Food is a great equalizer. Everybody eats – from high-powered CEOs taking clients out for steak, to high school students who just want a milkshake and fries. Perhaps for this reason, the restaurant business was seen for a long time as a necessity, more than a valuable industry. As one journalist writes, foodservice used to be “dismissed as this deep, dark underworld” – so what changed?
In the past few years, celebrity chefs have had a major impact on the way guests consider restaurants. By taking viewers behind the scenes in kitchens around the world, shows like Top Chef, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and Ugly Delicious have shown the world how much work goes into the meals we love, and how much artistry goes into modern cuisine. And just as these famous chefs have influenced customer opinion, they’ve also affected the way restaurants do business.
1. Kitchen Confidential
One unexpected perk of watching TV shows about food is learning about the way each chef runs their kitchen. Anthony Bourdain is famous for traveling the world to find the best possible meals; Mary Berry is famous for baking cakes and pastries with distinct layers. Gordon Ramsay, although he is a brilliant chef, has become famous for something less delicious: screaming in the kitchen.
Chefs at any restaurant – and business owners in any industry – can easily learn by example from these culinary greats. Does your kitchen get the best results when sous chefs are afraid of getting fired, or when they can enjoy a friendly atmosphere? And it doesn’t end at the doors to the dining room. Servers, hosts, delivery drivers, and even customers will respond well to a restaurant culture of kindness, professionalism, and mutual respect. Take some time to think about your style of leadership, and you’re sure to find ways to support your staff without sacrificing your bottom line.
2. Blurred Lines
Many celebrity chefs – most notably David Chang and Danny Meyer – are blurring the line between full service and quick service restaurants. Upscale food with little to no table service, and correspondingly lower prices, attracts diner who want a meal to be both delicious and affordable.
Sales at Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s fast casual chain, grew by an impressive 33.6% last year. David Chang’s Fuku was recently described in New York Magazine as the “home of the $8 spicy-fried-chicken sandwich and prototype for what the chef hopes will become a fast-food brand.” There’s no denying the profitability and popularity of these concepts. Chefs at every level would do well to consider making a move in the fine casual space.
3. Quality and Innovation, in any Location
Celebrity chefs set a great example for the next generation. Ron DeSantis, director of culinary excellence at Yale University, says “Celebrity chefs get the more mature chefs thinking, but they really fire up the younger chefs. I have a couple of them ask, ‘How can I get on ‘Chopped?’’’ I think that is great because it tells me that everyone here is alive and well in their professions and they’re not just sleeping on the job. They are excited about cooking and being a chef.”
Celebrity chefs inspire young cooks and eaters alike to think about their food, rather than just scarfing it down on the way to class. As Millennial and Generation Z diners get older, they will continue to have strong opinions about every meal they eat. Your restaurant can prepare for that now, by keeping track of the shows that inform their tastes, and updating your menu to keep up with trends that are here to stay. We’re not suggesting you introduce a new entree every time Guy Fieri eats a hamburger – but staying on top of the changing culture will keep you informed as your guests’ tastes develop.
4. Don’t Forget Where You Came From
There’s a lot to learn from celebrity chefs and TV personalities – but equally important are the stories told by independent restaurant operators who’ve had a brush with fame. For example, many of the restaurateurs featured on Guy Fieri’s show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, have described a similar experience after their episodes aired: an instant increase in popularity, to the point where they lose some regular customers who are put off by the hustle and bustle. This burst of fame is followed by what some call “the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ phase” – where every time their featured episode is on, the restaurant enjoys another brief surge of even more popularity than usual.
Clearly, this increase in popularity is good for business – and for your bottom line. But it’s important for restaurant operators to remember where their fame comes from. If guests come to your establishment looking for a quiet, dimly lit experience, you should avoid using your newfound success to invest in fluorescent lighting. If they’re after a particular dish on your menu, then it’s up to you to make sure you add items that will pair well with that recipe. A brush with fame is a great opportunity to see what aspects of your business are at the heart of your brand. As your restaurant grows, be sure to build around those key aspects, instead of replacing them.
Every aspect of restaurants, from the cuisine to the atmosphere, is being influenced by the world’s love affair with celebrity chefs. Restaurants are looking at the rising stars of their industry and giving chefs the creative freedom they need to redefine contemporary cuisine. This trend helps new and established restaurants keep their finger on the pulse of foodservice – so both the flavors and ambiance of your establishment stay fresh.