Nothing Like A Kitchen Nightmare

I was lucky enough to enjoy the most amazing evening at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Claridges in London recently. If you are looking at best practice in retail service it is hard to go past food service. It is after all, just about the hardest form of service to deliver well consistently. And if you want to find the best practice of best practice in food service Gordon Ramsay is as good as I have ever found anywhere in the world.

Stanley Goodman – the renowned former CEO of the May Corporation – once said “Retail is theatre and the store is the stage. And when the customer has fun, they spend more money”. Ramsay gets this in spades. His restaurant in Claridges is a wonderful art deco gastronomic theatre-set lovingly restored to contemporary relevance. His people are immaculately costumed, brilliantly rehearsed actors who play their parts with flair and aplomb.

The eight act performance that I experienced that night had a physical and emotional impact that was deep and lasting. Beautifully constructed food delivered with theatricality that is so well thought through that all you have to do is allow yourself to be transported by it. Nothing detracts from the sensory delights. The only action that takes place is that which enhances the effect. And the highlight for me came at the end of the evening.

After I had settled the bill, the Maitre’d asked if I was in a rush to get away. Knowing that I was dining alone, enjoying my first visit to the restaurant and having travelled all the way from Sydney, he asked whether I would like him to show me behind the scenes. With that he took 20 minutes out of his busy routine to give me the back stage tour. He introduced me to the head chef and his team. He showed me the kitchen, the cellar, all the facilities. Took photographs of me with my camera and answered every one of my questions about how they bring about such an extraordinary performance with patience and pride.

The head chef showed me his “director’s panel” with its six plasma screens all showing different camera angles of the restaurant, diners and staff. He uses this to make sure that everything is running as it should every night. They showed me their systems, “the table in the kitchen” room they have built so that – should you have the where-with-all to afford it – you can sit in a special area and have the head chef create and talk you through a degustation menu especially created for you and your nine guests.

The feeling that you are left with is one of pure, unadulterated admiration. Nothing has been left to chance. Everything has been thought through in infinite detail. The people have been recruited and trained brilliantly. The restaurant has been constructed perfectly. The systems are so efficient and can cope with anything. And everyone understands that it is all about the dining experience and sublime food. The success that is enjoyed by Gordon Ramsay is down to the attention to detail that has been put into every aspect of the delivery of what – on the surface – appears to be effortless service.

From a customer’s perspective it feels being a part of a wonderfully engaging theatrical experience that centres on your sensory pleasure. Other than the difficult choices you are forced to make over what to indulge in eating, it just happens before your eyes with rhythmic ease. There is much to learn from Gordon Ramsay about how to truly deliver best practice service. In my mind he will always be associated with a four letter word – CARE.