Can I Use Felt Instead Of Paper With Flower Svgs Four Things Investment Firms Can Learn From The Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible

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Four Things Investment Firms Can Learn From The Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible

The premise of Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible is that muscular chef Robert Irvine has two days and $10,000 to save a restaurant from ruin. Some of these restaurants are literally days from closing, and many are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. So desperate are these owners that they invite the often mischievous Irvine to expose their mistakes to a national television audience.

You may be wondering how the Impossible restaurant is related to the investment industry. It turns out that many of the mistakes that new and even seasoned restaurant owners make are the same mistakes that keep investment companies from achieving sustainable success. Ultimately, restaurants are great microcosms for SMEs (small to medium-sized businesses) because they are typically privately owned, operate in individual locations, and employ staff and systems to run day-to-day operations.

Here are four recurring themes from the show that provide valuable lessons for our industry.


Thanks to thoughtful editing and a fast-paced one-hour format, the poor management in most of these restaurants becomes immediately apparent to the viewer. There are owners who are only there for an hour or two each day and expect the bar to run on its own. Conversely, there are owners who practically live in their restaurants and have become so isolated from reality that they no longer realize that bad food/bad service/bad ambiance is killing their business.

A distinct lack of leadership is the common thread. Many episodes feature individuals with no real experience buying a restaurant and then struggling to define a purpose or vision for the business (beyond simple survival).

Menus are often full of dishes that the owner wants or likes, but not necessarily what the market demands. The staff is disorganized and doesn’t perform even the most basic tasks of their jobs (like cleaning, which brings the already tried and tested Irvine into the game). This isn’t always because the staff is incompetent – it’s because owners and management aren’t given clear direction about priorities and expectations.

A leader in any organization must set the tone for that business. Does management articulate and share a common vision and goals for the company? Does the leader foster a culture of calculated risk and innovation, or does he cling to the things that have made him successful in the past? Do employees have clear expectations and are held accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities? Is there a focus on continuous evaluation and improvement?

In a small business, it all has to come from one place: the top.


We’re forced to play many roles in small and medium-sized businesses, but top restaurateurs understand that just because they own a restaurant doesn’t make them great chefs. At the same time, being a fantastic chef does not always mean being a smart entrepreneur.

Several Restaurant Impossible shows feature husband/wife teams who mortgage their homes or use their entire retirement savings to buy a restaurant because one of them “had a dream and is a good cook.” Almost everywhere, these restaurants start losing money from day one because, as they quickly learn, being a good chef is not the same as running a business.

Similarly, private companies in our industry often have management structures determined by ownership stakes as opposed to expertise or ability. The CEO of a portfolio management firm may be the individual who created the portfolio trading strategy. A sales manager may be a consultant who has brought in a large book of business in exchange for equity. But do they have the skills to run a business or manage people? Maybe, maybe not.

When ownership (as opposed to expertise) determines a company’s direction, business decisions regarding management, marketing, technology, and long-term strategy are not always optimal. In the most effective organizations (and restaurants), owners are willing and able to self-assess and empower others to help create a successful business. They know that the key to success is doing what you’re good at and surrounding yourself with great people who are good at the rest.


Like Chef Irvine, we are amazed at the number of failed restaurants on this show that still use paper tickets instead of automated POS (point of sale) software to manage their business. These are the same restaurant owners who don’t know their food costs, their labor costs or their profit margins on certain dishes in the show’s on-camera opening interview. Prices are set arbitrarily, based on competition or “intuition”. Business intelligence is anecdotal (“we seem to be slowest on Wednesday nights, but I’m not sure”).

At one such restaurant, the owners tell Irvin how grateful they are for their catering business, because it’s “the only thing that keeps our restaurant alive.” A cursory review of their financials reveals that the catering business is actually costing the restaurant tens of thousands of dollars a year because of mispricing.

At another restaurant, the owners insist they sell “a lot of beef wellington,” but because they fail to track or understand business analytics, they don’t realize that only long-term customers buy beef wellington and that there aren’t enough long-term customers to sustain the business. Or worse, the beef wellington costs more than the restaurant charges.

How many companies in our industry continue to arbitrarily set fees based on intuition or competitor pricing without considering what it actually costs them to provide services? For firms that charge fees based on client assets under management, are all clients “created equal?” Is a $50 million relationship always more profitable than a $10 million relationship? Can you calculate with reasonable accuracy the total cost of servicing each relationship you have? (This includes your staff time, fees paid to third-party reporting and custody services, customer retention costs, etc.)

Sometimes in the restaurant world, a group that has a $500 meal but holds a table (and eats up the staff’s attention) for three hours is less profitable than three $100 customers who quietly come and go in the same time period.

The reverse can also happen. We’ve all seen or heard the horror stories of customers with relatively small accounts costing hours of productivity with individualized and sometimes unreasonable requests for custom reports or frequent one-on-one meetings.

The bottom line is this: If you don’t track these costs, you can end up attracting customers who cost YOU money at the end of the day, regardless of the revenue they bring to your business. But you’ll never know if your analytics are contained in a few different Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, anecdotal observations, or worse, nothing at all.


Not every failing restaurant featured in Restaurant Impossible is owned by people who are inexperienced or naive. In fact, some of the most unyielding owners on the show have years of experience and have been successful owners of one or more restaurants in the past.

Their most common thinking is, “It worked then, why isn’t it working now?”

One aspect of the show’s $10,000 “makeover” budget is to have a professional designer come in to “refresh” or update the interior of each restaurant. Many of these owners struggle with letting go of clutter and outdated decor, mistakenly believing that 1980s design standards will continue to attract younger or more affluent buyers.

They stubbornly resist changing menus that haven’t been updated in years to reflect different trends in the food industry or in their own communities. In one episode, the owners refuse to consider changing the menu or the decor because both are loved by a handful of longtime customers. The problem is that aside from the weekly visits of these loyal guests, the restaurant is a ghost town.

We in the investment industry are particularly guilty of this phenomenon. The 1980s and 1990s were a great time for this business. With a booming economy and a corresponding stock market, it was a time of prosperity in which elegant and expensive offices were seen as harbingers of success and reliability. We built relationships with potential customers on golf courses and steakhouses. It was almost impossible not to provide clients with healthy performance in their portfolios.

The industry-changing events of 2008 are still felt today, but many companies have failed to adapt to a new and more rigorous view of money management, transparency and wealth itself. The industry is still well behind the technology curve, with software vendors and so-called “robo-advisors” making big inroads while traditional firms (which still make up the majority of the market) are collapsing.

There is a huge investment generation gap, with most studies overwhelmingly showing that Gen Xers and Millennials will not use their parents’ advisors (and for some of the same reasons listed above).


Many restaurants that have heeded Chef Robert Irvine’s advice—and most importantly, continued to adopt his best practices going forward—have reported increased sales and profitability after nearly going out of business. Here are some “ingredients” you can use for your future success:

• Define your company’s goals. Remember, making money is not the goal. This is the result.

• Build company culture around company goals.

• Ensure that every employee in your company – up to and including top management – ​​has defined expectations and responsibilities (some meaning is documented). Share this with everyone in your organization.

• Owners and principals need to be honest with themselves, focus on what they are good at and let others take care of the rest.

• Management and ownership are two different beasts. Successful management of organizations requires talented professionals, regardless of their ownership stakes.

• Make business decisions based on data, not intuition. Find out how much each customer is costing you. Build your pricing models around your costs and the added value you provide. If you build pricing models based solely on what your competitors are doing, you are a commodity.

• Look to the future, not the past. Emulate the leaders in your industry. Harness the power of technology to increase the reach of your message and reduce costs.

• Understand the defining characteristics of the generations that will inherit the Baby Boom wealth. Start now to position yourself as someone who “gets” to these generations.

• And finally, if Robert Irvine ever visits your office, at least make sure everything is clean!

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