Working in the restaurant industry is tough. We might now be getting used to the glamour of gleaming plates and philosophising chefs, but behind the scenes it’s all about graft. The stats don’t lie. Two separate studies from Perry Group International and The Restaurant Brokers concluded that most new restaurants close within a year, and of those that make it through, 70 per cent close after five years.
Nonetheless, despite the fierce competitiveness of the industry, the restaurant business remains full of incompetence. If there's one show that really brought this into focus, it's Gordon Ramsay's collection of culinary horror stories, Kitchen Nightmares. For 11 glorious seasons, Kitchen Nightmares entertained audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and redefined what it meant to run a bad restaurant. However, just what happened to the restaurants which received the Ramsay treatment?
1. Nino’s Italian Restaurant
An episode that will forever go down in reality TV folklore for a dramatic exchange between server Michael and his brother - restaurant owner Nino. After an Oscar-worthy imitation of his brother's management technique, Michael finds himself at the centre of a full-on family feud, worthy of something out of the Godfather. Despite the drama, Ramsay was actually able to turn Nino's sinking ship around, before the family finally retired from the industry in 2016.
2. Amy's Baking Company
It's tough to imagine employers less suited to the world of work than the couple in charge of Amy's Baking Company - an Arizona eatery that puts the "con" in confectionary. Despite advertising a display of beautifully presented pastries, Amy's are shown to bully customers who complain, take money from employees and be in total denial about their lousy food. Marking the first time Ramsay ever walked off a Kitchen Nightmares case, it's little surprise that the restaurant folded in 2015.
3. Peter’s Italian Restaurant
The first business to ever feature on the show, it set the tone for the calamities to come. Once a successful, family-run business, Peter's Italian Restaurant was bled dry by a kleptomaniac, fake-tanned owner more interested in mimicking an extra from Goodfellas than running a restaurant. The episode features brawls, shouting matches and intense discussion over broken freezers. Though Ramsay eventually managed to persuade Peter to clean up his act and take better care of his business, it seems a leopard cannot change its spots. Peter's closed in 2008.
4. Zayna’s Flaming Grill
If there's one thing that Kitchen Nightmares does better than almost any other show, it's family fallouts. Zayna's Flaming Grill is a fine example. At the start of the episode, Ramsay interviews co-owners Fay and her niece Brenda, who both feel that the other should no longer be a part of the business. As you might expect, communication becomes something of an issue over the next 40 minutes. However, having received the Ramsay treatment, Zayna’s Flaming Grill came under new management in 2015. They successfully turned the ship around and are consistently rated as good or excellent on TripAdvisor.
Cooking isn't all about fun and games. In the ninth episode of season one, Ramsay and his crew descended upon the owners of Campania an Italian restaurant in New Jersey, and set about trying to coach the kitchen out of poor financial management and ludicrously unprofessional behaviour. To a certain extent, they succeeded. In 2008, chef Joe was awarded the title of "Best Chef" in the county. That was when tragedy struck. Eight days after selling Campania in 2010, Joe took his own life by jumping off a bridge, allegedly after an extra-marital affair with a waitress at the restaurant.
Some people are just never meant to lead. After inheriting the booming Seascape business from his father, owner and all-round wet blanket Peter was in dire straights when Ramsay arrived. Battling a bullying head chef and disapproving staff members, Ramsay did everything to try and spark some life into his charge - all to no avail. Despite his best efforts, Seascape closed five months after Ramsay left.
7. Luigi’s D’Italia
At first glance, Luigi’s D’Italia seemed like a classic doomed business. Angry family members, stubborn chefs and slack staff all combined in what looked like a perfect storm of uselessness. But, as it turns out, miracles can happen. After enjoying Ramsay's help, the restaurant received a stellar review from a local newspaper and has gone on to open a new location off the back of their newfound success. However tough it may be, it is still possible for a business to wake up from a Kitchen Nightmare.
Clearly, the arrival of the Kitchen Nightmares team is no guarantee of success. Of the combined 105 restaurants across both the British and American versions of the show, a whopping 76 per cent have closed. Only two restaurants of the 22 featured in American seasons one and two have remained open. As tempting as it is to believe in Ramsay's powers of regeneration, success in the restaurant industry is not just a matter of parachuting in a celebrity.
In the end, what Kitchen Nightmares really teaches us is that keeping a bad restaurant afloat is actually incredibly hard. You might find Ramsay objectionable and rude, but no one could deny that this is an industry he knows. If even he can’t find a way to save a struggling business, then it’s tough to see how anyone could have managed it. To that extent, perhaps closure rates don’t really matter. Even if only a handful managed to make a success of themselves, maybe that is the best that we could ever have hoped for.