A friend of mine was telling me about a show he thought I would like – Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, which is now being broadcast in the U.S. as Kitchen Nightmares on Fox. I’m not a big reality show guy but decided to give it a look the other day when I stumbled across it on BBC America while channel surfing. He was right – I do like the show. But I think there is something missing – continuous improvement.
The premise is renowned chef Gordon Ramsay spends a week in a restaurant, which is failing, trying to revive the business. He brings an intense brutally honest approach to the owners and staff, basically telling them – you’re not good (he adds a few adjectives not suitable for publication here). He looks at many aspects of the restaurant, the menu, the quality of the food, the décor, and the lack of passion and pride in the owners/management. Then the changes start – usually with the quality of the food and a switch to fresh ingredients. He simplifies the menu, updates the décor and instills a passion back into the staff, management, and owners that has been missing. The show usually ends with everyone feeling good about the chances of the business turning around and being successful – a feel good moment.
But, in reality, many of the restaurants Chef Ramsay helps go out of business – as is the case with many consultants who try to help struggling businesses. Now the restaurant business is brutal and success hinges on a very fickle public, plus these establishments are almost always in extreme financial disarray when Chef Ramsay attempts the impossible, so this is not to put the failure on Chef Ramsay – these places were heading for disaster long before he arrived. He comes in, upgrades the standards of quality, redecorates, and instills passion back into the staff. What is not evident is a fundamental change in the way the restaurant operates – the way it does things. On one episode I watched, J-Willy’s (originally aired Oct 2008), he changed the menu, raised the quality standard, infused passion into everyone, but it still took over an hour to get food out, and then when it was delivered, much was sent back because it was wrong (under/over-cooked). The next night, after a rousing pep talk, they “pulled themselves together” and delivered better service. The show ended with Chef Ramsay wishing the staff at J-Willy’s the best and was hopeful for their success. J-Willy’s closed in February 2009.
In any business, not just the restaurant business, providing a quality product (service) that is not overly complicated to the customer, in a clean, safe environment is critical, and these are things Chef Ramsay helps his “clients” achieve. Rah-Rah speeches and getting everyone “fired up” for the dinner crowd will provide benefits – in the short term. Long term, sustained improvements need to come from fundamental changes in the way the organization operates; process / continuous improvement is required. This is the job of management. All too often, management recoils back into its comfort zone after the “project” is over, doing the same things they were doing before with a result that is all too predictable. Pride and Passion are necessary, but not sufficient for sustained performance; Process and Persistence are also demanded.
The restaurants in “Kitchen Nightmares” are not unlike organizations that are given second chance at success through the hard work of hired experts or consultants; but management must step up to the plate and truly do something different. For most, this takes a great deal of courage and is a step out of their comfort zone, but to really turn things around, it is an action that is not just recommended, but required.