The real kitchen nightmares: How consultants can show restaurants the recipe for success

They're not all as scary as Gordon Ramsay and the industry is booming in the UK, as Jamie Merrill discovers.

It finally happened. Last month, while filming Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay found a restaurant so unpalatable that he admitted defeat and stormed out. The owners of Amy's Baking Company in Arizona were just too belligerent – from firing staff for no reason to hurling homophobic slurs at customers – and their food so dire that they were beyond the help of the chef's expletive-laden brand of restaurant consultancy.

Ratings-boosting disasters like this aside, Ramsay normally comes away having transformed an establishment from a disaster zone to a foodie Mecca and viewers can't get enough of it. Last month, Fox announced it had commissioned another series of Hell's Kitchen, a reality-television spin-off of the show and the shouty chef has also been signed to give Hollywood star Bradley Cooper a "crash course in cookery" for his role in the upcoming film Chef.

Back in Britain, star of the London restaurant scene, Russell Norman, is the latest figure to get in on the action with upcoming BBC TV show The Restaurateur. In the show Norman, who has opened five successful restaurants in five years, will share his rulebook with six first-timers and make the case that many restaurateurs fail because they either don't know or choose to ignore the rules of the restaurant business.

This at time when our appetite for all things foodie shows little sign of being satisfied – last month, for example, a CBI survey showed the biggest rise in trade for hotels and restaurants in six years. Another survey predicts 1,000 new restaurants will open next year and television executives are clearly scrambling to get in on our demand for foodie news, culinary conflict and angry-chef tongue lashings.

The real world of restaurant consultancy is far less confrontational, though. "The restaurant-consultancy industry is booming," explains Derek Bulmer, former UK editor of the Michelin Guide, who now runs Martini Consulting. "But the real day-to-day of my job couldn't be more different to Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmare. That's made for TV so of course it has to be shocking. What I do is deal with degrees of how good things are, not how bad things can be."

Like many consultants, Bulmer offers an incognito dining service rather than an upfront dressing down. "I send out a detailed report on the whole experience, not just the food, but the whole thing, from making my reservation right until paying the bill at the end," adds Bulmer, who, while at the Michelin Guide, was feared by chefs for his ability to make or break a career with one review. "I'm not looking necessarily for anything different from a very discerning customer, but I know the potential banana skins a restaurant can slip up on."

Many other consultants offer more of a corporate outlook and concentrate on restaurant location, menu marketing and promotion. They follow the path set by early restaurant consultant Alan Crompton-Batt, who died aged 50 in 2004. He was the consultant credited with creating the concept of the celebrity chef, and, according to his Telegraph obituary, brought the chef from "behind the stove to appear as a personality in the glossy magazines and the gossip columns".

His most famous clients were Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White and, unlike most PR professionals, he also helped would-be restaurateurs find premises, hire a chef, plan a menu, launch their restaurant and charm the critics.

Today, planning a restaurant's menu is one of the most important tasks a consultant will be set. So much so that secret diners such as Bulmer will often be called in again for a special sitting to sample the entire menu. A successful (profitable) menu will often be divided between "stars" (popular items for which customers are willing to pay a good deal more than they cost to make), "puzzles" (high-profit but unpopular dishes), "plough horses" (popular yet unprofitable) and "dogs" (unpopular and unprofitable).

The role of a consultant will be to nudge customers away from the less profitable items, while at the same time convincing them they are paying a reasonable price. Tricks of the trade include putting profitable items in the top-right corner (where diners look first) and removing columns so they don't just pick the cheapest item. Other items, normally expensive seafood or steak, are used as "anchors" in the middle of the menu with high-profit items around them, making them seem more affordable.

While Bulmer and other consults rarely get into shouting matches with their (paying) clients ("I'm lucky that I can pick aspirational clients who I want to work with") they do offer combative and constructive feedback. "One of the biggest areas I find where chefs fall down, particularly young chefs, is they over-complicate things," says Bulmer. "They don't know when to stop adding ingredients to the meal. It's a confidence thing that the best chefs who are the most confident know when to leave a dish alone. The less confident ones keep piling more and more on the dish, thinking wrongly that they are improving the dish, when in fact they are doing the opposite."

For a consultant, pointing out that "less is more" can increase profitability too. Many pop-up restaurants, from posh burger outfits to fried-chicken shops, are established to allow their owners to test their products and build a customer base before renting an expensive property. Fewer ingredients also mean less waste and increased buying power while keeping prices low.

At the same time, though, restaurants need to be careful to not just blindly jump on the bandwagon. "Trends come and go but the fundamentals that underpin good food don't change, and it's the job of a good restaurant consultant to make sure that their clients know that," says Bulmer. "So whether it's a trend for small plates, burgers or brasserie-style restaurants, I make sure that my clients always offer good products, that are well sourced and well prepared."

"Another area I warn against is going too far down the route of using one flavour or ingredient that just happens to be in vogue at one particular moment. Recently, it's been beetroot, which is great and under-valued, but you can go far too far with it. The same thing happened with kiwi fruit last year in London, and I for one never thought they had much of a flavour to them. I doubt they'll be back again."

James Ramsden, a food writer who runs The Secret Larder supper club, points out that the larger chains and names in the industry often follow these successes. "With Jamie Oliver recently, we've seen him go from arguably jumping on the barbecue bandwagon with Barbecoa to certainly jumping on to the diner/burger/hot dog movement with Jamie Oliver's Diner in the last month," he says. "So obviously these restaurant chains, like Jamie Oliver and Giraffe, keep an eye on London's foodie trends and jump on the bandwagon."

"That's not necessarily a bad thing per se and restaurant consultants wouldn't be doing their job properly if they didn't advise them to do this. For example, Strada and some of the other Italian chains started doing small plates a few years after Polpo started the trend in London. These things filter down. This is an inevitable thing and I find it funny when independent restaurateurs get their knickers in a twist about this sort of thing. If you've started a movement you can't get huffy when other people jump on the bandwagon."

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition