I took a drive by Poco’s on the Boulevard today to snap some pictures of Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible crew in action. Poco’s is a Latin restaurant that is near Kansas City, Missouri’s hispanic neighborhoods, and competes with a lot of great Mexican restaurants located just down the street.
When I drove up to Poco’s I expected to see a beehive of activity. Based on the show, the two day makeover is a mad dash to get finished, with Chef Robert yelling that they’ll “never get done on time”. That’s not at all what I saw though. What I witnessed was what appeared to be an organized and calm effort, with most the people helping either sitting or standing around. No running or hurrying and no stress. At least not outside the restaurant. Behind the restaurant, I saw servers in Poco’s uniforms sitting and talking. From across the street, I couldn’t tell what they were doing, whether it was training or helping with the remodel or something else.
As a restaurant and food service consultant, I’ve always wondered what happens when the Restaurant Impossible or Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares crew leaves. The restaurant has a new look, the menu is smaller, fresher, and likely higher priced, there is a boost in business due to the publicity and the owners have a new energy to “make it work this time”. My real concern for these restaurants is what happens next. Are the owners left with their same bad habits, only to revert to what is easiest? Do they continue to cling to the old crowd of customers that wasn’t enough to keep them in business, and alienate all the new potential customers by reverting to old habits and menus? Do they have new organizational systems in place or someone teaching them what information to record and how to organize their restaurant’s data to make sure they can be successful in the long run? Is there support after the reboot?
I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, but I do know one thing. More restaurants fail as a result of bad management practices than bad food. That doesn’t mean you can plan on being successful with bad food. The food is obviously very important. It just means that having good food isn’t enough. You have to have management systems in place and a process for tracking and saving important information about your restaurant, to allow you to make better, more informed decisions. You also need to have someone to talk to that knows what successful restaurants are doing that you aren’t, outside of the food.
These restaurants that receive free makeovers from the likes of Robert Irvine, Gordon Ramsay, or the Restaurant Makeover show are getting an incredible gift. The type of remodels and assistance they are getting is worth many, many times the $10,000 budget these shows stick to. The publicity they are getting is absolutely priceless. I don’t expect to be able to get into Poco’s for the next month. Especially in a food crazy town like Kansas City. I just hope the makeover shows are doing something to provide these restaurants with some support after the makeover. THAT is where the battle will truly be won or lost.
Update 8/10/12 - Robert Irvine answered some of the questions raised in this article via Twitter. See his replies here.
Brandon O’Dell and O’Dell Restaurant Consulting provide marketing and operations consulting services to small and medium budget independent restaurants and small chains, and offers downloadable organizational tools on their website. Brandon also operates a home chef service in the Kansas City and Wichita, KS metropolitan areas. Visit visit www.bodellconsulting.com and www.friendthatcooks.com for details.