about yellow if I wanted to. Now, you wore that shirt, so do I have the right to exploit that you like a yellow shirt. It’s an interesting line, but the bigger question is where is it drawn.

Is America the leader of the nightclub and bar industry?

I think so. I’ve traveled the world, and as an American I get insulted when people say American businesses aren’t respected overseas. Look at how our food and beverage companies do around the world. We are regarded as the best at this. A lot of what we do here is exportable, and I don’t think there’s anybody that does it better in the whole world.

* * *

Jon’s “Bar Rescue” experts, chef Tony Gemignani (Pizza Rock in downtown Las Vegas), mixologist Elayne Duff and bar expert Russell Davis will host “Bar Rescue” workshops alongside the 70 moneymaking seminars planned. Thom Greco will moderate a panel of previously rescued owners, and cast members will attend the “Bar Rescue” Happy Hour at Tryst in the Wynn on March 25.

Additional parties are at Marquee in the Cosmopolitan and Hakkasan at MGM Grand, and the closing party is at XS in Steve Wynn’s Encore. For the first time, there will be an Olympic-styled gold, silver and bronze award for the blind-taste Craft Spirits Awards international competition. Also for the first time, a partnership with the U.S. Bartenders Guild for the Shake It Up Competition to decide skill, flair and concoction creativity.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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