10 things you can learn from Gordon Ramsay about running a business

Written by Verne on March 11th, 2008

Gordon RamsayIn my spare time lately I’ve been catching up on a good dose of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay. If you aren’t familiar with this show or who Gordon Ramsay is, here’s the premise in one sentence: Scottish award-winning celebrity chef rescues failing restaurateurs from bankruptcy with brutal honesty and humorous obscenities.

Aside from his entertaining overuse of the F-bomb, what I’ve found is that Ramsay brings a wealth of experience, knowledge, and insight to the table on how to run a business. He himself has been at the head of many self-started restaurant ventures – some successful, some not so successful – and his passion, talent, and wisdom are clearly elements that have led him to become one of the most well-known businessmen in and out of the kitchen.

In Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay applies a number of basic principles to help failing restaurant owners turn their fate around. While the series revolves around the food industry, much of Ramsay’s lessons are applicable to businesses of any nature. Here’s a list of 10 of those lessons that will help you run a more successful business.

1. Think simple.

Ramsay often rips apart restaurant owners who over-complicate their menu and dishes and inevitably advise them to dumb it back down to the basics. The same applies to your business – it doesn’t need to have layers of complexities to be successful. Often the most prosperous ones are the ones that have the simplest and most straight-forward value offering. It’ll help your customers identify what you do at a glance, and ensures that you don’t burn out from running an overly complicated operation.

Campaign for Real Gravy (Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares: Season 4, Episode 2)2. Find your niche or unique selling point.

Do you offer a specialty grooming service for budgies? Or maybe you’re just the only restaurant in town that can serve up real gravy made from scratch. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to find your unique selling point – the element that sets you apart from the rest of your competition. This one’s been repeated in pretty much every business book, blog, and episode of Kitchen Nightmares, so I won’t go any further. It should be a no-brainer.

3. Know your role.

If you run a restaurant business, it doesn’t mean you need to be the chef. Business owners serve all kinds of roles (often more than one) in their own businesses, and it’s important to know where you fit in best. Be honest with yourself, as your arrogance in thinking you can do it all may be hindering your success. If you’re a better restaurant manager than a chef, get out of the kitchen. Even Bill Gates stepped out of his CEO role to allow Steve Balmer to replace him because he felt Balmer was a better face for Microsoft. Chuck Comeau manages the business that is his pop-rock band Simple Plan which is probably better known for its frontman Pierre Bouvier. And Chuck? He’s the drummer – which goes to show you that running your own business doesn’t mean you always have to be the main attraction.

Roll up the sleeves and do some grunt work.4. Don’t be afraid to do some grunt work.

Some of my favorite moments in Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares includes Ramsay pulling the entire restaurant staff to the streets to do some hands-on direct marketing. Often to rescue a failing reputation in a small town, Ramsay takes the restaurateurs out of their element and makes them interact with the locals to build good will and to spread the word that their shop is now in better shape. Sometimes they’re out there asking for second chances, sometimes they’re just building rapport with local suppliers. Doing this ‘grunt work’ yourself not only adds sincerity and a personal touch to the interaction, but it’s also most cost-effective. For many small businesses, the owners are the business’ greatest evangelists. What’s more, they’re free. So for your own businesses, don’t be afraid to get down and break a sweat by doing some of the hands-on work that you’d likely much rather outsource.

5. Examine your competition.

Can’t figure out why your business is failing? Take a look at what your successful competitors are doing. When the owner of Ruby Tate’s, a less-than-sub-par seafood restaurant, finds his shop sinking (I know, I should write for the show), Ramsey takes him down the street to a local fish and chip shop. Amazed by the speedy service and fresh ingredients of the competition, Ruby Tate’s owner begins to see where he’s gone wrong. Don’t be afraid to do the same – seeing how your competition operates can tell you a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses.

Ramsay does some market research.

6. Listen to your customers.

One of the very first things Ramsay does when tackling a new failing business is to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly straight from the source: the customers. He takes the streets and talks with locals about what they’ve heard, what their experience has been, and what would make them go back to the restaurant in question. This is almost 100% where Ramsay develops his strategy to turn the businesses around. The lesson here is to listen to what your customers are saying – about your business, about the competition’s business, and about the industry as a whole. The easiest way to find out how you can better serve your customers is to let them tell you. Read and follow popular forums and communities that are relevant to your industry or speak to them directly. Any way you do it, your customers are sure to provide you with helpful and valuable insight.

7. Know what’s going on in your kitchen.

Whether or not your business has a kitchen, you as a business owner need to have a firm grasp of the inner workings of your business. This doesn’t mean you need to have your hand in every aspect, but it means you need to have open communication with your partners and those you delegate to. Don’t blindly depend on people to get the job done as when things go wrong, it’ll be too late by the time you realize it. And you won’t always be lucky enough to have Ramsay walk through your door to help you fix things.

Ramsay serving up a tongue lashing.8. Don’t take criticism personally.

The same thing that makes Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares so entertaining to watch is the same thing that often infuriates the restaurant owners and puts a damper on the business’ recovery process (his brutal honesty). Ramsay is an extreme case and isn’t exactly your friendly neighborhood anything, but his less-than-polite vernacular often comes with good intentions and valuable constructive criticism. So next time a critic comes knocking at your door, forget the fact that they’re talking about your baby – hear them out and try not to take their words too personally. When you filter out your personal emotions, you’ll get to the meat of what they’re telling you faster.

9. Don’t be afraid of change.

If you’ve been doing something your way and it isn’t getting you where you want to be, it may be time to ditch it and try something new. As entrepreneurs, we take great pride in everything we put into our ventures, but we can’t let our pride stand in the way of improving. All too often, the restaurant owners are far too hesitant to shed their old habits despite Ramsay’s greatest efforts. Doing so only hinders their ability to make the necessary changes to rescue their business from going under. Don’t make the same mistakes they’ve made and know when it’s time to let go.

10. Don’t give up.

Success is only one failure away.Probably the greatest and most common piece of advice for anybody running a business is to never give up. You’ll see Ramsay preach these words through each of the episodes, pushing staff and managers to stay committed to the cause despite everything going horribly wrong. Running a business isn’t always sunshines and lollipops and if you bail out at the first sight of obstacles, you’ll never see the fruits of success. Your greatest successes will come from your greatest failures so long as you remember to never give up. If not for yourself, do it for your partners and everybody else that have always supported you.

37 Responses

  • Satish

    Probably one of your best posts yet, and an awesome list hahaha! Ramsay can be a bag of crap sometimes, but you’re right that in the end he knows what he’s talking about at some level. Now would I go as far as “catch up” on missed episodes of his show? No. But then again, you do work from home :).

  • david

    I always thought there was some sound business sense embedded in all that yelling that Mr. Ramsey does. Now you’ve gone and made it clear to everyone. Thanks, I really enjoyed this one.

  • Cobus Bester

    Only came across your blog recently and I have enjoyed every post! This one was especially good and full of great advice.

    Perhaps you’ll become the Gordon Ramsay of web design? :-)

  • Verne

    @ Satish – Ramsay is probably near the top of my list of most entertaining individuals on television – even when he’s saying a bag of crap. :) I definitely recommend catching up on his shows (stick to the original British uncensored version though).

    @ david – It can be hard to identify the good amongst all the loud obscenities sometimes, but there’s definitely some there!

    @ Cobus – It’s great to hear you’re enjoying the site and found this post helpful! As for whether I’ll ever be the Gordon Ramsay of web design… I think I’m a bit too nice. Plus, I’m missing the shimmering blonde hair of a Scottish footballer. ;)

  • Renata

    I actually went to his restaurant in New York last August, and can assuredly say that it was absolutely amazing. My best friend was so enthusiastic about it to our waiter that we got to meet the chef and look at the kitchen – which was possibly the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen, with everything in its own place and everyone moving with absolute military precision. It was a fantastic experience :)

  • shane

    Verne, this is by far one of your best posts. I love it. I’m going to post it up on sproutwire.

  • David Hutchison

    Great work. I love the show too and he really gets to the point in a way that would help any failing (or other) business as you have pointed out.

    I think he would have a very short shelf-life anywhere with his communication skills. Like the tyrant coach who can turn a franchise around in an instant, but loses the team in a few short seasons.

  • PiercedLogic

    I was delighted when I saw this referenced in Sprouwire!

    I LOVE Gordon Ramsay’s passion and his no-nonsense attitude. I watch his shows on BBC America and I can definitely see how his views can be translated to freelance/business work for sure. Keep up the great work. Great article!

  • Verne

    @ Renata – I’m jealous! I think I’ll put “eating at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant” on my long list of things-to-do-some-day. I’m not surprised that the place was operating with so much precision – we all know what happens when it isn’t.

    @ Shane – Thanks for the great compliment and love on Sproutwire!

    @ David – I agree, I think Ramsay could probably use a crash-course on people management. Yet somehow his credibility and sound advice often extends the limits of tolerance in the people he works with. Then again, I don’t think a nice Ramsay is anywhere as effective as the loud and in-your-face Ramsay!

    @ PiercedLogic – I’m a big fan of Sproutwire myself, and I’m happy to hear you found your way here from there! Thanks for swinging by and leaving a few words! :)

  • Uncle Richard

    As most other business writing, this one deals in the “better, faster, cheaper” syndrom of pronouns. Believe me, running a restaurant is not as easy as saying all the right words. Pronouns don’t run restaurants, real action do. What are the actions under all the platitudes, anyway?

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  • Rami Adada

    Gordon’s show is great. And relating to his show from a business/freelancing point of view is even better.

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  • Scott P

    Awesome! You totally stole my idea — although I was going to write something like “Everything I know about branding I learned from Gordon Ramsay”. His medium is food, mine is graphics, but the principals are the same. Start simple, build from what you know.

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  • Michael Jenkins

    hm some very good tips here :), i just posted a comment on how its good to take breaks from work…but i think i need to take a break from your blog ive been on here for like 3hrs =O.

    fresh reminders and new stuff to learn= great article!

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  • Allan / SOHO Happens

    Excellent post full of great tips and advice.

    I enjoy watching Ramsay on tv, as a matter of fact, I just watched the first episode of Hell’s Kitchen before reading your post.


  • Verne

    I’ve yet to catch the premiere of Hell’s Kitchen, but I’m looking forward to watching it! Glad you enjoyed the article! And believe me, there are no coincidences when it comes to Gordon Ramsay. ;)

  • Adesua

    Thanks a lot for this post. The advice, encouragement and tips where helpful, though i have never watched his shows.

  • Eran Malloch - Google AdWords Management Services

    Hi Verne,

    I found this post on Skelliwag’s blog, FYI.

    I live in Western Australia, and have been watching Gordon in action on the toob this last year or so.

    Love his show – swearing and all – because he’s so spot on about why restaurants (and ultimately, many other types of businesses) fail.

    There’s ALWAYS a reason, and 99% of the time, it comes down to people error.

    Gordon sees through the ego stuff that many business owners, managers & staff get sooo caught up in, and cuts right the core of what’s REALLY causing the problem.

    While I don’t swear like him, nor would I treat my clients or staff like that, it’s VERY EFFECTIVE at cutting thru the crap that surrounds these issues. It works for him, although someday someone with a weak mental state will probably shoot him or stab him with a sharp kitchen knife… >:|

    At the end of the day, it’s all about giving the customers a good (preferrably great) experience, and so many businesses lose sight of that, and that’s when things start to slide downhill. Gordon’s a smart guy – he realises this – and that’s why this show is so good.

    You get to see him relentlessly hunt down and destroy the bad habits and poor decisions that cause failure, like a pit bull!

    In the end, he almost always has a success, but the 1 time I watched the show and he didn’t, it came down purely to the owner of the business being the anchor, not Gordon offering bad advise.

    Anyway Vern, thanks for a great article. Being a Ramsay fan, I really enjoyed your take on him & his key elements. You tied it all together really well. Great work.

    Eran Malloch
    Google AdWords Professional for hire :-)

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  • Louis Kessler

    Superb post! May I always follow every rule!

    And if I may suggest a number 11: Always be an optimist.

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  • anistock

    I’m not sure I would agree with all the points you outlined, Gordon is a self-centred type person, this suits his style but we have our unique way to get things done- more than 1 way to skin a cat. Learn from others but only use what you need for yourself

  • Basit Salam

    I agree with the article that you wrote, everytime a failing business asks for help from gordon ramsay, he manages to turn the business around. And he’s always talking about SIMPLE food, SIMPLE. .lol

  • Gordon Ramsey

    Hi Verne,

    I love the post. I would like to hire you as a writer for the show. Please expect a call from my people soon.


    p.s. It’s Daniel – did I trick you? Did you think it was Gordon Ramsey? AHHHHHHHHHH I bet you believed it.

  • Barry Lynch

    Hi Verne,

    Great post!

    Gordan’s methods of implementing these rules are debatable, but the principles are sound.

    One other ability that’s critical to business success and one that GR has in abundance is decisiveness!

    Quickly evaluate opposing views, make an informed judgement, take a decision and follow it through to completion. If it succeeds great. If it fails, learn from it and move on and keep making those tough decisions.

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  • Bernadette

    As a Chef/Restauranteur I have learned to listen. Ramsey is all about listening. Continue to do what you do best and learn how to improve what you don’t do well. Ramsey is the Chef I would aspire to be.

  • Maximilian

    I feel the show is naturally going to show a entrepreneurship minded viewer a few good things about running a business.

    My 10 list inspired by Ramsay would look something like:
    (1) Ensure the business’ unique advantage is sensible/good/attractive to customers
    (2) Prioritize profits without hurting the product.
    (3) Everyone must know their place: Owner, Manager, and Employee alike.
    (4) Keep only competent employees who are willing to both communicate and improve.
    (5) Triage tasks!
    (6) Job competency is required. You have to be able to deliver desired results effectively.
    (7) Be direct with everyone. Employees. Customers. Everybody.
    (8) Solve problems creatively / outside-of-the-box thinking.
    (9) Impact the customer positively / Have a sense of aesthetic / Schmooze appropriately
    (10) At the end of the day, let there be love and respect for who your employees truly are while keeping professional distance.

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