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June, 2009:

The UK today

Two “facts” heard on the radio today:

  • there are now more mobile phones than people in the UK
  • half of UK children have had no fresh fruit or vegetables in the previous week

Software Nightmares

This post has been stewing for a little while, and now I’ve been kicked into writing it up by Naresh Jain’s post on Lessons Learnt from Restaurant Business.

Since Channel 4 in the UK started supporting the Mac for their online replays, I got hooked on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares series1. I’ve never worked in a restaurant and I know that TV programmes are a manufactured narrative, but (inbetween all the swearing) there are some interesting themes that come through every week:

  • cook stuff your customers actually want. Some owners get carried away with bigger ideas than they can handle;
  • reduce the menu to something your staff can cope with. Bloated menus and fancy presentations cripple the kitchen staff. Cut it all back to something they can do well;
  • help the staff take pride in their work. Producing stuff badly for unhappy customers is wasting people’s lives, and probably not sustainable. One of Ramsey’s triggers for cussing out the brigade is when they’re not trying—and watch their reactions when they turn it around and he praises them;
  • cook your own stuff. Don’t rely on outside prepared stuff unless there’s a very good reason2. Bring in good ingredients and, um, cook them;
  • take responsibility. You’re the chef/owner/manager/waiter, so do your f***ing job;
  • communicate. Head chefs should be talking all the time so their brigade knows what’s going on, waiters and chefs should discuss the tickets so they know what’s ordered, waiters and managers should talk so they know what’s going on with their customers; and,
  • see it as it is. The building looks run down, the kitchen is filthy, the food is disgusting. Stop fooling yourselves.

I know it’s relatively easy to come in and see how to rescue a business that’s months away from failing, after all an outsider has the advantage of not having been sucked into the mess. But, even through the box of mirrors that is TV, Ramsey shows two strong drives: total focus on providing the best service to the customer, no excuses; and, total respect for the craft of cooking. He just lights up when he finds a junior with ability and enthusiasm.

Somehow, I feel this ties in with a post from another coach given to immoderate use of language, Mike Hill wrote about how raising your internal quality makes you go faster. I think there’s a commonality of purpose there that we should take note of.

1) I mean the UK version of this series. The US series is like a boil-in-a-bag version: manufactured, over-spiced, unsatisfying. In fact, the opposite of everything Ramsey is promoting. But that’s another story.

2) Yes, I know there have been some “scandals” with Ramsey’s London restaurants, but that doesn’t invalidate the point.