Restaurant Impossible: Just What the Doctor Ordered

Tony Barnes By Tony Barnes, 26th Mar 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Restaurants

Know of a troubled restaurant on the brink of closing? Robert Irvine may have the answer that will save it.

Restaurant Impossible

What do you get when you cross a drill instructor, a psychologist and a business major? You get someone like Robert Irvine who may soon be called a miracle worker. He is the host of the Food Network program called Restaurant Impossible. He has been in the military, but he isn't a psychologist or a business major. But, Robert Irvine is a champion chef that does dramatic interventions with troubled restaurants on the brink of closing down. Every restaurant owner in America should watch at least a few of these episodes as a diagnostic review of their own operations.

The premise of the program is that he and his crew come in for a two day period. During these 48 hours, Robert Irvine plunges into every aspect of the eateries operation. Each restaurant project begins with a $10,000 renovation budget mainly for the dining room. Occasionally, Irvine will surprise his project manager by walking in and announcing that he has had to take some of their $10k budget for other things. On a recent episode involving the Caseyville Café, Irvine was appalled to see that the kitchen had a home type stove rather than an industrial cooking center. So, Irvine announced to his project manager that he now had $1500 less with which to do the renovation so an update could be made to the kitchen equipment.

Irvine will typically spend the first few minutes asking questions of the owner and management regarding the restaurants history, original purchase price, and food and labor costs. He will then bring in a crowd of people and observe the service they are given. He tastes some of the dishes and usually shows some form of disgust as he reacts to the food he samples. Like a hawk, Irvine will watch the service and hone in on the shortfalls of what he observes. He often will interview customers to ask what they think of the facility, food and service.

Tempers often rise as he often gets involved in the inner quibbling of the restaurant staff. Much blame is usually tossed back and forth. But, invariably Robert Irvine is able to get the staff to work through their issues. Occasionally, someone will either walk out or be fired during the tempestuous first day. At times, he has been threatened with physical harm. However, that always falls by the wayside as those making those heated remarks likely reconsider based upon the massive physical build of Irvine.

There are three main problems that seem to characterize every restaurant:

1. Poor controls - Repeatedly, Irvine is amazed at restaurant owners who do not have a firm grip on their business statistics. In the short 2 days he is there, Irvine helps them develop controls and measurement tools so they begin to understand how to measure the profitability of the restaurant. Irvine is also adamant that owners should know exactly how much each dish costs to make and have control over their alcohol operations. In one episode, one of the owners serves as a part time bartender and often pours himself shots to drink with the customers which of course impact the alcohol sales profitability. In addition to that, it was very clear that Robert Irvine sees this as unprofessional conduct for a bartender.

2. Lack of leadership/accountability - Many of these troubled restaurants has foggy lines of leadership and accountability. In some of the eateries, many of the employees are family members who get away with substandard work performance. As Irvine digs into the relational dynamics of the restaurant staff, he speaks to the cooks and wait staff. From these conversations, he often hears accounts of two owners who either give no direction or they counter each other's directives. Irvine is a firm believer in a 'one boss concept' and tries to persuade each owner to embrace the concept. He asserts that tere needs to be one person in charge in the dining room and one person in charge in the kitchen. Usually, this one adjustment makes a huge impact in the operation of the business.

3. Quality of food - Many of the featured restaurants rely greatly upon frozen food for preparation. Irvine will help them rework their menu and substitute fresh products that are cheaper to make resulting in higher profits. It's amazing how quickly many of the dishes he recommends can be prepared. Another frequent observation of Irvine's is that the food has little flavor. By introducing a few spices or alternative methods of preparation, the kitchen begins producing some very tasty dishes.

At the end of the program, Robert will guide the owners back into the restaurant to see the renovated final product. It is a moving scene to see the owner's reactions to brighter, fresher, more up to date décor. The before and after views of the restaurant are amazing and have very little resemblance to each other. When you grasp the impact that Robert Irvine has had on this independently owned restaurant, it will possibly bring tears to your eyes. Not only were many of the eateries on the brink of closing, but families are sometimes on the ragged edge of disintegrating.

One of the most interesting aspects of the program is the ability to follow-up through the Restaurant Impossible website to see how restaurants are faring after Robert leaves. With two days of intense consultation, it's not surprising that a restaurant can be turned around. But, the real test is whether the restaurant is still better for having Irvine and crew in their facility. The big question is have the ownership and staff truly bought into change for the long haul. The website allows you to see how they are doing 6 months down the road. Again, every restaurant owner should watch this program and use Irvine's findings to assess their own operation. It's just what the restaurant doctor ordered.


Caseyville Cafe, Food Costs, Labor Costs, One Boss Concept, Restaurant Impossible, Robert Irvine

Meet the author

author avatar Tony Barnes
I am a native Texan who spent 3 years in the Marine Corps Reserves and 25 years on active duty in the Air Force. I have been a Christian since 1985 and am an ordained minister. I am conservative politically and love to study history. I publish a mont...(more)

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