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National hospitality expert offers our area's small businesses tips to survive COVID-19

Hospitality expert Jon Taffer, who is also the host of Paramount Network's reality series "Bar Rescue," talked with Newswatch 16's Ryan Leckey.

As COVID-19 cases keep rising across the country, some small businesses here at home are desperate for a lifeline, especially local bars and restaurants.

With more safety restrictions in place, it means fewer customers and a lot less cash flow.

But there’s hope, as Newswatch 16’s Ryan Leckey learned from a hospitality expert who has become the “go-to” nationwide for answers during the pandemic. 

Jon Taffer, who has more than 30 years in hospitality and is best known for saving failing bars on a network TV show, shared insider strategies to help our area's small businesses survive COVID-19. 

Ryan also shared some of your stories from social media on how mom and pop shops are holding up. 

It seems everywhere you turn in our area, local restaurants and bars are casting a creative line hoping to reel in customers with outdoor heaters, tents, and anything else to keep their ships from sinking. 

"Well, you know, without resources, there is no survival," said Jon Taffer.

But figuring a way to survive is Taffer’s wheelhouse. During the pandemic, Jon became a national “go-to” resource as a hospitality expert with 30 plus years in the industry. 

He’s best known as the host of Paramount Network’s reality series Bar Rescue that’s gearing up for its 8th season 

Jon’s “in your face approach” has helped save more than 150 failing bars nationwide, including one that was losing $20,000 a month. 

Ryan asked Taffer, How can small business bars survive this?"

"These shutdowns that are happening now are different than the last time in two big ways. First, we do have vaccines on the horizon. So this time, when we shut down, we know it's not for a year. We know it's probably not for six months. We do see light at the end of the tunnel. That's a good thing. The bad thing is there's no stimulus in place, and many, many restaurants are adding dollars," said Taffer. "They're behind in rent, behind the mortgage payments. We communicate with so many bars and restaurants every month."

If you own a bar or restaurant in Pennsylvania right now, and you're out of money and savings. What would you do?

"One, I negotiate with my landlord to make sure I don't get a default notice in the mail. That's the most important thing of all. I'd call my bankers or anybody I might owe money to make certain that they know what's going on, so I don't get shut off notices and things like that. First thing, talk to your creditors. Next thing, do some type of financial model. We don't have the PCP in place, so, unfortunately, employees probably need to get furloughed again," explained Taffer. "You know, that's the unthinkable part of this. The worst thing you can do is spend your money when there's no potential and then not have the resources when there is potential."

"Ninety to one hundred and twenty days from now. Post vaccine. If you had the vaccine, I'm going to guess the next place you're going to go is to dinner out to a restaurant. So if restaurant tours can hang in there, hold their reserves, maybe even close for a month or two, so they have the money to reopen properly. I see Boomtown this spring and summer," added Taffer. 

Taffer explains what will the bar or restaurant of the future look like.

He said, "Well, I think it will look different. We're not going to see servers with masks, I think, at a period of time that's going to disappear. We are going to see a certain courtesy spacing. We're all a more sensitive about contamination around us. We are going to see certain sanitation practices stay in place."

While it did more harm than good, Taffer does point out the pandemic did help many business owners try things they normally would not have. 

"Delivery is not going to go away," he explained. "It's not going to be 80 percent of business anymore. It's going to go down. But, you know, it used to be five or 10 percent of restaurants, business. It's going to land now. It may be 30, maybe 35 percent."

COVID-19 also helped folks who enjoy an occasional adult beverage get creative.

"We have a mixer line that we sell in Wal-Mart and other stores, Bloody Mary Mix and those kinds of things. And our sales are up to during the pandemic because mixology has sort of come home now," added Taffer. "If you have favorite bartenders, here's what's fun. If you go on any of the social media platforms, a lot of great and famous bartenders are doing happy hours online, and they show you how to make drinks."

For those bars and restaurants that do survive and hopefully thrive again, Jon’s biggest tip to keep the customers coming in: just clean your kitchen. 

The National Restaurant Association predicts 100,000 restaurants across the country will close at the end of this year due to COVID-19.

To help many of them, including bars in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf requested and got approval to waive liquor license fees next year for businesses most affected by the pandemic. 

RELATED: Gov. Wolf wants to waive liquor license fees

But for many owners, it just boils down to a few hundred dollars in savings, and restaurant industry groups argue the relief won't be much help.

By the way, season 8 of Bar Rescue is scheduled to start production next month and begin airing in March.