FEATURES


Chef Gordon Ramsey's 5 Great Tough Love Lessons

By Steve Rak II


I like to watch the show Kitchen Nightmares starring Chef Gordon Ramsey. If you have never seen Kitchen Nightmares it goes something like this: Chef Ramsey is called in to help a struggling mom and pop restaurant that is failing, losing money and losing customers faster than you can say greasy spoon.

It's always the same type story: Restaurant owner starts business many years ago, business becomes successful but then at some point falls on hard times, owner drains their personal savings and works themselves to the bone trying to save the place. Finally when all hope is lost they call in Chef Ramsey for one final Hail Mary pass to try and save the joint.

What ensues is an hour-long show with Chef Ramsey getting brutally honest with the poor soul who owns the place. Ramsey comes off like a pit bull on Red Bull; he tastes the food and renders it garbage, trashes the decor and the cleanliness of the place ... and then things really get ugly when he gets in the kitchen.

The owner is left stunned, shaken and, like it or not, faced with the reality of the situation: if they don't make major changes immediately, out of business they will go.

I like this show for several reasons. First of all it scares the heck out of me as a business owner and makes me think. Could we all get so complacent and blinded by the day-to-day issues in our businesses that we could end up in such a bad place as these restaurant owners? I also like to see what has led up to these problems and what solutions Ramsey has for the owners. He comes up with great ideas to transform these failing establishments. I don't know how many actually succeed, but he gives a lot of the same advice from week to week. Here are a few things I think we can all learn from Chef Ramsey:

1. Clean up your act:

The first thing Chef Ramsey does is make sure the whole restaurant is cleaned from top to bottom. We can do the same with our businesses. Don't let things get so out of control that you look at the mulch pile out back and have to wonder if your skid steer is buried in there somewhere.

2. Get over yourself:

Ramsey always has a good time putting these owners in their place. I call it "owner's syndrome", because as owners we have to be able to manage our egos or they can get in the way of our success. I know you know what I'm talking about.

3. Don't serve bad food:

Translation: Make sure your service is stellar. If you are giving mediocre service that's just like getting an overcooked steak at a steakhouse.

4. Manage your staff:

If your employees are texting, talking on their phones or, God forbid, smoking on the job, put a stop to it now! Also, all the sleeveless T-shirts and cutoff shorts have to go. When Chef Ramsey calls out the employees some cry, some quit and the rest conform. That's the way it is, like it or not.

5. Don't live in outer space:

If you are having problems with a few customers, that is normal; if all of your customers are problems, pains and jerks, you might just want to come down out of orbit and have a look at yourself. Ramsey has to fight the battle with the owner who says all of his food is great even though no one ever comes to his restaurant. Can you hear me Buzz Lightyear?

A few other things I have observed while watching Kitchen Nightmares: The streets are littered with restaurant owners who are working hard - really hard - 80-plus hours per week with health and money problems and still failing miserably. They go to work every day and do the same thing over and over hoping for different results, and we all know what that leads to.

The moral of the story is that working more, while it has its merits, is not going to fix the major problems with any business. Throwing money at the problems won't help either.

What Chef Ramsey brings to the table is a sense of reality, a vast knowledge of the restaurant industry and savvy business practices. Keeping up with trends and building a strong brand is also an undertone of the show, because the Chef Ramsey brand is about as strong as you can get, he doesn't tout it on the show because he doesn't have to.

So what is left after all of the shouting, soul searching, renovating and restructuring is a restaurant owner with a new beginning and some big decisions. The choice is to finally wake up, take the knowledge Ramsey gave them and build on it until the day they either sell the business or close the doors. Never stop learning, never rest on your laurels, always strive to get better even if you are considered the best and don't get too cocky.

As landscape business owners we can learn from this also. There is no such thing as coasting, and if you coast for too long, well I don't think we have a Chef Ramsey for the landscape business to come straighten things out for us.

The author is the owner of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and a partner with his brother, Jeff, in Rak Consulting. Contact him at steve@sw-landscape.com.