5 Small Business Lessons from the Kitchen Nightmares Meltdown

If you have not seen the greatest Facebook brand implosion in history, then congratulations, you must have been off the grid for the past few days.

It began with an episode of Kitchen Nightmares so indescribable that you have to see it to believe it. The short version is this: Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, owners of Amy’s Baking Company (ABC) in Scottsdale, Arizona were featured on the “reality” show Kitchen Nightmares. During the show, the couple demonstrated a pattern of behavior so hostile, a work environment so toxic, that Chef Gordon Ramsay, for the first time in the history of the show, walked away from the owners as a lost cause.

Even giving some leeway for some of the staging and editing for dramatic effect that goes on in “reality” programming, the couple nonetheless comes off terribly.

Small Business Lessons from Kitchen Nightmares Meltdown | Gordon Ramsay Amy's Bakery

Worse, the couple that owns the bakery, took to defending themselves on their Facebook page, resulting in what is being called the greatest social media meltdown of all time. Words do not do it justice, but this post with actual screenshots does. (Note: The couple is claiming that their Facebook page was hacked, and they did not post the messages. The comment section does a pretty good job destroying the credibility of that assertion.)

So, on to business…

Why highlight people whose behavior is so far outside of business norms that they have gone viral? Because in the extreme behavior of these business owners are lessons for us all.

“Arguing from extremes” is a fallacy in logic; however, teaching from extremes is an excellent way to make a point. Because we all know managers and business owners that do some of what Amy and Samy do. Owners that are too paranoid, managers that are too defensive.

Of course, there are so many lessons to be learned from this meltdown that we could probably cover the entire spectrum of business advice: how not to do social media, how not to do public relations, and so on.

Instead, we are just going to focus on 5 core customer and management-focused concepts.

Small Business Lessons from Kitchen Nightmares

1. Accountability Is Not Optional

One of the recurring themes in the show is a complete lack of accountability, particularly from Chef Amy. When the food is bad, she blames customers and “haters.” When Gordon Ramsay points out specific deficiencies in her cooking, she has an excuse or a denial for every one.

Making the situation worse, the husband has been complicit in creating a world wherein she does not have to face the truth, refusing to pass along negative feedback from customers or joining her in saying “F— them,” a phrase they use a lot.

ABC’s products cannot be improved because no one will admit to its flaws.

2. Customers Are Not the Enemy

Why go into business if you think your customers are always out to screw you? Sure, there are always a few, but when you approach your customers from a place of paranoia, from a place of not getting taken advantage of, you often lose the forest for the trees.

When the rules you create to prevent one person from taking advantage of you inconvenience every other customer, you’re missing the big picture.

Small Business Lessons from Kitchen Nightmares Meltdown | Gordon Ramsay Amy's Bakery

3. Your Staff Is Not the Enemy Either

Yes, you need controls. Yes, empowerment has limits. However, when you refuse to give your staff the basic access needed to do their jobs, the problem is not them; it’s you. At ABC, servers do not have access to the POS system; only the owner does. Paper tickets are submitted to him, and he inputs them.

This level of distrust is exceptional. Name a major restaurant chain that does this.

Oh yeah, you can’t. I wonder why.

4. Setting False Expectations Will Come Back to Haunt You

As the social media firestorm began to burn bright, ABC was put under a microscope. It turns out they had boasted not only of fresh ravioli (admitted to be false on the show) but also that all of their baked goods were made in-house, a falsehood quickly exposed when the controversy erupted.

When your business says one thing and your product does another, unhappy customers are always the result. It happens enough when you are trying to avoid it; purposely creating false expectations is a guaranteed way to deliver terrible customer experiences.

5. Put the Right People in the Right Positions

Unfortunately, anyone with enough capital can open their own business. It just doesn’t mean they should.

There is an old proverb (of uncertain origin) “Don’t open a shop, unless you like to smile.” I watched this show and could only think: these people should not own a business that is open to the public.

And in that realization is a lesson about making sure the right people are in the right positions.

Small Business Lessons from Kitchen Nightmares Meltdown | Gordon Ramsay Amy's Bakery

Sales people need to be outgoing, IT people need to be detail-oriented, and small business owners need to have the ability to deal with people in many different situations.

Owners and managers have to be able to handle pressure and accept accountability, and they must understand how to be a leader — sometimes through strength, sometimes through understanding, and sometimes by just getting the hell out of the way. And everyone in business, and I mean EVERYONE…

…has to have the ability to take constructive criticism and to learn and grow from it.

If you are reading this post, then chances are you are nothing like Samy and Amy. However, do not let the cartoonish nature of this incident overshadow the very real lessons it has for us all.

There are shadows of Samy and Amy scattered throughout many businesses, and wise leaders admit them and address them when they can.


This post contains screen captures from the copyrighted Fox show Kitchen Nightmares. It is believed that use of these materials qualifies as fair use under United States Copyright Law. If you are the holder of this copyright and object to its use, please contact us at info <at> customersthatstick.com.


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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