Friday, February 12, 2010

Ramsay's Record

On Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, Chef Gordon Ramsay comes into a troubled restaurant and tries to get it turned around. No matter how dreadful the situation, he always seems to end his week long project with a successful relaunch and a staff committed to doing things right from now on. But what happens after he leaves?

I got curious when I watched the J. Willy's episode and later the Fiesta Sunrise episode and thought "There's no way this place is still open." I was right. As it turns out, roughly two thirds of the restaurants featured on Kitchen Nightmares, in 5 seasons in the UK and now in its 3d season in the U.S., have either closed or changed ownership. Some have pointed to these stats as evidence of failure on Ramsay's part. I beg to differ.

First of all, the vast majority of the restaurants featured on the show have one foot in the grave when he walks in the door. The fact that 1/3 of them have survived is really quite impressive. The thing that gave me the willies about J. Willy's, was that it appeared to me that the owner was simply banking on the publicity from the show to make him rich. Of course everyone smiled for the cameras, put on a good show and pledged to take Ramsay's advice to heart. Publicity wont make your food taste good. It wont make people okay with waiting too long for sub-par food at inflated prices. You have to continue to execute and provide value. Incredibly, although J. Willy's closed down, there's still a website that encourages people to "invest" in the brand name sauce that Ramsay developed for the restaurant to try to save their sorry behinds.

In the case of Fiesta Sunrise, Vick was clueless when Ramsay got there and just as clueless when he left. Yes, they had a good night, new furniture, flashy new signage and cleaned the place up. But then, they handed the reins back to Vick. But at that point I don't think Warren Buffet could have made it work. The place had 120 seats, a 90k a month break even point and was 850k in debt. Do the math. They would have had to fill the place, twice over, every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for about 10 years to pay off that debt.

Ramsay doesn't provide salvation. He provides a fighting chance. He goes into places that are on death's door and gives them the insight and opportunity to work their way back. But, the same people who drove it into the ground are responsible for turning it around after their one-week crash course in restaurant and business management. It's a long shot to say the least. I'd wager that his 30+% success rate is about 29% better than the results would have been without him.

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