Robert Irvine and Jon Taffer share a love of rescuing hospitality businesses. They just do it from differing angles.
While Chef Irvine (“Restaurant: Impossible”) approaches saving restaurants from the culinary perspective, believing the food is what will draw in customers, Taffer (“Bar Rescue”) takes the businessman’s point of view, arguing the overall dining experience is what the diner is after. Now their guiding principles will be put to the test in a new competition series just premiered on discovery+.
In the three hourlong episodes of “Restaurant Rivals: Irvine vs. Taffer,” the two men each apply their acumen to a struggling family-owned Southern California eatery. Some may be neighbors, some may be in the same town but all will be made over within the space of 24 hours, getting new menus and improvements to restaurant and staff.
In the end, the two businesses go head-to-head in a dining service that will determine the winner, which is based on food quality, atmosphere and service.
For Taffer, who once owned a restaurant music consulting business, the idea was right up his alley.
“Through my work, I’d proven that I could increase table turns through music,” he says. “I can make you chew faster through music. I could stimulate conversation through music. So I used these environmental factors all the time in my concept creations.
“So it’s interesting,” he continues. “I sort of look at it from the outside in, Robert looks at it from the inside out. I’ve got to add, I don’t have any disrespect for his process or the way he goes about it. That’s what makes this exciting for me, is I have complete respect for him and his process.”
The problems the two men faced were pretty typical — food quality, poorly trained staff, ownership issues, attitude problems and red ink. Some restaurants were in better positions financially than others but many weren’t far from closing.
In addition to offering advice, Taffer and Irvine took on the role of therapist for the owners, because as Taffer says, “You can’t fix a restaurant without fixing the owner.”
And while there is no grand prize per se , there are regional bragging rights to be won as well as he intrinsic reward of a business saved.
“There was an interesting dynamic … and that was the competitive nature of it,” Taffer explains. “They not only wanted to make their restaurants better, they wanted to win. My guys wanted to beat Irvine. I mean, we wanted to beat him bad, every one of my restaurant teams, and I know the same happened on Robert’s side as well.
“So interestingly, I think the competitive nature of the show added to the motivation level of the owners and sort of made them more successful in their execution.”