I’ve started watching (Chef Gordon) Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares on BBC on my cable package. Although I started watching because cooking is a hobby of mine and I’ve always been fascinated by the restaurant business (when I worked at McDonald’s as a kid, I loved it), it has struck me how wonderfully educational the program is for entrepreneurs in general.
(note – Chef Ramsey does a reality show on Fox called Hell’s Kitchen – not the same show at all)
The premise of the show is Ramsey, a celebrity chef and owner of multiple high profile restaurants around the world, visits small restaurants that are failing and provides 7 days of consulting to turn them around. I’ve noticed several themes that have clear parallels with entrepreneurial ventures in general. For example:
- Understanding what drives profit is important and often counter to conventional wisdom (serving high-end, elegant food is sexy but is much harder to do profitably – the profitable activity often isn’t the sexiest).
- There’s no substitute for roll-up-your-sleeves marketing. When Ramsey analyzes a restaurant, he goes into town and interviews people to see why they aren’t coming. Then he goes out with the owner go out into the general public when the restaurant re-opens for marketing. Lesson 1: lots of the most important marketing is not all that sophsticated. Lesson 2 – even millionaires should never think they are too good to sell to the public. Lesson 3 – Figure out who your customers are and talk to them.
- Lack of product focus is an insidious source of pain for a company. When restaurants have menus with dozens of choices, food production is a nightmare – you don’t get particularly good at preparing many dishes. Plus, your sales staff (wait staff) has a much more difficult learning curve.
- Denial of problems (Ramsey is excellent at facing the brutal truth, usually involving a great deal of profanity) is a killer – once you recognize problems, even deep problems can be surprisingly easy to fix if you take a cold, dispassionate look at them.
- Even one wrong person on the management team can be a company-killer. They need to be excluded from the company quickly once it’s determined that they are the wrong person.
- Managing employees who are friends is really difficult because it’s hard to ask your friends to do things that you expect your employees to do – and it’s even harder to provide firm guidance when required.
- Management is leadership – people have to want to do what you say not just because you pay them, but because they value your approval. You can’t leave your employees in the trenches and hide from crisis. You have to treat employees with respect (that’s very different from coddling), and you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy.
- Poor communication among the production (chef), management (restaurant owner) and sales (waitstaff) – often leads to lousy food and lousy service.
- Lack of passion on the part of owners and employees leads to sloppy execution (you can’t provide good service to customers without a passion for what you do). In one show, the head chef realized he really wanted to work with troubled teens (which is why he staffed his kitchen with them) and he left the restaurant to be a social worker.
If you’re interested in becoming a more skilled entrepreneur, I highly recommend watching this entertaining and edcuational show. My wife Cordelia, who also loves entrepreneurship, is also hooked and it’s become quality time for me and the Mrs.
I’ve found good lessons for me as a manager from the show. You may also.