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November 28, 2012, by Charlie Jahnigen

Restaurant: Impossible – A 30 Minute Business Lesson

For a post-Thanksgiving blog it’s appropriate to talk food. I frequently watch the show Restaurant: Impossible which airs on Food Network. For those who have never seen the show, the concept is simple; Chef Robert Irvine has two days and a budget of $10,000 to save a desperate restaurant from impending failure. During the show, Robert looks at all aspects of the food establishment; staff, budget, menu, operations/management and design.

Why does this apply to a blog for a design firm? Well, the same basic principles apply to a successful design firm. Let’s examine….

Staff – An effective staff and staff morale are key components for both design and restaurant businesses. In delivering the product, each staff member in their own way becomes a face for the company. If staff members are not on the same page, the company is not producing an efficient or consistent product.

Budget – Often on Restaurant Impossible, the restaurants are in severe debt and really have no idea of their true costs. Robert Irvine breaks down previous sales and costs and proposes a more simple approach. Often he will look at top selling products and will “re-engineer” production methods thus creating more profit. Design firms can benefit from taking the same approach: What are you best skills and how do you maximize your profit?

Menu – Holy cow! Look at that menu! Most menus on Restaurant Impossible are confusing and have so many pages a guest can’t tell if it’s an Italian restaurant or a burger joint. In this economy, design firms need to stick to their core competencies. Many firms have expanded their “menu” to be so broad, they have lost their identity. Keep it simple, make it clear and do it well.

Operations/Management – Every episode focuses on the operations and staff running the restaurant. Their poor decision making and lack of experience are usually the cause for struggle. Chef Robert challenges owners and managers to look deep to determine if they are capable of making the tough decisions to keep the restaurant going. This also can be true within a design firm, the management team needs to lead with the best interest of the company and make the right decisions to keep the business successful.

Design – In addition to making changes to the business management, the interior design of the restaurants profiled are simplified and refreshed by Robert and his team. Most of the restaurants have outdated and dirty environments. Chef Irvine works with a designer (who clearly prepares for weeks in advance) to create a new vision that is inspired by the menu and new attitude. The new design often becomes the brand which is a reflection of the owner and their menu. In 30 minutes, viewers see the importance of progressive design and what it means for staff and customers.

After spending two days at the struggling establishment Robert Irvine’s work is complete. There is usually footage throughout the episode of yelling, screaming and often crying. He ends each episode with a synopsis of the improvements and in the background is a bustling restaurant serving an evening crowd. The key aspect to take from each episode is that with hard work, stepping back and looking at the details, communicating with staff, leaders need to be leaders and success will likely follow!