First, I have never met Gordon Ramsay, but I have watched him on television. I watched Hell’s Kitchen pretty religiously, and then enjoyed watching Kitchen Nightmares. After moving to Boulder, I finally got my TiVo setup, and one of the first shows it recorded for me was Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares from BBC-America. So, after 3-4 episodes were recorded, I finally sat down and started to watch them. What amazed me is how his general rules for running a successful restaurant are really not all that different than getting a startup off the ground.

1) It’s never as easy as it looks.

One term that I have always disliked was serial entrepreneur. It really means that you are unable to complete anything, and that you find joy in the starting of things. What most entrepreneurs dont realize is that all the time spent on coming up with a cool idea, getting a couple of people to join you, and maybe even raising some money, is just the beginning. At some point, you have to start running a business.

It seems that in the restaurant business, this is very much the same. Some is told that they are a great cook, or they have watched someone run a restaurant for a long period of time. They come up with a concept (American Southern Cuisine on the beach in Brighton), a look (a purple covered restaurant with a yellow interior), hire a few people (or get some friends together), and they convince a bank or someone to give them some cash. Then the restaurant starts, and there is no one who knows how to run a business.

2) Running a business is like baking a cake.

In one episode, Gordon shows a restaurant owner that running a restaurant is just like baking a cake. It is important to have a balance among three things: Food Cost, Overhead/Staffing and Profits. To much of any of three, and the cake ends up being a horrible mess.

In business, this is much the same. Every business has cost associated with doing the business, a tech business has intellectual property or the idea itself, a services business might have time or media costs, and a product business has manufacturing costs.

Spend too much on physical costs or staffing/overhead you eat up your profits. Spend too much effort on generating profits, and you will lose customers/clients or create opportunity costs.

Baking a cake takes more than just combining a bunch of ingredients and throwing it in the oven. Same could be said for running a business.

3) Communication is key.

Gordon has become known for being extremely mean. Personally, I have seemed to have gained a similar reputation. So in watching Gordon, I kept thinking to myself, is he really that mean? What I determined is that when communicating, he eliminates any ambiguity, is extremely direct, and doesnt take the time to take the other person’s feelings into account. Why? Because critical communication needs to be understood and delivered in a timely fashion. In the kitchen or in a business, this is often lost in the desire to be liked. The truth is that a CEO/Restaurant owner that creates a positive work environment and a successful business is always liked. Especially every two weeks on payday.

4) Sometimes broccoli soup is just broccoli.

Often, one of the main things Gordon does is get the restaurant owner to focus on what is important, the food. The decor, parking, cramped dining room, etc is always secondary. (He does always remake the restaurant in some way). But the message is clear. Good food, made in a way to ensure profit always leads to happy customers. For example, he showed one restaurant owner how to make a broccoli soup with just broccoli (the chef had used several ingredients that seemed to take away from the broccoli). Gordon’s soup was the favorite of the customers, and cost 1/20 of the other soup.

So many times new business owners spend a lot of time on things like signage, websites, business cards and the like. They forget that sometimes broccoli soup is just broccoli. Focus on making the best broccoli soup possible, and customers wont care about the shabby website, missing features or witty error pages.

5) Passion isnt everything, its the only thing.

I really think that Gordon Ramsey would be someone that I would enjoy being around. He is laser focused on what constitutes a successful restaurant, his passion for cooking and teaching is clear. In one episode of The F Word, he has a competition with a friend over who can bake the better chocolate brownie. The friend uses cocoa powder, butter, milk and some sugar. Gordon uses special pans, real chocolate, butter, etc. When the guest’s brownies are voted best by a small group of food critics, Gordon confronts them and asks a dozen questions about why the simple brownies were better. He wasnt questioning the critics; he was learning.

Great business leaders have passion and are able to transfer that passion to the people around them. And, they understand that passion isnt demostrated by constant activity, but rather by constant trial, education and achievement.

  • Gordon Rocks. In one episode he tells the restaurant owner if he isn’t going to “try”, then he will just call “fucking Jamie Oliver” to come help him. Awesome. Give TopGear on BBC America a try also.

  • Gordon Rocks. In one episode he tells the restaurant owner if he isn’t going to “try”, then he will just call “fucking Jamie Oliver” to come help him. Awesome. Give TopGear on BBC America a try also.

  • Last night there was a show where there was a 21 year old “head chef.” Reminded me of some of the techstars founders: young, ambitious, but trying too hard.

    I love when he eats the food. The look of amazed horror always makes me laugh.

  • Last night there was a show where there was a 21 year old “head chef.” Reminded me of some of the techstars founders: young, ambitious, but trying too hard.

    I love when he eats the food. The look of amazed horror always makes me laugh.

  • Micah, I agree with you about the similarities between start-ups and successful kitchens. All of your points are relevant but I especially enjoy the third one. I’ve worked in a few kitchens in my time and earned a reputation for being mean. However, when you are in the trenches and trying to get plates out on time and looking good, you don’t have time to beat around the bush. You have to make sure you are being heard without any worry about how someone is going to react to what is being said. I’m still trying to transition that skill into my startup life, but you are proving helpful in that respect.

  • Micah, I agree with you about the similarities between start-ups and successful kitchens. All of your points are relevant but I especially enjoy the third one. I’ve worked in a few kitchens in my time and earned a reputation for being mean. However, when you are in the trenches and trying to get plates out on time and looking good, you don’t have time to beat around the bush. You have to make sure you are being heard without any worry about how someone is going to react to what is being said. I’m still trying to transition that skill into my startup life, but you are proving helpful in that respect.

  • I. love. this. blogpost. It’s sweet! lol

    It also happens to be the first thing I’ve read from your site. If this is the appetizer, I’m really looking forward to the rest of my meal ;-)

    -RobinAnn

  • I. love. this. blogpost. It’s sweet! lol

    It also happens to be the first thing I’ve read from your site. If this is the appetizer, I’m really looking forward to the rest of my meal ;-)

    -RobinAnn

  • I. love. this. blogpost. It’s sweet! lol

    It also happens to be the first thing I’ve read from your site. If this is the appetizer, I’m really looking forward to the rest of my meal ;-)

    -RobinAnn

  • @tara well said. I am a firm believer in saying what you mean and meaning what you say. And then owning it.

    @robinann that quite a bar you have set. I will do me best!

  • @tara well said. I am a firm believer in saying what you mean and meaning what you say. And then owning it.

    @robinann that quite a bar you have set. I will do me best!

  • @tara well said. I am a firm believer in saying what you mean and meaning what you say. And then owning it.

    @robinann that quite a bar you have set. I will do me best!

  • I always love the little prayer he says before he tries the establishment’s food for the first time — asking that their food not kill him.

    I admit it, I’m a Gordon Ramsay junkie.

  • I always love the little prayer he says before he tries the establishment’s food for the first time — asking that their food not kill him.

    I admit it, I’m a Gordon Ramsay junkie.

  • I always love the little prayer he says before he tries the establishment’s food for the first time — asking that their food not kill him.

    I admit it, I’m a Gordon Ramsay junkie.

  • damien

    Episodes of ?kitchen nightmares? are like free little business school case studies, and some of the best lessons are in marketing. For example, making the chef personally give samples to (wealthy) commuters on the subway platform… genius.

    His ninja skill might come from the fact that his restaurant failed.

  • damien

    Episodes of ?kitchen nightmares? are like free little business school case studies, and some of the best lessons are in marketing. For example, making the chef personally give samples to (wealthy) commuters on the subway platform… genius.

    His ninja skill might come from the fact that his restaurant failed.

  • damien

    Episodes of ?kitchen nightmares? are like free little business school case studies, and some of the best lessons are in marketing. For example, making the chef personally give samples to (wealthy) commuters on the subway platform… genius.

    His ninja skill might come from the fact that his restaurant failed.

  • I’ve grown to be a huge fan of Gordon Ramsey, myself. Each week the advice he’s giving is so clear and so direct, it’s no wonder that he can turn restaurants around. It’s a focus on the fundamentals: people want to eat great food for a decent price in a good environment.

    To clarify, the name of the show is actually “The F word.” It’s pretty interesting. Each week he competes against a celebrity and the celebrity’s favourite recipe, there’s a running competition of amateur chefs (such as firemen, lunch ladies, etc.), and there’s also a series-long focus on something like raising lambs (in preparation for being butchered.)

    Great post!

  • I’ve grown to be a huge fan of Gordon Ramsey, myself. Each week the advice he’s giving is so clear and so direct, it’s no wonder that he can turn restaurants around. It’s a focus on the fundamentals: people want to eat great food for a decent price in a good environment.

    To clarify, the name of the show is actually “The F word.” It’s pretty interesting. Each week he competes against a celebrity and the celebrity’s favourite recipe, there’s a running competition of amateur chefs (such as firemen, lunch ladies, etc.), and there’s also a series-long focus on something like raising lambs (in preparation for being butchered.)

    Great post!

  • @jed actually the F Word is a different show. The Title is Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. I reference The F Word in the #5 lesson.

    Thanks for the great comment!

  • @jed actually the F Word is a different show. The Title is Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. I reference The F Word in the #5 lesson.

    Thanks for the great comment!

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  • His ninja skill might come from the fact that his restaurant failed.

    One of his restaurants failed, but it was quite a long time ago. He has opened a number of _very_ successful restaurants since.

  • His ninja skill might come from the fact that his restaurant failed.

    One of his restaurants failed, but it was quite a long time ago. He has opened a number of _very_ successful restaurants since.

  • >His ninja skill might come from the fact that his restaurant failed.

    One of his restaurants failed, but it was quite a long time ago. He has opened a number of _very_ successful restaurants since.

  • The CEO of 1800 Flowers once said he learned this from Jack Welch. “The reason why a lot of Entrepreneurs or Businessmen are not successful simply because they've not failed enough”. That said, make more mistakes my friends.

  • Sunshine

    I visited “The Mansion” in 12/08. I'm from Arizona so I thought that if I ordered a steak in the State of Kansas that it would be Juicy and thick since I was in cattle country. NOT. Anyway, I did not eat the almost on the verge of spoiing steak that was 1/4″ thick with hash browns that tasted old and stale and dry, the toast was burnt, and the over medium eggs were over fried. The chef I was told worked “OVER” Chef Ramsey. Please have Chef Ramsey visit Herington, Kansas. I'll have a nice room for him in our home he can stay in. We all love him. We would be honored to have him visit our home. By the way, the food served at “The Mansion” was “awful”. I can't believe that Chef Ramsey could have worked UNDER this man. He's supposedly from Wales. I understand through talking with the waitress that he dispised Chef Ramsey. I hope Chef Ramsey knows who I am speaking about.

  • Brian Moon

    Good lessons, but you missed his main rule. This mantra permeates every show, every episode: KEEP IT SIMPLE>

  • Brian Moon

    Good lessons, but you missed his main rule. This mantra permeates every show, every episode: KEEP IT SIMPLE>

  • Thanks for the great lessons. Communication is really important in a business.

  • Maximilian

    The communication bit is vital. I remember watching the episode where the chefs walked out due to frustration, Gordon phoned Scotty. When Scotty arrived, he took control, barked out the food orders, and had the place running like clockwork. It was inspirational and really made an impression on me.

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  • Dave

    Three words – fresh local produce! Not sure how that applies to start ups but he does bang on about it quite a bit :) Good article.

  • Gavin

    Inspirational not just in business but in life.I’ve started watching Gordon like he’s a guru.Attitudes behaviours,necessary aggression,resoluteness & an overarching but often missed compassion and genuine will to see others succeed.Rare

  • One term that I have always disliked was serial entrepreneur. It really
    means that you are unable to complete anything, and that you find joy in
    the starting of things.

    no it does not…

  • rickyesteves

    Dude, you rock!

  • a0siojdoiq

    too! too much is too!!!!