- Jon Taffer, host of the hit show “Bar Rescue” on Paramount, scored a sit-down interview in Las Vegas with President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning for “The Jon Taffer Podcast.”
- Taffer told Insider he was “surprised” by Trump’s grasp of policy details in the hospitality sector, particularly with the workings of the PPP loan program and the tax codes for restaurants.
- “The details that he spits out really surprised me,” Taffer said.
- Taffer said he also offered Democratic nominee Joe Biden an interview for the podcast, part of what he described as an effort to drill down into both candidates’ plans to help bars and restaurants recover from the pandemic.
- “I’m not sure what Biden’s positions are. And I put that on Biden, because he has not been very vocal or communicative in this regard,” Taffer said.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Jon Taffer is known for his bombastic style as the host of “Bar Rescue” on Paramount, but he’s donning a softer persona in his efforts to help the hospitality industry recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
After finishing up a podcast interview with President Donald Trump in Las Vegas on Wednesday morning, Taffer spoke with Insider about the impression Trump made on him and what the industry needs to bounce back from shutdowns and reduced demand.
Taffer also talked about his interest studying political science in college, as well as how he sees each candidate’s approach to bringing bars and restaurants back.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Jake Lahut: Before we get into your interview with President Trump, I was wondering if you could put us in the shoes of most restaurant owners and what they’re going through right now?
Jon Taffer: It’s very regional: New Jersey is tracking ahead of last year in the restaurant industry because of the closure of Manhattan. Connecticut is also tracking ahead of last year in overall restaurant sales. Texas is getting close to about 70%. And there are other areas of the country that are hurt significantly. So it is a regional question. I just want to clarify that.
Across the board — with the exception of really New Jersey — everybody is significantly down and, the restaurant industry has lost more jobs than any industry in America. We’ve lost more revenue that any industry in America.
Lahut: When you had your chat with the president, what kind of impression did he make? Was it the first time you had met him?
Taffer: Well, I had met him socially before, just a quick handshake many years ago. He was extremely personable, gracious, very kind to me, very interested in talking about the hospitality industry.
Lahut: And did he demonstrate a good grasp of not just the industry, but the policies around it and how things like the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans have worked?
Taffer: Oh, very much so. The details that he spits out really surprised me. And I did an awful lot of homework to be prepared for the interview, knowing all the various stimulus proposals and all the numbers. He has exceptional recall and knowledge, the way he looks into your eyes and communicates with you. You can see that he has a great comfort in who he is. There’s no question about that.
And if I could say anything that surprised me, it was — I expected him to be cordial, I expected him to be reasonably knowledgeable — but his graciousness and his level of knowledge were impressive.
Lahut: That’s interesting. If you’re tuning into the Trump rallies and paying attention to the news pretty closely, his messaging on the stimulus has been a little all over the place. And a lot of the issues he’s prioritized this late in the campaign have been largely around Hunter Biden and other kinds of cultural issues. So was it your feeling after talking to him that this really is a priority for him?
Taffer: I believe — and he said this in the interview — that he feels that Nancy Pelosi and the other side is not going to do a deal until after the election. And so he’s eager to get it done after the election, but I believe he’s in a position in his mind right now where he feels that any effort before the election is not going to to be met by the other side.
Lahut: And did the president say anything else that caught your eye? Or if it didn’t surprise you, did you at least take immediate note of it?
Taffer: A number of things, yeah. We were talking about the Employee Retention Credit, and his knowledge of that program is obviously extremely deep. And we talked about broadening that program to encompass more types of restaurants, and make that program far more encompassing, and he agreed with that and thought it was a good program.
You know, you mentioned earlier that it has been difficult to pin down these stimulus policies these past few weeks with all the noise of the campaign and such going on. That was the purpose of my interview. As a hospitality person, I wanted the president to articulate what his direct policy was with regards to stimulus for the hospitality industry. And I wanted those policies to be on the record, and front and center for my industry, for whether President Trump wins or Joe Biden wins — either way. I wanted to get these policies on the record somewhere in some place.
And we also sent out requests to the Biden camp to do the same interview. So there was nothing partisan in this whatsoever. This was strictly being an advocate for my industry and all my friends in my industry.
Lahut: And I did notice reading up on you that you started out in college studying political science. Have you found yourself wondering what the path not taken would have been like if you wanted to get into politics? And why did you want to study politics in the first place?
Taffer: Well, I grew up in the ’60s, a pretty politically ignited time [laughs]. So I took political science classes and started actually tending bar in college. And that’s when I started to fall in love with the hospitality industry. But no, I don’t regret not taking that path. Sometimes these days, I’m almost glad I didn’t.
Lahut: Do people ever come up to you and say ‘Oh man, you should run for office! You really tell it like it is,’ or something like that?
Taffer: Sure, I get it said to me. People post “Taffer for President” on social media pretty often. I get a kick out of it. The president even mentioned it today, but it’s not something in my consideration at the moment.
Lahut: Oh wow. My last question for you, sir — since a bunch of our readers are probably familiar with your persona on TV — is now that you’ve had the experience of both speaking with President Trump in person and following his administration like any citizen, what’s your assessment of his presidency at this point? For lack of a better term, would you “shut it down” and try to see what would happen under a Biden administration?
Taffer: You know, that’s a very difficult question, and it’s a very difficult question because I’m not sure what Biden’s positions are. And I put that on Biden because he has not been very vocal or communicative in this regard.
So when I hear that all the tax cuts are going to go away, but I don’t hear the rest of any kind of a plan, that scares the hell out of me. So I only know bits and pieces of the things that Biden has proposed. I don’t understand his full program.
I’m a business advocate, and I’m talking to you, Jake, trying to protect and support small businesses across America. And I worry, because I don’t understand the full program of Biden. And then I’m concerned that there’s, you know, layers of things that could have a negative impact on business that I don’t understand yet. And when I hear about energy changes and tax raises, and possibly payroll tax increases — when I hear these types of things, they’re layered on top of each other, and it scares me. Now that might be wrong as an assumption, but my point is, I don’t know. I don’t know what Biden is going to do.
Now with President Trump, he’s been there for four years, so I know. I understand that business taxes are not going to go up. I have a greater understanding of the Trump agenda, which makes me more comfortable. And I’m being non-political in this statement.
Jake: Any final takeaways from chatting with the president?
Taffer: There were four points that he put on the table as commitments from him, as far as his intentions for the industry. The first was to broaden the scope of the employee retention tax credit. The second was to either extend or reintroduce a PPP program that also covered debt. The third — and this was a biggie — was to reintroduce the business lunch tax credit, and implementing that immediate business meal write off, I’m excited about that move. I think that would have a positive impact on the business. And then the fourth thing that he committed to was the domestic travel incentive program. And that’s a program that would incentivize any type of domestic air travel. And that’s really important to destinations like Las Vegas, Miami, and business markets like New York, Los Angeles.
So those four elements were commitments that I got that now I can understand how the policies toward the hospitality industry will flow in the Trump administration. And I’m hoping that in the next few days, we can either sit down or do a Skype interview with Vice President Biden and ask the same questions.