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Proactive Leaders In the Kitchen: Cutting Costs and Maintaining Brand

The era of the celebrity chef is currently being overshadowed by the global economic crisis. Restaurant owners, managers, and chefs are realizing that survival hinges on the ability to save money, run an efficient kitchen, and cut excessive spending. They need to be proactive

Business leaders in all industries: take note.

Today’s Wall Street Journal article, Reality Check; Please, shows us another victim of the economic downturn: Fine dining…and it’s causing celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay to tighten their proverbial waist-bands.

Chef Ramsay, best recognized by his sharply worded TV shows and surprising British cooking prowess, is now “hemorrhaging” money since he owns over 17 high-end restaurants internationally. Tourism and business expense accounts are dwindling–leading to half empty dining rooms and tight-lipped dinners.

So What’s a Chef To Do?

Chef Ramsay, long extolling the virtues of task-master-leadership on his reality TV shows, is now listening to his own advice. According to the article, he cut 15% of his staff, designed prix-fixe menus, abolished expensive products, and encouraged his chefs to use economical ingredients. Chef Ramsey reports that his new strategy is working–but barely.

A top of the line restaurant, the article mentions, costs nearly $2 million dollars to outfit, design, and stock and that’s not including staff. The fine dining industry isn’t known for it’s fraugality. However, when a high-end restaurant begins to spend less on high end ingredients (like asparagus, caviar, and rib-eye steak) the quality of the food becomes harder to control and the reputation and the brand of the restaurant is held over a dangerous cliff.

…And What’s A Business Leader Going To Do?

The same principle applies to any organization. Cutting your marketing departments costs will mean your team won’t be able to reliably produce great material. Limiting your budget will make it harder to get certain things done. You can likely think of more examples from personal experience.

However, like in a restaurant, the ability to make a smaller budget and low quality supplies work requires talent and know-how. As Chef Ramsay points out–his restaurants’ success requires a great chef that can still turn lesser ingredients into 3 Michelin Star food. A good manager will be able to stretch a small budget over a long period of time, keep people happy, and save money.

Looking to the food & beverage industry for lessons in leadership is worthwhile. Chefs, in every kitchen, need to not only have the business ability to know what to buy and where to buy it, but they also require a specific skill which allows them to turn boring products into attractive dishes. Leaders sometimes needs to be passionate chefs–concerned about quality, reputation, and fresh ingredients.