Pop Culture

What I Watched Last Night: Restaurant “Fixer” Shows

I rely on The Food Network, The Cooking Channel and HGTV to supply a continuous stream of background noise while I work. Most of the time, the programming is pretty benign, and I even learn a thing or two when I actually pay attention. Recently, I’ve noticed an abundance of shows about broken workplaces and the people who fix them.¬†

I’m not a huge fan of the multitude of other workplace shows, from the cake decorators to the gun makers to the car-fancifiers. (The one exception is Oddities. When that show is on, I can’t turn away.) I’m still on the fence about the fixer shows.

They all follow essentially the same model, which I believe began with professional yeller, Gordon Ramsay. An expert and his/her (but usually his) television crew and team of elves swoop in to help struggling and potentially stupid business owners save their livelihoods.

Restaurant Impossible: Of all of the shows in this genre I watched, Restaurant Impossible is my favorite. I really liked host Robert Irvine’s previous show, Dinner Impossible, and he brings the same energy and discipline which helped him master that show’s challenges to the restaurants he’s trying to save in his new show. He focuses his energy on making over the dining rooms, sussing out the owner’s personal demons and scraping sludge out from under the kitchen appliances.

Restaurant Stakeout: In this series, a Trump-esque fella in a pink tie we’ll call “Big WIllie” fills the restaurant or bar he’s trying to fix with hidden cameras and undercover helpers to catch the staff at their less-than-best. Big Willie’s focus is on efficiency and high quality service, so he initially focuses on the waitstaff, the cooks and the bartenders. To his credit, he eventually puts some of the blame on the poor management that allowed the staff members to perform poorly. Like the next show on my list, some of the patrons and staff have their faces pixelated and some don’t, which implies that the people who appeared on screen had to sign a release form. I’m totally curious how or why some of the, ahem, less professional staff would agree to let the show air them at their worst. Big Willie usually ends up promoting one of the better behaved members of the floor staff to a leadership role. My suspicion is that it’s the man or woman who noticed all the hidden cameras or the giant RV parked out back.

Mystery Diners:¬†Another hidden camera show, Mystery Diners pitches itself to restaurant owners who want to catch their employees doing stupid shit. My issue with this show, or rather with the owners who sign up for it, is that if you can’t figure out your employees are ripping you off without a giant TV crew, you probably should rethink your choice to own a business. Mystery Diners also sends in undercover team members; in the episode I watched, one crew member played a new waitress, one played a beer distributor and one played an extremely difficult customer. Like Restaurant Stakeout, some of the patrons in Mystery Diners were pixelated, but the fella they busted sexually harassing the waitresses and loading a case of beer into his car apparently signed on to be humiliated on TV. Of the three, this one was the hardest to buy as unstaged.

I’ll probably catch more of Restaurant Impossible, but I think I’ll click on by Restaurant Stakeout and Mystery Diners, even as background noise. How about you, readers? Do you watch “fixer” shows? Do you like them?

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

7 replies on “What I Watched Last Night: Restaurant “Fixer” Shows”

I like the Restaurant Impossible one but I feel like the stress is artificially ramped up to a pointless degree. You know, like WHY do you only have 12 hours to reopen? Why not do it over a Mon-Wed and not lose any major weekend business days? Or something.

I actually detested Restaurant Stakeout a hell of a lot more than Mystery Diners. But that doesn’t really say much, because I really didn’t care at all for the latter, either. I wanted to smack “Big Willie” in the face the entire time. And my feeling on watching Mystery Diners was, generally, why the hell is this on television when this seems like a private matter?

But I adore the British version of Kitchen Nightmares, and I like Restaurant Impossible a lot.

I LOVE the British Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (the US version, not so much), and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Tabitha’s Salon Takeovers (or her new show, Tabitha Takes Over), although with her shows, if I made a drinking game out of it, we’d all die from alcohol poisoning if we took a shot every time someone says “step up” or “stepped up”.

I adore Kitchen Nightmares especially the British version and haven’t really gotten into Restaurant Impossible. I liked Dinner Impossible and adore Food Network Star but I like Gordon Ramsay better than Robert Irvine. It helps to have seen him in the British version as its clear he really cares and in the American ones, he seems to not always have as much to work with. Though I still watch all the reruns on BBCAmerica as it works as great background for me.


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