Chef Gordon Ramsay is obnoxious, confrontational and mean. In each episode of Kitchen Nightmares, the restaurant renovation series, Ramsay unleashes direct and unsparing advice on beleaguered owners and unwitting staff. Sometimes the answer is obvious: Don’t leave fish and meat out for hours in a bucket. Other times, the restaurateur just needs to get better ingredients or eliminate items from an overcrowded menu. Ramsay’s assessment can be really tough — and incredibly entertaining to watch — and in the end, the restaurant is better positioned to thrive and grow.
Do hardworking businesspeople really need to endure profane tirades to improve operations? Sadly, often, yes. And I will reluctantly watch — especially when food-throwing is involved. For others, I would recommend a few just-released business books.
Dining out has changed in recent years. Owners face higher inventory prices, overworked staff and fickle, sometimes obnoxious, patrons. If only restaurants could sort the “bad tippers,” “indifferent parents,” and “overly demanding” patrons and treat them accordingly. Soon they might, according to New York Times tech reporter Kashmir Hill, author of the revelatory, must-read book Your Face Belongs To Us, which chronicles the rise of Clearview AI, a secretive startup developing a revolutionary face-recognition app that might end privacy as we know it.
Hill, a veteran journalist focused on internet privacy, outlines how Clearview’s algorithm can identify virtually anyone whose picture has appeared online anywhere and anytime. Imagine wearing glasses with built-in tech that enables you access to the name, address and all publicly available details of someone in a crowded restaurant? Yikes. That self-important blowhard without a reservation won’t have to bluster “Do you know who I am?” anymore. If this innovation continues unregulated, we all will — and quickly.
Of course, technology is just one part of the overall restaurant experience, and the best operators relentlessly focus on delivering great food that people actually want, again and again, over time. For a primer on those business basics, you’ll want to check out Know What Matters, the terrific new book by the locally based former Panera CEO Ron Shaich. This is more than an engaging first-hand history of the development, growth and eventual sale of one of the nation’s iconic fast-casual brands. It’s a thoughtful distillation of how to scale, finance and maintain a “concept essence” or sustainable competitive advantage at various stages of company growth.
Shaich is direct and self-effacing, and his candor about both successes and failures is refreshing. His advice on “learning by observing” in the stores is spot-on and no doubt informed his willingness to tackle the wholesale replacement of more than 96 artificial additives from the chain’s offerings with “good for you” ingredients, even while the company was enjoying solid revenue and continued success. Shaich’s observations on handling demanding investors and balancing critical initiatives also are instructive for entrepreneurs in any industry.
Back in my days as a waiter, I preferred working for bosses like Shaich rather than Chef Ramsay. We all know that the people out front really matter and throwing hot pans and invective at the wait staff only will go so far. Being on your feet all day and cheerfully enduring rude and demanding customers takes a toll. (“Sure, happy to refill that water glass for the ninth time.”) That’s why everyone waiting tables — and in fact, anyone in a demanding job — should read Dr. Neha Sangwan’s smart, practical book Powered By Me: From Burned Out to Fully Charged at Work and in Life. Sangwan experienced burnout herself as a busy doctor with an overwhelming caseload. Stepping back, she took time to recognize the physical warning signs so she could make important adjustments. We can do this too, by adopting Sangwan’s broad and holistic approach to wellness that emphasizes partnering with our body to address our own unique needs.
I may even send this book to Ramsay, whose trademark anger is a telltale sign of burnout. He probably also needs to read The ROI of LOL, the smart and downright funny book by PR/communications CEO Steve Cody and comedian Clayton Fletcher. Creating a workplace in which laughter is not only allowed but expected is essential for teambuilding and collaboration. Using “yes and” improvisation skills and getting hit occasionally with an overcooked T-bone might even inspire better performance for the right team.
Gordon Ramsay’s leadership style seems to work for him. For the rest of us, great ideas from these new books could be part of our own recipe for success.
Read in the Boston Business Journal
Larry Gennari is a business lawyer and chief curator of Authors & Innovators, an annual business book and ideas festival. Watch recent interviews with authors here. Gennari also teaches Project Entrepreneur, a business fundamentals bootcamp for returning citizens, at BC Law School.