Monday, August 6, 2007

RDT (Random daily thought)

Yesterday they were showing a "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" mini-marathon on BBC America in the afternoon, showing 4 of the episodes of the current season that have already aired. These are essentially the only 4 episodes that I've seen of the entire show, but I love it already. The closest thing to this show currently on US airwaves is Restaurant Makeover on the food network, but this show is much much better. It is not so much a food show as it is a show about the restaurant business, and it goes so much more in depth than any other show that I've seen.

You still get the charisma and charm of the profanity-laced tirades of chef Ramsay, but this show is so much better than "the F word" (another Ramsay show that was shown on BBC America which is a mess). More importantly, you get a lot of insight into running a restaurant and making it profitable, although it seems that he reuses the same themes a lot in how he tries to reengineer a restaurant. These include:

1. Survey the locals. Find out their complaints about the current restaurant, what they're looking for, and how much they're willing to pay for a meal.

2. Reengineer the produce selection to use more fresh local ingredients which will also happen to be cheaper.

3. Reengineer the menu so that it is easier for the chefs to produce the meals faster and with more consistency and efficiency. Plate presentation is kept minimal to also speed things along.

4. Reengineer the dining space so that the decor fits with the selected type of cuisine, and fit as many tables as possible while still allowing the diners to be comfortable. Frills and random lounge areas are not necessary.

5. Know your role. Each member of the staff has a job and shouldn't be meddling into the jobs of the others.

6. Communication between the members of the staff from inside to outside the kitchen to ensure the kitchen runs properly.

7. Big marketing/PR campaign, usually involving hitting the streets and meeting the locals. Create a buzz outside and inside the dining room.

Here are my thoughts on these themes:

1. A lot of these restaurants that they have chosen to "save" are actually businesses that should be making money but don't. They usually have a decent competitive advantage in terms of location or cuisine but are just run improperly. Most of these places do have "locals" who will probably comprise a large part of their sales. It's definitely not like running a restaurant in New York City I imagine.

2. Wholesale food really is quite cheap as it is, so the fresher it is the better. That being said, local produce will also be even cheaper than having any specially imported ingredients.

3. The easier and faster it is to push out food from the kitchen, the less the customers have to wait. But more importantly, it also means the more covers (customer seatings) you can do in a night. Again, none of these places offer a 9 course tasting menu. It's all about in and out.

4. Same thing as 3. Pack them in and get them out and pack them in again. But still make sure the customers are comfortable, and just get rid of unnecessary lounging areas that don't serve any money-making purpose (bar seating is great though).

5. I think "know your role" is important in any business, but it's especially important here because restaurant management usually includes 3 very type A personalities: owners, chefs, and managers. Having Ramsay do the role-assigning helps because he is very assertive and it's very hard not to respect him for what he has achieved for himself.

6. Communication is a key theme that he stresses both in this show and in Hell's Kitchen. While everyone has their role, there needs to be a glue to keep it all together and working efficiently. I think most businesses hire a middle manager for this role, but restaurants can't afford to add a random body just for that.

7. Well for sure Ramsay is a huge PR guy. He does have charisma and people often wonder how much of the profanity is put on for show. But it just goes to show that a little proper marketing goes a long way. Then again, it's probably a lot easier to get people's attention when you're walking around with a celebrity and a camera crew. Also important is maintaining the buzz inside the dining room, that after attracting the initial customers they feel that they want to return.

So armed with these 7 themes, couldn't I get a job as a restaurant management consultant? Seriously, every show ends up being some variation of these 7 themes. But it still makes for good TV anyway.

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