What Self-Publishers Can Learn From Restaurant Impossible

by | Aug 9, 2011

Have you seen the television show Restaurant Impossible (Food Network)? The star is chef and restauranteur Robert Irvine, a British ex-military type who rescues failing restaurants in a most improbable way.

A typical scenario involves an older restaurant, a couple who have bit by bit drained their life savings, their parent’s money or their children’s college fund to keep the business alive. They are desperate, and have only months before they will have to close the place and lose everything.

Sometimes they opened a restaurant with no experience. Or they are caught in the old ways of doing things, the ones that used to work.

The restaurants are out of date, no longer fresh or interesting to today’s young diners. Sometimes the owners have been depressed for a while and the restaurants are dingy, the kitchens filthy.

Robert to the Rescue

Irvine arrives with 48 hours and $10,000 to transform the restaurant. But the real drama is how he transforms the owners. In the end, the breakneck renovations that go on throughout the night and the creativity of Irvine’s designers and carpenters are less impressive than how he talks turkey with the owners.

Chef Robert puts his finger on the failures, the fantasy and magical thinking, the ignorance, lack of preparation and lack of attention that cause these restaurants to fail.

There is frequently emotional drama involved. After all, the stakes are high, the time is short, the habits are old. Irvine knows that these people need to be shocked into reality. They need to see their situation and take steps to make it better. Although he can help, they need to take the reins themselves.

The biggest problem is to introduce people to new ways of doing things. The owners don’t want to let go. Even though failure is all around them, they would prefer to keep doing what they are doing. Something new is untested, fearful, unknown.

Each episode there’s a “money shot” when Irvine leads the couple, with their eyes closed, into their newly renovated restaurant, the cameras trained on their faces waiting for the incredulous reaction.

There Is Method to the Madness

Within the frenetic activity of Restaurant Impossible Irvine always finds time to get out his flipchart and draw up the items that need attention. He is a master organizer, but watching a lot of these shows can teach you something too.

At each restaurant he emphasizes exactly the same things. Although the reasons for failure are legion, his formula for success is the same:

  • Good attentive service that upsells the customers
  • Fresh, appealing food served attractively
  • Clean and airy decor with focal points to brand the restaurant
  • Marketing to local groups to introduce the new restaurant

So much of this is reminiscent of things we have to do as indie authors. Irvine is brutal when he needs to be to point out the gaping holes in logic or performance that are holding the owners back.

As authors and book marketers we have to be just as ruthless with ourselves. We should be able to articulate what’s behind our book:

  • Who is the book written for?
  • How can I reach those people?
  • Is it the kind of book they buy?
  • How will people learn about the book?

Just as restaurant owners sometimes need to be shocked into a new paradigm to see how their business can flourish by being remade, authors sometimes need to be shocked out of the mode of creative artist and into being a publisher.

While many restaurant owners are clinging to methods that worked 10 or 20 years ago, their restaurant has been left behind. Authors who assume someone else will take responsibility for their book and for their marketing may be living in a world that no longer exists.

At the end of the show hundreds of people pour into the new restaurant to experience the rebirth, and everyone as at an emotional flood. Of course, the owners will have to continue on their own, doing the hard work day after day to make the business succeed.

Just as authors, determined to make their book a success, must go out themselves into the world and do the things that will bring them success. Taking responsibility, keeping your eyes open, being practical about expenses and realistic about your own abilities are all necessary, whether you’re running a restaurant or publishing your own books.

For great human interest and human scale drama, Restaurant Impossible is very satisfying. What will it take to produce the results that will satisfy you?

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. AllanP

    The conversation with the therapist was a virtual psychotherapy. Unlike most psychologists, I was sent a specific offer – https://primetherapist.com/what-does-career-counseling Others sent me long texts in the form of offers which I had no desire, let alone time, to read, understand or pay to be their therapist … I also found most of the therapists to be, to put it mildly, “sad” and very promising. Dmitri himself seemed to me quite bright, energetic people. At least he asked me certain questions which I had not considered before. I think I have enough strength to cope with my problems on my own and one session, which lasted more than an hour, was enough.

  2. Joel Friedlander

    What’s really striking when you watch the program is how people can see what’s happening but are unable to stop doing what they’ve always done.

    This is the equivalent of arguing with the future. You lose every time.

    And Irvine also consistently reminds people they have to reach out to relevant communities, take their marketing to where their customers are. That’s something we need to keep doing, too.

  3. Bev Robitai

    So true, that we have to embrace new technology and ways of doing things. Our writers groups have many older authors who turn pale at the mention of Facebook and Twitter, so we’re setting up a cooperative venture to help promote everyone in one place and take away the fear. Writers working together will find new ways to succeed in the publishing world!

  4. Barbara

    It’s hard to imagine a business that isn’t being changed due to high tech. So many cling to their old ways and are fearful of change. I preach to everyone I can how important it is to embrace technology and stay current. I, for one, do not intend to be left behind!
    Great analogy and article.

  5. Gk

    Very true. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here for any creative business — especially those facing dramatic changes like the publishing industry is now. The good news is that for authors change and experimentation are relatively cheap (as opposed to remodeling buildings, replacing wait staff, etc.). The broad theme is to experiment and adapt ruthlessly whenever you face chaos.

  6. Lois D. Brown

    This is such a great perspective. The show is a blast to watch as well. I’m taking notes next time.



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