Lesson #5: Know Whose Dish You Are Serving

“The secret of a successful chef is to put yourself in the customer’s position,” says Ramsay. “By that I mean thinking about what they want.”

During one of the restaurant makeovers for the television series “Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,” Ramsay paid a visit to a restaurant in Glasgow that had become the local go-to place for special occasions. It was fully booked on Saturdays and Sundays, but “from Monday to Thursday no one was going there because people thought, ‘Oh, that’s where we’ve got to go for a celebration,’” says Ramsay. “It was too fancy, and it was a big learning curve.”

Ramsay took the restaurant’s menu, which was filled with fancily-named high-end French cuisine and went to the streets, where he asked some local Scots to read from it. There was not a single one of them who was not left confused about what dishes each of the names represented. Even if they could pronounce the names, they had no idea about what they would be eating. The food that was being served might have been Michelin star worthy, and indeed it was, but because the locals could not even understand what they were ordering, the restaurant was losing money.

“We streamlined it, knocked it back and embedded ourselves into the community as opposed to becoming the destination for every 50th wedding anniversary, and every gran and grandpa’s 80th party” says Ramsay. When he visited the restaurant a few months after the makeover, it was a weeknight and it was filled to capacity. Ramsay had correctly identified who the customer was and changed the menu accordingly. The restaurant still specialized in French cuisine, since that was both the chef’s niche and his passion, but it was made simpler both in name and taste to accommodate the market.

“You can’t have your menu laced with offal, fois gras and 50 or 60 pounds worth of caviar,” says Ramsay. “You need your mainstream lamb and your simple salads. Not everyone who comes into your restaurant is going to be a foodie. There'll be two foodies out of six on one table. You can't overdo it. You've got to find that balance. I put myself in the position of the customer, not the chef. That means excitement and creativity.”

Ramsay also pays close attention when it comes to serving his vegetarian customers. Although he received much negative publicity for once admitting he served meat stock to a group of vegetarians, he has since tried to make amends by adding to the vegetarian menus at his restaurants. “For me, the biggest frustration about vegetarians is that chefs don’t look after them enough,” says Ramsay. “They oust them as if they’d been diagnosed with leprosy. They don’t treat them as normal customers. Here, we make sure they have just as exciting food.”

By knowing who his customers are and refusing to take any of them for granted, Ramsay has proven what success can come from taking a realistic look at your target market.

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