I have become a big fan of a BBC show featuring renowned chef Gordon Ramsay. The show, Kitchen Nightmares, is two or three years old and I am watching the syndicated re-runs. I learned about the show reading a blog post similar to this one at Vertical Response . The show documents the foul-mouthed chef taking a restaurant with seemingly insurmountable problems and turning it around in just one week. It's very entertaining with lots of "drama" in the kitchen as restaurant owners are forced to face reality and make difficult decisions in order to survive.
But what I have found most interesting after watching 10-15 episodes is Chef Ramsay's turnaround strategy and recipe for success. The basics are the same for every restaurant and they can be applied to virtually any business. So here they are for your dining pleasure:
Get Clean & Organized – Regardless of any problems in the restaurant, each episode shows the entire kitchen being thoroughly cleaned from the ground up. Spoiled food is trashed and ovens are disassembled to be thoroughly cleaned. Broken equipment is repaired or replaced and unnecessary items are removed from countertops. The kitchen makeover is the starting point and foundation which the turnaround is built on. A clean, organized, and well-functioning kitchen is a prerequisite for success.
Application point: There is not a business or business owner on the planet that can't be more organized. Starting with one's own work area, what can be changed to make you more efficient? Employee work areas? Customer service counters? How about supply or inventory areas? Take one small area at a time or spend 20 minutes per day to straighten up, clean out or clean up. What about equipment? Do your employees have the proper tools to meet your expected production goals? Or are they working with equipment "duct taped" together to make it last just a little longer.
Keep Things Simple – Many of the restaurants have gotten themselves in trouble by trying to be all things to all people. Menus get bigger and bigger. In one instance, Ramsay cut the menu down from 72 items to six. His philosophy is, "The simpler the better":
- Basic menus
- Use local resources
- Do it with excellence – "Good food will sell itself"
Application point: In an attempt to get all the business we can, many small businesses wander from their primary mission. Product lines and services expand more and more to meet all the needs of the customer base. And for a business that was once a "Specialist," it is now a "Jack of all Trades." Still very "good" but no longer "great." Pleasing the customer, which is good, has hurt the original mission, which is bad.
Change or Die - All restaurants open with the best intentions. Energy levels are high, attitudes are positive, and cash is plentiful. But over time, whether it's because of bad decisions, bad food, or bad habits, many restaurant dreams turn into kitchen nightmares. When Chef Ramsay comes on the scene, things are about to change…or else.
Application point: Businesses don't just open the doors on a Monday morning and realize they are in trouble. Many times the problems are the result of bad habits that have developed over a long period of time. And unless change occurs and new positive habits are put in place, a business is subject to failure at worst or gets pummeled by the competition at best. Are you sleeping at the wheel in any "mission critical" areas: sales, marketing, customer service, quality assurance, financial benchmarks?
Invest in Proper Staff – I know I have eaten at restaurants and had some really bad experiences due to lousy personnel. Mostly wait staff, but also an inattentive hostess and certainly substandard kitchen cooks, have made me vow to never go back to a restaurant. Ramsay's "in your face" style does one of two things: 1) weeds out the nonbelievers or uncommitted, or 2) brings out the best qualities in the staff that remains. A successful restaurant revolves around the abilities of the chef.
Application point: First of all, each and every employee is important. But let's face it; some are more important than others. Whether it's because of poor cash flow or poor management, many businesses will continue to try and just "get by" with under-performing staff in key positions. We say "We can't afford to hire a replacement" or we just don't have the balls to fire the weak links. What's your excuse? Don't let a substandard employee in a key position cause your business to fall short of its full potential.
Keep Up with Financials – A Kitchen Nightmare wouldn't exist if the restaurant wasn't experiencing cash flow problems. At the beginning of every episode, there is plenty of footage showing empty seats and lots of discussion about the daily receipts required to break-even. Ramsay may be famous for his cooking abilities, but you can tell he is a very sharp businessman. Each restaurant must know the "break-even" formula of the number of bookings needed each night and the most profitable "mix" of starter dishes and main courses. He also shows how to reduce the cost of ingredients while increasing the quality of food.
Application point: Typically, when businesses are in trouble, owners and managers purposely ignore the financials because it's all bad news. But staying on top of key ratios and "break-even" scenarios, allows for better decision making. What is that key barometer of business health you should be monitoring every day? Daily sales volume, average revenue per sale, product mix? Do you need more customers or just different customers?
Don't Send Conflicting Messages – "Be famous for something" says Ramsay. In each episode, Chef Gordon does his research on the local competition. He determines what each restaurant does best and then builds on that to create a memorable marketing message. But prior to his arrival, many of the near-failing restaurants are trying to be some sort of Greek – Mexican – Indian combination or some other version thereof. They aren't quite sure what they want to be. And when the customer is confused, they stay away.
Application point: What are you famous for? We often become "generalists" in an effort to widen the customer base. Well how is that working for you? Look around and more times than not, the "specialists" seem to have the formula for success. Why not be known for something remarkable? For being the very best (you fill in the blank) in your field. Narrow down your niche until you absolutely OWN it.
Does any of the above hit close to home with you? Have you had success in turning around any of these areas? I'd love to hear your comments or additional input these or other strategies.
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(David Moore or Advantage Printing)