Robert Irvine Explained The Number One Sign A Restaurant Needs His Help

When a restaurant is failing, there are plenty of obvious screams for help, like moldy produce in the walk-in, rodent infestations, mediocre menus and décor, and a series of nasty reviews. But there's something that stands out to Robert Irvine beyond all else: a restaurant without any clear leadership, as he told Insider. In fact, Irvine identifies this issue as a problem that impacts most of the restaurants featured on "Restaurant: Impossible." Without a transparent and clear hierarchy, Irvine questions how a restaurant staff can function, asking, "How do you lead something without direction?" 

Professional kitchens rely on clearly defined roles and stringent obedience to specific responsibilities. A full kitchen staff can include a porter, commis chef, chef de partie, sous chef, and of course, the head chef. But many restaurants lack the staffing and training to fill these roles, which can lead to chaotic meal services. That's one of the reasons why Irvine so values leadership in the back of the house, but he expects leadership to come through all members of the kitchen, not just the head chef.

What Irvine values in leadership

Irvine got his start as a cook for the British Royal Navy, so it's not a surprise that he values strong leadership and clear roles in the kitchen. Speaking about his food, beverage, and philanthropic businesses in an interview with Entrepreneur, he said, "It is a military culture. We stand side by side, back to back, front and center of each other."  But military-style leadership does not mean one supreme leader barking orders. Instead, Irvine calls on "empathetic leadership" as one of his four pillars of success. That's evidently what he tries to transfer to the restaurant owners he works with on "Restaurant: Impossible."

In Season 3, Episode 1, for instance, Irvine helps out a restaurant owner and chef named Sandi, whose eatery is in serious trouble due to a lack of leadership skills, temper control, and accountability. In the episode, Irvine allows the staff to offer both positive and negative criticism to Sandi, which he helps her cope with, and offers advice on how to turn that criticism into action. By the end of the episode, Irvine remarks that he's given her the tools she needs to run the restaurant successfully as a leader and business owner.