Hello and welcome to Fine Dining in the UK episode 7 – the podcast brought to you by www.finediningguide. co.uk
Today we discuss a model for business and apply it to the restaurant world as well as take a look at a couple of recent chef TV programmes.
In the business world the recipe for success is simple; take a great idea and turn it into a growing business. Then over time, as the product lifecycle reaches the final third of it’s span, have another great idea and grow a new and/or related business. Sprinkle with luck and old fashioned hard work and hey presto….Lasting success.
Well no, the challenges faced by all new enterprises in competitive markets are tough, very tough.
But let’s just take a step back to the basic recipe and look at the three fundamental ingredients – an idea, a business, money – Putting it simply, it is very rare for the person with the great new ideas to also have the capital to get going, as well as the know-how, stamina and attention to detail of managing the day to day strategy and operations of a growing organisation.
How often have trembling ideas men had the whites of their eyes stared down by hungry venture capitalists? How many times have frustrated entrepreneurs never found ‘the right opportunity?’ Or indeed money men been disappointed with their investment choices?
If only the three groups could meet, chew, digest and cogitate on a regular basis, the world would be awash with exciting new innovation. Perhaps the internet is the first in a line of information enabling vehicles to make such possibilities a reality.
This model applies equally to the top end of the fine dining restaurant business. Even if you have the right product (meaning a proven Michelin Starred Chef) all other aspects of the business have to click and work for the operation to be a success: The marketing, the front of house, the cash flow, the pricing, the variable costs, the overheads and so on.
This is where the myth of chef/patron looms large; how and why should you expect a chef to have the ability (or inclination) to be as successful at all the day to day entrepreneurial operations as they are at running a kitchen?
They say in business you are promoted to your level of incompetence. The moment a chef steps out of the kitchen and into the office it is, with few exceptions, bad news – bad for the customers and ultimately bad for the business; no matter how strong the ‘brand.’ Why? Because the magic ingredient from the kitchen has gone. Let’s argue against this proposition.
A revealing aspect, or rather model, of a top end fine dining restaurant kitchen came from two of the early (now endless stream of) quasi reality television programmes; namely Gordon Ramsay’s Boiling Point and a late 1980’s programme at Marco Pierre White’s Harvey’s.
It was noted that within a Michelin starred kitchen the Head Chef (in these cases Ramsay, Pierre White) would oversee the day to day running of the kitchen. They were kind of managerial ideas men. The men who invented the repertoire of dishes and ensured they would go out. service after service, executed to perfection.
Then there were the do-ers – we’ll call them cooks (they may have had titles like head chef, sous chef or chef de partie) – who actually did the cooking of the repertoire day in day out. They may in fact have been better at cooking than the ideas men.
After all they had to cook the dish every time and suffered the rollockings when they were not up to scratch. Just because one may create a Michelin Three Star dish – that is conceive, prepare and execute – does not mean that the same person is best placed to reproduce it again and again, day in day out, under significant time pressure.
I hasten to add that this insight was not noted in the programmes, however to continue the line of argument, nor does it necessarily mean that the repertoire creator is the most adept people manager.
So should you find a great cook, that can also manage people then you have an ideal head chef. This would allow the creative talent to step back and away from the kitchen. Ramsay and Pierre White both did this to focus on the growing strength of their ‘brand’, in the case of the former with great success.
This is fine so long as it stays within our model of the business. Remember all products have lifecycles. Ramsay, for example, must be aware that to maintain his privileged Guide status’ he must keep putting in time to do what he does best and that is developing, evolving and creating the repertoire.
Ramsay has been very astute at giving wings to talented people and they have, without question, flown for him and his business. At the very guts of the matter are those Three Michelin Stars and ultimately they sit on the shoulders of one man – Gordon Ramsay.
Let’s put this into perspective, Boiling Point started with Ramsay ploughing in his life savings and taking a seven figure loan to start up (his now flagship) restaurant on Royal Hospital Road, London. Part gamble, part self belief. Not only did he get the ultimate promotion to three Michelin stars but also gave life to what would grow, in a decade, into an incredible personal brand and a burgeoning restaurant empire.
To the general public in Britain (and probably America) before Ramsay, Michelin was just another tyre company.
Let’s move on and discuss two recent television programs – Masterchef, The Professional and The Restaurant. Each has a highly respected Michelin Two Star Chef as judge, Michel Roux Jnr of Le Gavroche and Raymond Blanc of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. Both are well cast and do a good job.
The objective of the former is to find a professional chef that is going to make the step up to Michelin Stardom and the objective of the latter is to find a couple that can win and run a restaurant. One might argue that given our example of a simple business recipe and our examination of chefs and cooks that the two programs have mixed up formulas.
Ask a chef to create a repertoire and then watch him manage some cooks. Ask a business partner to come up with a marketing, finance and operations plan and watch him attempt to deliver monthly results. Surely this marriage is a more ideal one for all concerned – win a restaurant and work in your own Michelin starred kitchen!
This is not to suggest yet more TV food/cooking/chef programs. There are far too many. First the expanses of garden programmes followed by the estate of housing programmes and now the brigade of chef programmes. Enough! A happy balanced diet of television would be easier to digest.
That concludes Fine Dining in the UK episode 7 – the podcast brought to you by www.finediningguide.co.uk
Until next time.