November 24, 2014

Small Business Advice

Hell's Kitchen

Jerry Osteryoung | 10/20/2008

I maintain standards, and I strive for perfection. That level of pressure is conveyed in a very bullish way, and that's what cooking is all about.
— Gordon Ramsay

We frequently get called in to help a firm that is in crisis, and without quick action, the firm could easily fold. One such firm was preparing a large order for a very important customer, and the order got completely messed up. Management had to take quick and effective action to fill this order or their sales would fall by 30%. They had to use a different management style to get their staff to move quickly.

One approach to quick crisis management can be seen on Chef Gordon Ramsay’s three TV shows: “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Nightmares” both on FOX and “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” on BBC. “Hell’s Kitchen” is a reality chef program where the winner gets a very prestigious job at the end. On “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,” and “Kitchen Nightmares” Chef Ramsay goes into very sick restaurants and turns them around.

One day, my wife, who is a food TV junkie and a very good cook, said, “Jerry, you need to come and watch this program about Gordon Ramsay.” Well, I watched the program, and after seeing how he treated people, I wanted to vomit. It took me almost three shows before I could even watch the broadcast in its entirety.

For those who have not seen these shows, Chef Ramsay yells, swears, belittles and humiliates people to get the things he wants done. The abuse he doles out on these people is brutal, and they frequently end up breaking down in so many different ways. However, normally at the end of the show, the staff and management that he has berated seem to appreciate that this was the way to turn around their behavior and their restaurant.

What impresses me about Chef Ramsay is not the way he berates people, but the quickness with which he is able to change their behavior. In so many cases, he goes into a restaurant that has maybe two weeks to live and turns things around by changing the attitude of the staff and owners, and through his overall knowledge of the hospitality industry.

If he tried to be nice to get things done — which is clearly not his favorite management style — it would take a long time to change behaviors. He needs to get into these sick restaurants and turn things around very quickly.

His management style is clearly not for everyone, and it goes against almost every management principle that I know of; however, it is similar to that of the treatment military recruits used to get at during basic training. I can still remember my basic training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base yelling at and humiliating me for my bed not being 100% perfect. This did make an indelible impression on me. I got the message pretty quickly, and the training instructor never yelled at me again.

In both the Chef Ramsay and the military situation, behavior was changed quickly, but it came with some risk. The risk is that the person whose behavior you are trying to change will just close down and give up. Additionally, it creates a climate of fear, which normally abates over time as staff gets used to these conditions. However, on the upside, both situations illustrate that this approach can change behavior rapidly.


Now, I am not even somewhat recommending the Chef Ramsay motivational approach. However, I am suggesting that there may be some situation that merits it. In a crisis situation, when there is not time to use the “warm fuzzy” approach, you might have to invoke a harsher methodology in order to get something done quickly.

Jerry Osteryoung is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at FSU and Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He can be reached by e-mail at jostery@comcast.net or by phone at 850-644-3372.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Entrepreneur

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