First, I have never met Gordon Ramsay, but I have watched him on television. I watched Hell’s Kitchen pretty religiously, and then enjoyed watching Kitchen Nightmares. After moving to Boulder, I finally got my TiVo setup, and one of the first shows it recorded for me was Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares from BBC-America. So, after 3-4 episodes were recorded, I finally sat down and started to watch them. What amazed me is how his general rules for running a successful restaurant are really not all that different than getting a startup off the ground.
1) It’s never as easy as it looks.
One term that I have always disliked was serial entrepreneur. It really means that you are unable to complete anything, and that you find joy in the starting of things. What most entrepreneurs dont realize is that all the time spent on coming up with a cool idea, getting a couple of people to join you, and maybe even raising some money, is just the beginning. At some point, you have to start running a business.
It seems that in the restaurant business, this is very much the same. Some is told that they are a great cook, or they have watched someone run a restaurant for a long period of time. They come up with a concept (American Southern Cuisine on the beach in Brighton), a look (a purple covered restaurant with a yellow interior), hire a few people (or get some friends together), and they convince a bank or someone to give them some cash. Then the restaurant starts, and there is no one who knows how to run a business.
2) Running a business is like baking a cake.
In one episode, Gordon shows a restaurant owner that running a restaurant is just like baking a cake. It is important to have a balance among three things: Food Cost, Overhead/Staffing and Profits. To much of any of three, and the cake ends up being a horrible mess.
In business, this is much the same. Every business has cost associated with doing the business, a tech business has intellectual property or the idea itself, a services business might have time or media costs, and a product business has manufacturing costs.
Spend too much on physical costs or staffing/overhead you eat up your profits. Spend too much effort on generating profits, and you will lose customers/clients or create opportunity costs.
Baking a cake takes more than just combining a bunch of ingredients and throwing it in the oven. Same could be said for running a business.
3) Communication is key.
Gordon has become known for being extremely mean. Personally, I have seemed to have gained a similar reputation. So in watching Gordon, I kept thinking to myself, is he really that mean? What I determined is that when communicating, he eliminates any ambiguity, is extremely direct, and doesnt take the time to take the other person’s feelings into account. Why? Because critical communication needs to be understood and delivered in a timely fashion. In the kitchen or in a business, this is often lost in the desire to be liked. The truth is that a CEO/Restaurant owner that creates a positive work environment and a successful business is always liked. Especially every two weeks on payday.
4) Sometimes broccoli soup is just broccoli.
Often, one of the main things Gordon does is get the restaurant owner to focus on what is important, the food. The decor, parking, cramped dining room, etc is always secondary. (He does always remake the restaurant in some way). But the message is clear. Good food, made in a way to ensure profit always leads to happy customers. For example, he showed one restaurant owner how to make a broccoli soup with just broccoli (the chef had used several ingredients that seemed to take away from the broccoli). Gordon’s soup was the favorite of the customers, and cost 1/20 of the other soup.
So many times new business owners spend a lot of time on things like signage, websites, business cards and the like. They forget that sometimes broccoli soup is just broccoli. Focus on making the best broccoli soup possible, and customers wont care about the shabby website, missing features or witty error pages.
5) Passion isnt everything, its the only thing.
I really think that Gordon Ramsey would be someone that I would enjoy being around. He is laser focused on what constitutes a successful restaurant, his passion for cooking and teaching is clear. In one episode of The F Word, he has a competition with a friend over who can bake the better chocolate brownie. The friend uses cocoa powder, butter, milk and some sugar. Gordon uses special pans, real chocolate, butter, etc. When the guest’s brownies are voted best by a small group of food critics, Gordon confronts them and asks a dozen questions about why the simple brownies were better. He wasnt questioning the critics; he was learning.
Great business leaders have passion and are able to transfer that passion to the people around them. And, they understand that passion isnt demostrated by constant activity, but rather by constant trial, education and achievement.