Family cooking trouble in your business?

Last night my wife happened to switch the TV over to an edition of “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares”, featuring a restaurant in New Jersey. I didn’t take too much notice at first, thinking it was just another cooking programme. Whilst I am interested in food and cooking, we have an awful lot of shows involving food and chefs. However not many minutes passed before the TV had my full attention.

The restaurant was run like many other tired family businesses where one dominant personality makes all the decisions, and typically is resistant to change. In a sense there is one with the power of a decision maker who simply doesn’t make decisions. It was the old story of “if you do what you’ve always done…”

The restaurant was in the sort of place where they could expect many drop-in patrons. It was not a gourmet restaurant, yet it had a very extensive menu. The whole place needed a cosmetic makeover too. It was simply not delivering what the customers would want, and with its tawdry decoration looked distinctly unattractive. Therefore it wasn’t making any money.

To cut a long story short, Mr. Ramsay gave the restaurant owners the medicine he has had to take for his own restaurants which he has managed to keep open (some have closed). Apart from having the place painted, he simplified the menu drastically, reducing the number of dishes available and bringing back more basic dishes such as the sidelined husband’s meatloaf (his wife is the non-decision-maker in question).

If we try to do too much in a small business we fail many of our customers and clients. In the restaurant they were cooking a large number of dishes badly, because there were too many to watch all the time and properly cook to order. By having fewer dishes, they could prepare them more quickly and watch them better, they reduced waste and above all they put the dishes in front of the customers more quickly. Not only was the food fresher and better, but they had improved customer service at a stroke.

So often, small businesses try to be all things to all men and women and fall short. It is much better to deliver what we are good at quickly. Customers and clients will appreciate that, and if we have a good network then we can reach out and find most products and services we cannot offer but our network can. Our clientele will thank us and respect us for that too, and they may even refer and recommend us.

This is a world of instant gratification. People do not like to wait when they lead such busy lives. If we are small we deliver what we are best at doing. If we were Amazon or Walmart we could deliver everything from a plasma TV to a microwaveable hot water bottle, without the friendly personal touch, but as we can offer a personalised service to order we should concentrate on that.

Whilst Gordon Ramsay’s show is a sort of reality TV, he should be congratulated on his insight and from having learned from his own mistakes. He sets an example for others in his acumen if not in politeness. Of course sometimes we do need to get our point over forcefully.

Well done, Gordon! You teach a good business lesson.

© Jon Stow 2010

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