In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.