Would you eat at a Kitchen Nightmares restaurant?

That’s my favorite episode of any show. The Amy’s Baking Company episode was amazing. If anyone gets even the slightest bit of entertainment out of seeing how insane a person can be you have to watch it. Even if you never have any interest in this kind of show, just watch that episode.

I particularly loved that it was so insane that even Ramsay seemed to not know what to say or how to react. I don’t think he even knew where to begin in trying to fix anything. If anything that is why he walked out. Oh and you don’t expect to see the police called in a show like this either.

Back in '98 I worked in the food service industry, more or less. I worked at a movie theater and served food that people ate. Not just popcorn and candy, but we also had things like hotdogs, nachos, and miniature frozen pizzas. At least on the days when I worked at the snack bar rather than the ticket area. (Holy crap selling movie tickets is so boring.)

I did need to get a food-handlers’ permit (mandated by Washington State law at the time) though that involved going to a Department of Health office, reading and memorizing a small pamphlet, and taking a written test that was mostly common sense aside from a couple of fiddly things like memorizing the proper temperatures for a couple of things. It was ridiculously easy to do with little effort and of course zero training.

We did use gloves I guess (at least sometimes), and we had tongs and stuff, but I never wore a hairnet. Nobody did, I don’t think it even occurred to anyone. That being said, it was very simple stuff to prepare and basically everything we served was pre-cooked to an extent if it needed to be cooked at all so there was little chance of food poisoning or anything. Plus I am sure everything had a ridiculous amount of preservatives and was processed enough that bacteria would say “no thank you”.

In the spirit of including everyone, here’s the Amy’s episode. The psychological term for Amy and her husband: nuttier than squirrel shit. No bleeping of obscenities, so there’s plenty of NSFW swearing.

Yikes. For those hoping to visit, better bust out some kevlar or something.

I seem to recall they ramped up their craziness online after the episode. That is definitely a case of reality tv not being all fake.

Here’s an article last updated July 2019:

Here is a timeline of their craziness from 2003-2015. There is so much more than what was in the show.

Would it shock anyone to know that both of them have served prison time? And that they later accused Ramsay of sexual harassment?

It’s not that they’re failed humans, but simply that they don’t know how to run a restaurant. Operating a restaurant is a complex business enterprise. People who are successful at it generally go to school to learn how to do it, or rise through the ranks over the course of many years, or both.

For whatever reason, people get into opening their own restaurant because they enjoy cooking, which is analogous to starting an airline because you enjoy going on vacation. There is this bizarrely common misconception that a restaurant is just the easiest thing in the world to run. They’re hideously difficult to manage.

I posted a link to this story before:

The headline “A Restaurant Ruined My Life” is not true; HE ruined his own life, and he significantly hurt his wife and children, because he’s an idiot who thought that because he knew how to cook a few things he could open a restaurant. Only then did he find out that - surprise! - knowing how to cook a few things is a really small part of running a restaurant.

This show (UK and US version) was a guilty pleasure of mine as well, I do think I would at least try some of the restaurants, it would depend on the episode and other particulars. Some of them actually weren’t all that bad from health code perspective, some were…nightmares. I have read that at least some particulars of the “violations” Ramsay would “catch” were a bit…manufactured for television, and a number of restaurants have complained after the fact that Ramsay’s team staged some of the “gotcha” moments of his inspections. How true that is…who knows.

I’ve also heard that while the show presents it as he visits these restaurants for a week, he actually doesn’t. At least in the U.S. version, his team shows up and does filming for a week, Ramsay is usually actually only on site for around a couple hours a day and has almost no interaction with any of the principals unless the cameras are rolling.

From my recollections having watching the entirety of both shows…about 70% of those restaurants even to my casual eyes were done long before Ramsay walked in, and nothing was ever going to save them. About 20% probably could have been saved had the owners done the right things, but they didn’t, and I think 10% of them had fairly fixable problems and the show actually helped him. That 10%, at least as I remember, their happy ending usually meant the family found an investor to take the business of their hands–likely getting them out of the mistake of a lifetime (becoming restaurateurs) with a much-appreciated return on investment.

A few of the restaurants also were weirdly not really in financial trouble. A very fancy restaurant in Scotland that mainly had an issue of having not won a Michelin star, Ramsay gave advice to the French chef running it that basically in modern fine dining, Michelin inspectors expect simpler dishes where the high-quality ingredients really shine through, and he was cooking extremely convoluted and complex dishes, often with off-putting flavors. The chef never really came to Gordon’s way of thinking, but the businessman who owned the restaurant was fabulously wealthy and was in no danger of going under, I think a few years later the restaurant actually won a Michelin star, either proving Gordon wrong or perhaps the chef ended up taking some of his advice.

The Secret Garden in California, with the flamboyant and angry French Chef, also I think wasn’t really in very dire straits. The chef-owner admitted on camera he didn’t really need Gordon’s help, he was just mad that he hadn’t been selected to participate on Hell’s Kitchen when he auditioned for it, and wanted to “show Gordon how to cook” by getting him to do a Kitchen Nightmares episode of his place. That episode was filmed in 2006 and the chef-owner sold the business in 2010, it remained up unto the late 2010s, at least 2017 as far as I can tell, but then eventually closed for good.

In a surprising number of cases for both of these shows, the owner talks about how they cashed in their 401(k), mortgaged their house and ran up credit cards, all in an attempt to prevent the restaurant from closing. And I’m sitting there wondering why they would do such a thing. I mean, hasn’t everyone heard the statistics about the large percentage of restaurants that close, even within the first year?

The other thing is that they have presumably tried to fix the problems, failed miserably, are on the verge of disaster, call in someone who is an expert…then ignore his advice, get defensive and combative, etc.

Running a restaurant is a passion that a fortunate few manage to turn into a viable business, largely either through profit on liquor, wine, and beer, or selling an inexpensive and easily prepared commodity that doesn’t have massive price fluctuations, and at the expense of devoting 100+ hour weeks without vacation for years on end. If customers actually paid real costs that included fair wages, full benefits, ingredient costs to cover price fluctuations, and necessary maintenance, plate costs in your typical sit down restaurant would probably double.


What I didn’t realize was that I was charging too little—we were producing exquisite, labour-intensive meals and selling them at Swiss Chalet prices. I clearly didn’t have a head for business.

With a successful summer behind us, I decided to close the Beech Tree for the last week of August to give everyone a vacation, and to spend time with my neglected wife and kids. In those seven days that we were closed, supplier cheques continued to clear and salaried staff continued to get paid, but nothing came in to replace that money. It was a novice mistake. I didn’t have the savings to warrant closing. Cutting off cash flow devastated our account within a week.

That alone tells you all you need to know about this guy, who is not atypical of would-be restauranteurs with little experience; he fancies himself a good cook and probably imagines the nobility of generously writing off a table of friends with no notion whatsoever of finances and specifically the costs (including perishable waste) of the primary product that is his revenue. Even if he’d had experience staff, liquor license under control, and a bevy of angel investors willing to continue to pump cash infusions into the business, he’d have still run it into the ground. That another experience restauranteur could come in and (presumably) make a go of it indicates that the concept was fine but the execution was crap.


That’s the one and only episode I have seen of this series. I was appalled and really couldn’t believe it was real. Checking out the info on Wiki, it seems that the restaurant’s former owners really were that horrid. I wonder if any of the former staff bothered to sue their former bosses. The most shocking to me was the owners keeping the staff’s tips.

Years ago, I worked for a tech company that made POS systems, primarily for the hospitality industry. When I started there, our systems were expensive, and generally only sold to restaurants that were doing at least $500K in annual revenues. Fine dining places, for the most part, who could afford the cost of the system.

Eventually, the company developed a less-expensive system that didn’t have quite so many features, but was much more affordable, and was meant for restaurants that were doing about (or planned to do about) $200K or more annually. The Beech Tree, in the linked article, was the intended market for this system.

We had a number of staff with extensive experience in the hospitality industry, and when a system was installed in a restaurant, they would accompany the installation techs, and act as a liaison between the non-technical restaurateur and the very-technical installers. The liaison would train the restaurateur and staff on the system, and generally stick around for a few days, as staff got used to it, and any kinks were worked out.

But here’s the thing: many times, especially in the case of the cheaper system, the liaisons would come back to the office, and say something like, “That place won’t last a year. Owner’s a great cook, but knows nothing about running a restaurant.” And most of the time, they were correct: the restaurant would open to great fanfare, and close its doors within 18 months, mostly for the reasons stated in the linked article. A few of these restaurants survived, but the majority did not.

Successful restaurants DON’T charge much more than successful ones - if they charge more at all - and somehow I doubt if the servers got paid a decent wage the prices would double - that doesn’t make any arithmetic sense. And, of course, in countries where servers are paid fair wages, the customers usually don’t have to tip.

Gordon Ramsay is a gigantic asshole, but the intensity and work ethic he brings to being a restauranteur pretty much demonstrates why he got good at it. He’s never really done anything else, he started out in the kitchen rather than buying a place at the age of 40 after doing something else for his career, and he is rather clearly a guy who works a lot. I don’t think he’s really run a restaurant in years, but at one time he was very good at it.

I looked it up and an article in 2020 stated that of the 92 restaurants Ramsay visited in the US run of the show, about 20 percent were still alive. That might sound low but I think it’s quite high; the show stopped filming in 2014, and I would never expect 20 percent of independent restaurants to last six years (actually, 10 years, on average, since the show ran 2007-2014.) I am sure everyone reading this post can think of many, many independent restaurants that have lasted much longer, but that’s why you can remember them.

Chain restaurants, from what I can tell, tend to last much longer, largely because chains have this shit down to a science.

Successful restaurants are successful because they control costs and build a menu and train kitchen staff to minimize wastage, but that includes limiting benefits (if they offer them at all), giving staff often inconsistent schedules to minimize labor costs at slow times, and forcing waitstaff to depend on tips, especially in states where waitstaff are paid below minimum wage. If we treated kitchen work and waiting tables as semi-skilled or skilled labor (which working in a nicer restaurant is) and offered the same protections as full-time employees, pretty much no restaurant could get by on what it charges. I’m speaking specifically of the United States where employers are relied upon to provide benefits such as medical insurance, vacation, parental leave, et cetera, out of overhead; the situation in countries that provide or subsidize these as a public benefit are obviously different, and where a “minimum wage” actually represents something that a person could afford to live on rather than in the range of good spending money for a teenager.

Chains are built with efficiency in mind, and also benefit from the advantages of marketing and common expectations. Chili’s may not be very good, but you know exactly what you are going to get before you sit down at one, and they have enough diversity in their offerings that you can bring essentially any group of people there without anyone feeling like there is nothing for them to eat. They also have the advantage of being able to buy from food wholesalers in bulk and broad advertising campaigns to maintain public awareness. Brinker International can basically plonk a Chili’s down anywhere it can get a liquor license and be assured of clearing a good profit. Independent restaurants have a far more difficult row to hoe because they have to build up public awareness from scratch on top of crafting a good menu, dealing with suppliers who may regard them as secondary customers on volume, and all of the other problems that come along with running a small business where the owner and manager have to be everything from human resources and accounting to Mr. Fixit and substitute line cook.

Of course, chains also treat their line managers like shit because they can always pluck some hopeful out of their latest batch of management trainees to take over running their shop in Dubuque, IA, and that kind of attitude makes its way down to the local staff. If I had to manage a restaurant I’d rather it be a chain store because a lot of the mundane things like dealing with suppliers are taken care of, but if I was to work as an employee I’d never want to work in a corporate shop, even a high end one, because regardless of how diligent an employee you may be you are regarded as an utterly replaceable cog.


So on and so forth. So they’re like, well, other successful businesses.

That isn’t how prices work. Market clearing prices (well, any prices) aren’t the same as “costs,” and confusing them is a hell of an area of confusion. Higher end restaurants absolutely could just keep their prices the same. Higher volume restaurants could too. Some would try jacking prices up but would find the drop in demand would kill them; some restaurants don’t make money as it is anyway. Some restaurants would find other areas of efficiency. Hell, some might find superior talent would lead to happier customers and more profits.

To the extent that restaurants would have to charge more, why would you say it’d be twice? Staff wages aren’t the entirety of a restaurant’s budget, or even most.

“Restaurants are successful because they pay wages in line with the market price for those wages.” Wow holy SHIT, I hope no other businesses start that evil practice of paying people a market rate wage instead of a @Stranger_On_A_Train determined “Ultimate Good and Appropriate Rate.”

You really missed your calling as one of the party apparatchiks in old Soviet Russia, shame it never happened for you, you could have put these ideas into practice.

Yeah “twice” is just extreme sloppy math. It’s going to vary wildly from restaurant to restaurant, what geographic market the restaurant is in, what sort of restaurant it is etc etc. When Papa Johns was forced to become PPACA compliant John Schnatter complained about it and said he was going to pass the costs on to his customers–it was something like $0.25 a pizza.

But is Papa John’s pizza really worth $0.25?

In answer to the OP’s question, I’ve eaten at a similar place but not “Kitchen Nightmares”. IIRC, it was a show on Spike TV about investing in restaurants rather than changing them. Maybe something like Shark Tank for struggling restaurants (never actually watched it)?

I took my kids to a hole-in-the-wall barbecue one night and was idly watching their big screen TV. I realized I was watching the restaurant’s dining room and at first thought it was some form of CCTV. When the camera panned over our table (and it wasn’t us), I realized it was recorded and some sort of show. The restaurant had been part of the show a few weeks earlier and kept their TV tuned to the Spike channel to catch each run of it. It was coincidence that the show came on while we were there. This was explained to us by the server.

I liked the restaurant before, and still did after. It moved to a new location and I haven’t been to the new place.

On a tangential note, I’m going up to Seattle on Sunday, and while I’m there I plan on visiting a recently-opened location of a chain restaurant that was funded by Shark Tank.

Partly because it sounds delicious, and partly because the concept of “THE FAMOUS FAT SANDWICH” has haunted my nightmares ever since 2008 when I read about them in this thread;