Two Men CookingSomehow the Food TV network manages to keep coming up with new television shows about food — and the business of cooking.  On one level the shows are entertainment and a way to pass 30 or 60 minutes.  But on another level, a number of them have lessons that we as business owners can use — regardless of what business we are in.

Here are some lessons from Food TV shows that you can take to heart when starting or running your business — and you don’t have to be in the food business to use them:

Speed is important but not at the expense of the customer experience

Many of the shows feature competitions in a very short deadline.  To win, you have to complete the tasks in time.  In that regard, speed is absolutely necessary.

While speed makes for entertainment and drama, it doesn’t do as much for the end result.   Proper manufacturing processes (i.e., cooking techniques) sometimes fall by the wayside in the rush to finish.  The cooks (i.e., business owners) are harried and occasionally make rookie mistakes, like forgetting to use a necessary ingredient.  More often than not, the product isn’t as high quality as it should be (i.e., it burns, it tastes bad, it looks slapped together).  In short — both speed AND a quality end result are important.  Either can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Lesson:  Yes, you need to be fast to seize market opportunities or they may be lost.  But speed isn’t everything — you have to balance that with delivering a quality product and customer experience.

Communicating your vision to the team is crucial

Cupcakes Wars is a show that features cupcake bakers competing for a cash prize.  In typical fashion they get a short amount of time to make their creations.  Usually there are two or more people on the team to help make and decorate the cupcakes.  This means that the owner of the bakery has to be an organized leader who makes sure the team quickly understands what they will be creating and knows its tasks.  There’s no time for re-work or confusion — otherwise the team will not finish in time. The contestants also get help from a construction crew who builds a display stand on-site for the cupcakes.

Lesson: You have to be able to communicate your creative vision quickly to the team so that they can execute.  Otherwise, you will have re-work and confusion that steals from your company’s ability to succeed.

You have to be a leader and lead

This advice falls into the “everybody knows this – so why does the opposite keep happening?” category.  On a show like Restaurant Impossible, celebrity chef Robert Irvine goes into a failing restaurant with a drill-sergeant approach and in two days turns it around.

Often what he finds are management problems.  Perhaps the owner has checked out mentally — he or she may be there, but is not enthusiastic and engaged.  Employees know it, and soon their attitudes and performance slide because they figure ‘if the owner doesn’t care, why should I?’.   Or the owner won’t delegate or listen to input. The restaurant, which at one time might have been wildly successful, goes downhill.  Many times the underlying causes are family dynamics (resentment and power struggles undermine management), or leadership failures (no one clearly is in charge, or you have the opposite: micromanagement).

Lesson:  To successfully run a business, you have to lead. That means you have to provide guidance and deal with problems, yet give your team the freedom to succeed. Letting the pendulum swing too far in either direction spells disaster.

Don’t miss an opportunity to learn why competitors are better

On one of the shows, Chopped, chefs compete against one another to use weird ingredients within a short time.  It is a test of their creativity.  Occasionally, you will see a chef who looks over at a competitor, sniffs and says “I think mine is much better.”  Now and then, you’ll even see a contestant snicker when a competitor’s dish is being critiqued.

Occasionally that arrogant chef is right, and he or she is indeed better.  But much of the time that prideful chef is the one who gets “chopped” (i.e., eliminated from the next round).  And you wonder if the chef really listens and learns, or whether he or she simply leaves with a closed mind.

Lesson:  Have an open mind, and don’t let your pride or misplaced confidence get in the way.  Really listen to feedback about your own business and also about competitors.  It’s priceless market intelligence.

So there you go — business lessons from watching cooking shows.  Who says TV isn’t educational?