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    Jon Taffer's BarHQ app wants to increase your profits

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    Jon Taffer took the business of bar consulting to a new level when SpikeTV decided to run the show Bar Rescue, featuring Taffer as the irascible host. Since then he's had season after season of showing the public how sharp he is at turning around even the most hopeless bars (when the owners actually take his advice, anyway). He's now bringing his expertise to owners everywhere thanks to his BarHQ app, which he hopes will raise any bar's revenues 20-30%. I spoke to Mr. Taffer about the app and his approach.

    Because of his show Bar Rescue, and book, Raise the Bar, Taffer is in demand more than he can actually help. He even has a road show and continues to consult privately for clients, but can't address the myriad requests. Out of the frustration of seeing so many well-meaning bar owners begging for his help, Taffer decided to create something to help. BarHQ was the answer, and it is free (on iPad and iPhone). Taffer's goal is to help raise revenues up to 30%, which is very often what is needed to push an establishment back in the black and operating at a sustainable rate.

    How does BarHQ work? A bar owner or manager sets up the app, which includes taking a brief quiz on what type of bar you are and what sort of things you do. The survey is quite short, and afterwards you create a login and get a unique code for your business. That code is used for every employee who will be using the app (the app is iOS and Android compatible, but obviously employees need smartphones to use it). Your settings, communications, schedules, etc. are all synced through a cloud service (which is also free).

    Once the initial setup is done, BarHQ works in three key areas: Sales, Marketing and Scheduling. For sales, you input your sales each day and track trends. Individual employees can do this as well. Ultimately this can give you an idea what promotions are working. I found the input fairly easy to use, although being able to import raw data from other systems would likely be helpful. You can also track guest count and sales per hour, both vital stats in the bar/restaurant game.

    BarHQ app

    For marketing, the app provides a slightly clunky but usable customized promo tool, but I found it was easier to go into the "sponsored" promotions (promotions list) and see what these entail. BarHQ provides a few examples, like Treasure Chest (where patrons are given keys to a chest with prizes, and at the end of the night one person opens it) or Nickel Beer, where you sell custom mugs for nickel beers. While I was told these would generate PDF marketing materials, unfortunately I didn't find a way to generate these. What is included is an automated way to post these promotions to your social media, which is honestly a godsend for most harried small bar owners. It does seem there is room for growth in this part of the app, and I'm figuring Taffer will build this out over time. He noted that he's built a facility in Las Vegas to continue making content for the app, and that includes training and marketing materials.

    Finally there's employee management, and that studio in Vegas will be the scene of ongoing training films Taffer is producing for this app. You'll eventually be able to train employees on demand, having them earn badges and rewards for training (like a "Whiskey Master" badge upon viewing a video and taking a quiz). Until then there's a simple list of tips (all good), a how to on using the app, and a scheduler. I think the scheduler is quite powerful for smallish bars. You input your weekly schedule, and employees do the same on their devices. All of this is shown in the manager's scheduler, but employees can do things like blast a request out to pick up a shift, or request a change and a manager can easily see who might cover it. Those sorts of intra-team communications are a pain otherwise.

    Speaking of communications, there's also a message system built into the app. It's no Slack, but pre-shift messages are specifically called out, a testament to Taffer's expertise. I wasn't able to test this, but it's one way to ensure all employees who use the app are getting those messages.

    Taffer's BarHQ is sponsored in that there are some ads at the bottom, but none ever overtake the interface or really get in the way. I did find a few quirks and bugs in the app, although nothing particularly show-stopping besides "Clone Week" in the Scheduler, which forced me to fully close the app and start my week over. Also, a lot of the tools in the app are hidden in the upper left "hamburger" menu, something designers are realizing isn't a great user experience. The design is still leagues above most industry apps, but that's not a high bar to rise above.

    BarHQ, for a first version, is an ambitious start to what will likely become a powerful tool for small bars. More importantly, Taffer's expertise and willingness to continue to build this app out should not be underestimated -- there's even a Q&A section in the app. Far too many bars simply suffer from a lack of the basics, and BarHQ aims to help them with promotions and social media, sales tracking and employee management. Having seen quite a few episodes of Bar Rescue, I can admit that very few failing bars do well in any of those areas. I'm hopeful that BarHQ delivers on its promise for bar owners, but since it's free there's really very little to lose by seeing if it works for you.

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