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Is Your Kitchen a Nightmare? Or Does it Just Suck?

May 30, 2011

So, you’re decided to send word to Kitchen Nightmares and beg for the assistance of Gordon Ramsey and his crew of magic elves, but they just didn’t seem to feel your kitchen was enough of a nightmare. Have no fear! Having studied the art of Ramsey-esque kitchen rescue, let me provide you with everything you will ever need to turn your kitchen from nightmare to profitable enterprise.

Your Food Sucks

Let’s face it. People will eat food in places that would make Mr. Clean scream like the head cheerleader in a bad horror movie. If your customers are staying away in droves, start with the food. No one particularly gives a damn if you think the food is amazing. You’re not the one paying to eat it. If people aren’t paying you to eat it, it probably sucks. Do your chefs taste the food before they send it out? Does your kitchen staff willingly eat there on occasion? Do you have a crew of regulars who pop in one night a week and ask for “the usual”? If the answer to all of the above is “No,” then your food probably sucks. Do your customers tend to complain about the food? Do they often send it back? Does the guy who digs through the dumpsters out back prefer your neighbor’s over yours? Then your food definitely sucks.

Get some strangers into your restaurant and give them some free food. Tell them you want their honest opinions, and be sincere about it. If you have to, fire your head chef and get someone in there that gives a damn about whether or not the steaks come pre-cut and vacuum sealed in plastic. (For those who aren’t sure about that last one, vacuum sealed steaks are bad, m’kay?)

Your Cleaning Sucks

People will eat in disgusting hell holes for really good food, but honestly, if the state of your restaurant makes them turn around before they get five feet in the door, they will never know if your food is good or bad. The floors should be swept and/or vacuumed and/or washed every day. Preferably when there are no customers around. Wash the walls, especially the ones next to booth tables. Any decorative elements should be wiped down regularly as well. The tables should be wiped down after each diner, and whoever does it should check the state of the seats while they’re at it. Use a clean cloth for this. With some kind of disinfectant on it. Vinegar is good for these sorts of quick turnover cleanings. Double check all the nooks and crannies that small children and obnoxious assholes like to cram sugar packets.

This goes double for your kitchen. Bleach the whole damn thing at the end of the night. Any surface that has a crust of any kind on it should be scrubbed. Even the cooking equipment. That’s not seasoning, that’s decades of grease and food particles just waiting for a health inspection. You should probably use something other than bleach to clean your grill, but for the sake of your customer’s health, clean it.

Your Decor Sucks

A decent restaurant will try to match their decor with the food they serve. You want your customers to feel the atmosphere from the outside in. A careful evaluation of your decoration choices might help you decide if your atmosphere sucks.

When did you last paint the walls? Did your last paint job involve covering up the mural your head cook’s nephew’s best friend did with mural done by your assistant manager’s hairdresser’s youngest cousin? Does your decor say “We hired a decorator within the last five years” or “We just threw whatever seemed interesting up on the walls”? Do your chairs match? Do your tables? How about the booths? When’s the last time those things were reupholstered with anything other than duct tape? All of these things are just the major elements of a decent decor theme. If you are uncomfortable with the answers to any of these questions, then it may be time to consider hiring someone to redecorate. And I don’t mean your best waitresses’ sister-in-law’s best friend (unless they’re an actual interior designer, in which case, go for it).

Your Food Storage Sucks

If you do not look in your storage fridge once a week, chances are good that it sucks. And by “look,” I mean “reach into the back and pull out whatever ungodly horror is lurking back there.” If the ungodly horror is at the front of the fridge, then you have a real problem, and frankly, you probably should have started your video plea to Gordon Ramsey with a nice long look at the interior of your fridge. And if you did, then consider that maybe, just maybe, even the indomitable Gordan Ramsey didn’t want to stick his hand in your fridge. Consider resubmitting your video to Mike Rowe.

Get in there. Clean anything rotten, molding, or otherwise awful smelling out. If it is a color it’s not supposed to be, throw it away. You will waste more money if you are closed down for giving your customers food poisoning than you will just pitching the crap and starting over fresh. Scrub the walls, the floor, and the shelves. Much like in the kitchen, if it has a crust, scrub it until it shines. Before you put the new food in, stick a damn label on it. When it was purchased. When it should be used by. Who prepared it. What the hell it is. That way if you discover it tucked back in the fridge a year from now, you know what the hell the mass of semi-sentient green stuff once was.

Your Management Sucks

This is one far too many Kitchen Nightmares “stars” have a problem with. Frankly, most of this is just basic common sense. Sadly, too many owners and mangers have their heads buried so far in the sand that they’re starting to hit oil. What Gordon Ramsey does best is he takes owners and mangers by the scruff of the neck, hauls them about 10 feet back from the hole they have dug, and forces them to really look at it. Sure he’s an amazing chef with a quick wit and a generous collection of ready insults. But he’s also got the one thing that most of these people need more than anything else: outside perspective.

It can be very hard to admit when something you love and have deeply invested in is very rapidly on its way to a fiery vacation destination in a wicker purse, but a good owner/manager has to be willing to admit to the flaws in themselves and their restaurant before they can start to fix them. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a sharp British wit and a camera crew to do that. You just have to be willing to admit that your restaurant sucks.

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