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The Great Debates The SuperChef Phenomenon

Reader Feedback:

Super Chefs DO contribute to making some Independents the best restaurants in the world. However, without a good General Manager (or a Super Chef that doubles-out as one), customers will not come back--no matter how good the food is. I have worked with Super Chefs and have seen this happen--time and over again, directly and indirectly, within this industry.

The relationship between the Chef and GM is like a good marriage. Without positive synergy, mutual commitment, cooperation and the "right mix" of personalities, the situation ultimately will end--not only in a divorce of the working partnership, but trouble all over the house, resulting in drifting staff and customers.

Hiring the right chef is one of the most important decisions an owner faces: without a good chef, you have nothing. If the owner is the GM, s/he will most likely hire someone with whom they feel simpatico. But, if the owner is not the GM, the owner should include the chef in the hiring process of any key front person. When making hiring decisions--from the GM and other primary contact personnel on the floor to the kitchen staff, it is most important that the staff selected, not only love this business, but also have the dynamic personalities that are required to stimulate and attract patronage to the restaurant continuously.

One exceptionally successful owner told me that he has no hesitation in telling any wavering staff member, "If its too hot in the kitchen for you, get out of this business." His Italian restaurant is soon opening its third location within one city within the last five years, which in his location is extremely rare. Every time we speak he tells me in his broken English, "America is a wonderful country!" The truth is, Joseph is a wonderful businessman who understands the restaurant business inside and out. I told him the other day that I will probably learn more from him, than he will ever learn from me.

Amazingly, I have seen a good front person draw unbelievable head counts in mediocre food operations, despite critical reviews. Service today, is equal to--if not more important than fine dining food issues. Upscale mega-chains thrive with the same basic menu items because they have operations down to a science and hire the right people who consistently provide a formula of food and service that customers can depend on.

Conversely, Independents have a more interesting challenge: new customers truly do not know what to expect. Dining at a new restaurant is viewed as a wonderful adventure, raising the expectations and desires of these fine dining aficionados. If the experience is a positive one during that first chance to win their patronage by a great GM plused with a Super Chef, word of mouth alone will take the restaurant to places owners dream about.

At a local destination restaurant, I met a bar back who very much reminded me of a subdued version of comedian Jim Carey, who I felt was hiding his talents simply mixing drinks out of the public's view. He had been with the establishment for several years and had demonstrated strong management potential behind the bar, so I suggested that he be promoted to daylight GM. He quickly took the restaurant's numbers over the top and the owners continue to be pleased with his performance. Better than that, the Chef and staff love him and combined, all work better together than they ever did.

As writer David Braun points out in last weeks issue, it is a combination of these very "intertwined" parts--all contributing, that make all Independent operations a success.

Maren L. Hickton, Hospitality Consultant
Pittsburgh, PA

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The phenomenon of so-called "Celebrity Chefs" is nowhere better exemplified than with the truly astonishing success of our very own Delia Smith. We have several high-profile chefs and chefettes here in Britain, who frequently appear on TV, and have book tie-ins, and some even lend their images and signatures to certain branded food products.

Ms. Smith has the current distinction of having her new book, not only at No. 1 on the best selling list this week with some 65,000 units sold for the preceding week, but this total actually exceeds the combined sales of the next 8 titles!

So what is her secret? Well, to watch her in her current BBC Television series, which deals with a no-nonsense back to basics approach [she even showed us what boiling water looks like when you want to boil an egg!], you would have to say that she is, er, ORDINARY. No fool is she, however. She and her husband are majority shareholders in Norwich City Football Club [home city of Colman's mustard, by the way], and together they edit and publish the in-house monthly magazine for the Sainsbury supermarket chain.

Delia has been at this for some 20 years, and hasn't changed her style one bit. I looked at a 10 year old BBC video of her showing me how to entertain at a party, and she was just so, well, WATCHABLE.

When she did the first episode of her present series last month on eggs, daily sales went up by 1.2 million! She has such an effect on the viewing public, that supermarkets here request advance information on her ingredients, so that they may stock up on any exotic ingredients she may incorporate in her recipes.

Now THAT'S power.

Her books can be purchased at Note that this is the British website of Amazon. As a devoted fan, by the way, I have no other interest in Delia Smith [well, not one that I could talk about on such a public medium...]

All of this is nothing short of startlingly bizarre, in a country where we have to be shown how to boil an egg, and in which we all seem to be working so hard, that we don't have TIME to cook. We are blessed with a truly wonderful array of chilled meals of multi-ethnic origins, that you just pop into the micro for 5 minutes, and ZAP! Chicken Tikka Masala to satisfy even the hungriest Sultan. Take a look at for an idea of what's going on here.

All this is a little off-message, as one wonders just WHO is doing all the eating out in this country. Despite attempts at improving culinary standards outside of the M25 corridor [the ring road round London], London still leaves the rest of the country, nay, the rest of the world, breathless with originality, inventiveness and confidence. I take view that it's the same 50,000 or so people who CAN afford $60.00 or so a head who just go round and round to the new/fashionable eating houses. I say this because I seem to see the same braying faces at the restaurants I frequent.

A view of the restaurant scene here might interest your [mainly, I would surmise] American subscribers can be found on: [go to reviews] or, [go to restaurant reviews by Fay Maschler]

Speaking of reviews, I laughed it up knowingly when I read yesterday's 'Eating Out' column by James Delingpole in "The Independent on Sundy" [].

A touchy subject, probably judging by the number of whining restaurateurs who moan on your site. I am fed up with the whining complaints from restauranteurs about their staff on your site. If they're all working so hard, and are so busy, how come they have the time to write these missives? [please don't ask me how come *I* have the time].

Anyway, to Delingpole's report...

"One of the best tests of a really good restaurant, I reckon, is the way the staff behaves when you try sending back your food or wine. I'll always respect The Ivy, for example, for the time that I pathetically quibbled that my "spicy sausage" wasn't spicy enough, and the waiter replaced it apologetically and without demur. And I'll always loathe Little Italy, that appalling restaurant run by the people who won Bar Italia, because when I grumbled once that they had drowned my hideously overpriced iceberg lettuce salad in vinaigrette dressing, the waiter came over all bolshie and argumentative."

Delingpole goes on at some length about what displeases him at restaurants, including a sure sign of a not-very-good-restaurant is one where your waitress [yes, they still have sexes here, and are not known as servers ---- yet, MF] keeps forgetting who ordered what.

I could go on, but I imagine that if I was in a restaurant, they'd be turning the lights out by now as a hint...

So kids that's QUITE enough from this bon-viveur today.

Michael S. Fishberg

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Those who truly appreciate food and dining know that great food is found everywhere, from the tiniest family-owned shacks in Louisiana to the most opulent dining rooms in Paris. Marketing skills are fine, but they don't cook the food.


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If you have a SuperChef among any of your people that are working for you, pick them out tell them how much you enjoy their food and creativity, and most of all pay them what they are worth and demand the same thing in return. Expect loyalty, expect great food, and expect people walking in your door to experience the food the great chef has made. And most of all thank him or her at the end of everyday, for working as hard as they have been doing.

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I agree with the comment that a good kicthen doesn't rely completely on the 'super chef' in the kicthen. I mean will you ever catch the excutive chef de-bearding mussels, the key to a good kitchen relies completely on teamwork. I know very well I couldnt send out 200 meals meals on time without my team behind me and I have a feeling I'm not alone.

Excutive Sous Chef

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