What can you learn from Chef Gordon Ramsay?


If you are interested in improving your class numbers or making your studio more profitable, I feel Chef Ramsay could help a lot… let me explain.

On the remote chance you have never seen his TV show (he must have over a dozen to date) Chef Gordon Ramsay is a very successful and very foul mouthed Celebrity Chef who makes his on-screen living criticizing other Cooks, Chefs and Restaurant owners. He’s also very successful restaurant owner in real life.  I’m certain that the producers of any show he appears need to hire an extra hand, who’s sole job is to hit the “Bleep” button until their index finger is bloodied and bruised.

And yet his shows are very popular and have been for years. I have to say I find Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (either the BBC or US versions) very entertaining once you understand his objective for each episode of the show; saving a troubled or near bankrupted restaurant from failure through brutal honesty. NOTE: The BBC versions are a little lot more foul than those produce for the US markets. Language Warning on the video below

Each episode of Nightmares  follows the similar ebb and flow of most any dramatic TV show or movie for that matter:

Intro: Chef Ramsay is called in save some floundering restaurant and his first action is to sit and be served as a normal customer. Inevitably he finds his meal un-editable which sets the stage for…

Initial Confrontation: Ramasy confronts the Owner, the Chef, wait staff and anyone else he can find over the poor quality of the food + (take your pick) the service, decor, prices, etc… His next step is…

Observation: “Let’s see this F*&#&^% place in action” has Ramsey observing the operation of the kitchen and dining room service to get an understanding of where the problems lie. This tends to be one of my favorite parts of the show, especially when he finds rotting food in some dark, walk in freezer.

Candid summation of the problem: Like many reality shows, Ramsey appears outside the restaurant and speaks directly to the camera, offering what is clearly visible to all of us watching… “The place is all F$%#@& up” delivered with a very sullen expression and a less than an optimistic appraisal of his chances for turning the business around.
After watching a half dozen or so shows, it’s obvious that the problems the restaurant is experiencing fall into one these general catagories:

  1. Owner/Chef Un-Professional Arrogance – “I serve my customers what I want to serve them.”
  2. Owner denial – “problem? I don’t have any problems…” as he or she stands in an empty dining room at half past 12:00.
  3. Lack of business / managerial experience – being a good Chef doesn’t make you a good business person.
  4. Not truly understanding and then delivering what customers want – typically based on what can only be described as willful ignorance

Proposed Solution: Here Ramsey lays out his proposed solution. It maybe a new menu or cooking method that he feels will address the problems that he sees. In most episodes everyone seems to agree, which sets up the…

Second Confrontation: Whether by design, or simply human nature, someone refuses to go along with the suggested changes. This is by far my favorite part, but it typically includes a lot of Bleeping.  Here Ramsay gets to the real reason for most, if not all, of the what’s causing the trouble in this business. Time and time again, what Ramsey has to shout, swear and yell his way past is the defensiveness of the person who needs to give up the excuses, swallow their pride and accept responsibility for the current state of the restaurant.

Acceptance of the Solution: After Ramsey has successfully broken down the walls of; arrogance, insecurity, stubbornness, etc… that are ruining the business, everyone is finally on-board with his new changes.

With the new menu and other changes in place, Ramsey stages an event to “Re-Brand” the restaurant to the community. This is crucial to a profitable future, as the success of any local business is word of mouth! There’s a very good reason no one is eating there and bold action is needed to inform past customers that there have been substantial changes. “Please try us again!”

Rebirth of optimism: It worked! The atmosphere in the restaurant is buoyed by a now full dining room of happy customers and a till full of money. Better days are ahead as Ramsey makes one final statement to the camera before walking off to save another restaurant.

Happy (sometimes) Ending: Much like a recovering alcoholic who’s fallen off the wagon, the strong personality of an entrepreneur is difficult to change and then maintain, without slipping back into old habits. This sets up a whole other series of shows where Ramsey returns to steer the business back on course yet again.

It took me a while to understand why I (and obviously quite a few others) like Chef Ramsay. Despite his foul mouth, abrasive personality and endless arrogance he demonstrates a refreshing belief in the capability of the people he’s trying to help. Every expletive laced criticism, accusation or heated confrontation he delivers is based on his honest belief that the recipient can do better.

By now, I’m guessing that you have figured out where I see a potential similarly between a struggling restaurant on Kitchen Nightmares and a class or studio with consistently low attendance.
Winter is coming for many of us and your chance to Re-Brand your class if necessary is right now! If you are frequently looking out over a room with empty cycles, can I suggest that you watch a few episodes? Chef Ramsay doesn’t just show up by accident, someone sent out a request for his help. Pay attention to the disconnect between the reality of the situation and the early behavior of the business owner. And then decide if any of this could apply to your situation.

I’m going to follow this up with a few ideas on how you could find your own version of a “Chef Ramsay” next week.

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