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Restaurant Impossible, Until Communication Begins

The Food Network show Restaurant Impossible makes for a fascinating study in entrepreneurship.


Entrepreneurs apply to be on the show when their business is weeks, or even days, from running out of cash. They're tired and frustrated, and their business is too. They go on Restaurant Impossible when they have nowhere else to turn.


Chef Robert Irvine spends 48 hours with his team helping revitalize the restaurant. He works with the kitchen to improve their menu and food costs, and his design team uses the restaurant owner's $10,000 budget for the show to redesign and refresh the premises.


Many of the businesses were once successful, but the owner (often doubling as the chef) has run completely out of gas. They've lost their passion, and they're generally out of energy. Those restaurants are relatively easy to fix.


Yet one restaurant from this past season had its own unique issue.


A costly communication breakdown


Turnpike's Rest Stop in Spring Hill, Florida was purchased in 2019 by a married couple who had minimal previous restaurant experience (already putting them at high risk). He had spent 25 years as an engine mechanic, and she had a bit of experience serving tables decades ago.


The two planned on turning the restaurant into their retirement venture, but shortly after their purchase the husband was diagnosed with MS and his mobility became limited, quickly putting a halt to their plans.


Thankfully, the couple's daughter happened to be a trained chef and pastry chef, with over 15 years of experience in the restaurant business. They recruited her to come work at the restaurant, where she effectively managed the kitchen.


So why was a restaurant, with a skilled chef, failing so badly?


The communication between the daughter and her parents was terrible.


Without restaurant experience, the owners simply did not know what they did not know. They were unclear on what their food cost should be, or other key nuances of the restaurant operations that keep those businesses afloat.


The daughter, for her part, blamed her parents for most everything that went wrong (as children often do). She expressed frustration that she did not have an ownership stake in the business, and so she ultimately did not make any of the final decisions. Moreover though, she was frustrated that her mother did not understand when she would explain why things were going wrong.


Learning a valuable lesson


Irvine then had the daughter complete an interesting exercise.


He popped the hood on a truck, and had the father instruct his daughter on engine repair from his point of view. While the father no longer able to physically do the work, he could recite exactly what needed to be done to fix the problem.


Except the daughter, who did not spend 25 years working as a mechanic, did not understand any of her father's instructions.


Irvine pointed out that was exactly what was happening with her and her mother - she was giving fast-paced instructions in coded, industry-specific language, and the mother simply did not understand. Their communication breakdown was well-beyond ordinary parent and child scenarios.


It was highly technical, and it almost cost them the business.


A common challenge for professionals


This is a problem that professionals who offer services to the public encounter all the time. When you have a specific, highly technical education, and most of your social circle are colleagues and classmates with the same level of knowledge and experience, it's easy to forget that your clients don't speak the same language.


You may be explaining something that you think is fairly straightforward, but your clients just aren't working with that same vocabulary.


If it looks like they understand, but you can see or hear some hesitation in them, they're likely too shy to admit that they're confused. The onus to make sure they understand is first and foremost on you.


Find ways to explain complex concepts that will resonate with your clients. Use analogies, real life examples, and even pop culture references if you know that they'll connect.


Don't underestimate the intelligence of your clients, but intelligence does not mean that they possess the same knowledge, vocabulary, or experience as you do. The two are entirely different.


Helping someone to understand information that's important to them, and showing them why that information is important, makes you a better professional. It also makes you more valuable as a service provider, and helps establish better client relationships.


Need help breaking things down to a level that your clients can better understand? Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.