Series / Restaurant: Impossible
It's Kitchen Nightmares
... WITH ROBERT IRVINE
! On Food Network
Really, it pretty much is. There are a few differences... Robert has a much tighter time constraint, being about two days, versus the week Gordon Ramsay would typically spend at a restaurant. Robert also has a strict budget of $10,000 as opposed to Gordon spending either no money at all or as much money as the show's producers would allow. In the earlier seasons, Robert also didn't get quite
as into helping the staff with their personal problems, apparently figuring if the restaurant started doing well the rest would sort itself out. Later seasons have changed this aspect, with Robert playing counselor to the dysfunctional families/staff. And so, the formula is almost identical
: the celebrity British chef shows up to a failing restaurant, remarking on the terrible decor when he does. He tries the food, and with near-certainty finds that absolutely everything is dreadful, and usually is either frozen or comes from cans. Upon checking the kitchen, he will almost invariably find it filthy and staffed by people who have either never cooked well, been strangled by incompetent managing, or simply lost their passion and drive. Robert tackles the problems, freaking out along the way. (As opposed to Gordon's tendency to swear quite a lot
, Robert generally prefers to freak out by throwing up his hands and letting out an exasperated yell
.) Now has its own imitator following it directly on the same network, Restaurant Stakeout
Like the UK version and later seasons of the U.S. Kitchen Nightmares
, each episode ends with a short epilogue of how the restaurant was doing after the episode. These are usually rather vague, though, often merely saying that business is "on the mend" or some such, or that the restaurant closed (but not why). The honesty of these is somewhat questionable. One example is the Sweet Tea Restaurant, which according to online reviews went back to having bad service and jacked up their prices the day after
Robert left, soon went to a buffet, and eventually closed, none of which is mentioned in the original ending blurb or edited in reruns. Eventually, the epilogues were replaced by pointers to the website, which usually contains follow-up interviews with the owners along with a longer update. For what it's worth, Robert himself has said their success rate is around 75%.
Provides examples of:
- Aesop Amnesia: Robert will invariably do everything possible to yank open everyone at the restaurant's skulls and brand three things on their brain: consistency of food, good service, and immaculate cleanliness. Now go and look up any restaurant he's been to on a review site. Chances are near 100% that they will have forgotten the importance of at least one of these, if not all three.
- Anti-Climax: A common event during each episode is that Robert will usually break down a wall with his trusty golden sledgehammer, much to the annoyance of his builder Tom Bury. At Michele's, Robert and Tom found a wall that they both wanted to knock down, and for the first time they both grabbed a sledgehammer and prepared to demolish it cooperatively. It fell down after only a couple of swings. Afterwards, the two stood in silent disappointment at how effortless it was.
Robert: That wasn't much fun, was it?
- Asian Rudeness: Robert ran headfirst into this at Spicy Bar & Grill, where employees Jenny and Natalie made snarky, defiant remarks at Robert—at least until Robert forced the owners to fire Jenny, which got Natalie in line.
- As You Know: When Robert speaks to his builder and designer about the mission, he'll inevitably repeat the fact that they only have "2 days and $10,000" to finish the job.
- Berserk Button: Filthy kitchens. "YOU'RE GONNA KILL SOMEONE!" In the El Bistro episode, he was so outraged at the sheer filth of the entire restaurant - which was just about as bad as Rascals or McShane's - that he was literally on the verge of walking out and refusing to do the mission.
- Big "OMG!": Robert's reaction upon learning that the chef at Frankie's in Three Rivers, Michigan cooked pizza with raw beef.
- Blatant Lies: Like Kitchen Nightmares, when someone says the kitchen's cleaned regularly or that lots of people come in for some dish Robert's just slagged. Robert actually called one of the owners on this: when she claimed that people came to her restaurant just to eat the mac'n'cheese, Robert asked her why, if people came to eat it, the restaurant was still failing. She did a rather good impression of a fish trying to come up with a reply.
- Boredom Montage: Robert in one episode where he had the owner read the restaurant's 180+ item menu aloud in order to hammer home the point of why an outsized menu is bad for customers. It took the owner over 20 minutes to finish reading it.
- Break the Haughty: Robert generally spends the first day discovering the issues at the restaurant and forcing the owners and staff to face up to them. Then the second day is about fixing the issues and teaching some new recipes or techniques. When people refuse to admit that the problem might be with them, that first day can amount to this trope.
- Broke the Rating Scale: During the Sweet Tea (in Chapin, South Carolina) episode, Robert rated the liver pudding a -10 on a scale of 1 to 10.
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The head chef of Cave Inn BBQ calls himself a "culinary chemist," never a "chef." He does get referred to as an "executive chef" though.
- Cassandra Truth: Many to most owners and chefs simply refuse to admit there's anything actually wrong with their restaurants, making one wonder what they actually expected Robert to do (other than maybe buy them some new stuff for ten thousand smackers). Very, very rarely Robert will encounter someone who easily accepts all his criticisms and admits they didn't know what they were doing and needed someone to tell them.
- If what Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares puts up with is indicative of what Robert Irvine has to put up with, many of these owners think the host is going to scamper about the area and give the restaurant some free publicity so the local populace can be aware of how amazing their food is and become the talk of the town.
- Chef of Iron: Robert is a Royal Navy veteran. On top of it all, he's buffed and cut enough to look like he could kick your ass with ease.
- Companion Cube: It was revealed in the "making-of" episode that the Restaurant: Impossible team kept a taxidermied fox from the Snooty Fox episode (from Indianapolis) when they were cleaning out the restaurant and turned it into their mascot. It travels with the power tools they use in remodels, and gets dressed up periodically.
- Continuity Nod: In the Thanksgiving Episode, he brings his two sous chefs to help complete two services: one (at the request of Newark Mayor Corey Booker) to cook up 175 pre-made dishes for another soup kitchen, and the other for the regular dinner service.
- Even better. In that same episode, Robert deliberately invokes that "garbage can turkey" trick from the Dinner: Impossible days.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: Some of the cooks wind up being this, either through ignorance of how to actually do it or through unsafe food handling.
- A liquor-infused variation of this with the proprietress of Cray Eatery: She had enjoyed infused liquors while visiting bars in southeast Asia and had done the same thing in her bar, except her "infusions" consisted of putting food items like garlic and rosemary into a big container of liquor and letting them sit there for YEARS at a time. Even her employees thought they tasted disgusting. When Robert emptied out the containers, most of the added ingredients had long since rotted and/or grown moldy (consumer-strength liquor retards mold growth but does not prevent it). Part of Robert's upgrades consisted of showing her how to properly infuse flavors into liquor and store the resulting concoctions.
- A weird version of a crossover with his other show Dinner: Impossible. Granted, Robert is no longer producing Dinner: Impossible, but certain episodes bring this into the show itself. Two examples: Thanksgiving 2011 (in Newark) and the Christmas Special 2012 (in Joplin, Missouri).
- One episode of Robert's other show Restaurant Express involved him challenging his contestants to turn a failing restaurant around in Restaurant Impossible fashion.
- Deadpan Snarker: At the Green Berets Cafe, Mikki constantly made disparaging remarks about Robert Irvine's cooking, namely in how complicated and/or slow she perceives it to be, despite Misty, the chef, being all for it. Mikki constantly muttered to Misty (and sometimes whispering in her ear) about how they'll throw away the food, to go buy the ingredients pre-made in a store, or how she hates some of the ingredients Robert was using. Mikki completely ruined the mood, and for the first time, everyone left the kitchen with Robert's food uneaten. It was so bad that the producer had to intervene about why Mikki was so negative, with a further talk by Robert later. Her opinion turned around during the final dinner service, however, when she found out the kitchen crew was able to create Robert's food at an acceptable speed with good reception by the customers all around.
- Death Glare: At Mike La Susa's Italian Restaurant, any time Robert asks Mike a question about his opinions, Mike's mother Mary shoots one at him, as if she's telling him, "You'd better say what I want you to say."
- Deconstruction: Mama Della's New York Pizzeria seems to be what would happen if there was a real Soup Nazinote —the owner's drop-of-a-hat temper, his inflexibility (bad for pizza when you cannot customize, ignoring even health or religious reasons), and his Control Freak personality scares away most of his potential customers and caused his son to resent him so much that the two split apart as mutual enemies. His restaurant wound up struggling because he was unable to compete with pizzerias that have popped up more recently offering better service and because he has been repeatedly slammed online for his attitude problems. His staff has also dwindled as they could not put up with him as their boss, leaving him doing most of the work by himself (and, being one person, the dining area is left dusty and dingy). His food also used to be good, but they've taken a nosedive due to a combination of pride and lack of drive.
- Downer Ending: Whenever the restaurant winds up closing despite the efforts of Robert, his team, and the staff.
- Valley View Restaurant in Quarryville, Pennsylvania closed even before its episode aired.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Robert definitely comes across this way when the heat's on. It helps that he started his career in the British Navy.
Robert: Sorry, but when you asked me to come here, you got the Wrath of Me. And I don't care who likes me and who doesn't. I'm here to do my job.
- Drinking on Duty: The owner of Zoog's Caveman Cookin' had a particularly bad case of this, drinking the equivalent of a keg of his restaurant's beer each week. Robert didn't learn this until near the end of the first day, when the owner's daughter told him, and said her father demanded that nobody mention it.
- Drop the Hammer: Robert loves to wield his sledgehammer when clearing out the restaurants, sometimes to the horror of his designers. In the 100th Episode Special, it was revealed that he has gone through at least 40 different sledgehammers because his designers get so frustrated that they keep hiding them or throwing them away.
- Dualvertisement: He often brings an HGTV designer every week. And he makes sure everyone knows it.
- As the series has gone on, there have also had many closeups of the HGTV paint cans as they open them.
- Dumb Blonde: One of the waitresses Robert tried to train. She knew nothing about anything on the menu, repeatedly shrugged Robert off, clearly didn't understand him but still agreed to shut him up, complained that she didn't see why she should have to try the food or say she liked the food at the restaurant she worked at, and was even admitted by her boss as "not liking to work too hard". It wasn't exactly a shock to learn that the restaurant that was still employing her closed despite Robert's efforts.
- Dysfunctional Family:
- The La Susas at Mike La Susa's—Mike is supposed to be the owner and head chef but has his hands tied by his mother Mary, who runs the place from behind the scenes with an iron fist while Mike's father Pat is Mary's Yes-Man. Mary hates having any changes to the menu and resists everything Robert tries to propose. Both of them threaten Mike on a daily basis of shutting the restaurant down if he goes against their ways. Due to years of this psychological abuse, Mary and Pat had pulverized out of Mike his confidence and his passion for cooking (he had previously gone to culinary school and was an executive chef before this restaurant). Robert's only way of solving this restaurant's problems was to separate Mike from Mary and Pat, as there was no way Robert could rekindle Mike with his parents present.
- The Portu-Greek Café was under threat of being torn apart by fights within the family that run it. The father was so overbearing and adamant whenever he would make a decision that some of his children gave up making decisions themselves. He was also so bent on staying at the restaurant every waking hour that he practically kept his family imprisoned within the restaurant. His attitude, and the effects it had on his family, really came to Robert's attention when his team-building activity failed to unite them, with Robert noticing they "solved" his scenario unusually quickly and that a few of them only watched and never participated.
- Epic Fail: The designer for the Woody's episode decided to order concrete tabletops. Not only did they barely come in on time, but they couldn't cut them down and had to seal them because concrete is a porous surface against regulations. There's a reason why Nicole was rarely ever seen on the program afterwards.
- Face Palm: Robert does one after hearing from Tony Aponte, of Aponte's Pizzeria, after finding out Tony took a loan at 30% interest. It doesn't matter what kind it is; 30% interest is suspiciously high.
- Gender-Blender Name: An interior designer Robert frequently turns to is Lynn Kegan, who's a man.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Despite the show's TV-G rating, "damn", "hell", and in rare cases "pissed" often are used.
- Ghibli Hills: Quite often, there are quick shots of the beautiful wilderness just outside the town Robert is in. This is most often used in the Establishing Shot or when Robert is traveling a substantial distance mid-episode. This is a trait the series shares with Kitchen Nightmares.
- Happy Dance: Robert tends to react like this after eating something he really likes, particularly when demonstrating a recipe he wants to teach the restaurants owners.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: The entire waitstaff at Spicy Bar & Grill seemed to comprise of them when Robert walked in, which says more about the owners and their methods of hiring than the ladies themselves.
- Heroic Build: Robert brings the gun show every week, and so does his construction manager Tom! See also: Mr. Fanservice.
- Hidden Depths: If you saw Robert Irvine on the street, would the first thought that comes to your head be that he's probably a chef?
- I Call It "Vera": Robert refers to his sledgehammer as "Robert's Rabble-Rouser".
- Intimidating Revenue Service: The Zoog's Caveman Cookin episode was interrupted when an IRS agent arrived to demand payment for back taxes, piling on yet another issue on the restaurant that already included a filthy decor, horrible food, and an alcoholic owner.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- While both physically and mentally intimidating, Robert is quite friendly with children (even if they're disruptive to the dining experience). Also, see the Christmas episode. He's this for the owners as well, as he really does want to help the restaurant succeed, and acting the way he does is the only way he can make enough of an impression in only two days to stand a chance of effecting lasting change.
- Robert ran into two of these at the Green Berets Cafe: Mikki, the owner of the restaurant; and the colonel, who oversaw the premises the restaurant was on. Both of them were rather frosty to Robert for the same reason: They were afraid the Restaurant Impossible crew would not pay the Green Berets proper respect. Robert earned the colonel's respect by attending the following morning's physical training exercises as a demonstration of his dedication, and Mikki was overjoyed that Lynn, the interior designer, put up a monument in the corner dedicated to the Green Berets who have trained in the area, past and present. For the case of Mikki, it was not entirely clear why she disliked Robert so much until she saw the monument.
- Kill It with Fire: The grill at Coffee's Boilin' Pot in Madisonville, Louisiana was so caked with old grease they had to burn it off - Robert was clear that you should only do this as a last resort, and only if you are standing right there with something to put it out if it goes out of control.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: Kerry hands over his share of ownership of the Country Cow to his ex-wife Jennifer, acknowledging that he wasn't cut out to run a restaurant and hoping she can run it better than him.
- Large Ham: Robert can be pretty over the top, especially on Day 1 as he tries to convince the owners that they need to change. His bellow can also often be heard floors away.
- At Pappa's in Benicia, California, he dumped all the food he was served onto the floor. He admitted immediately he didn't mean to go quite that far.
- Left Hanging: Robert never actually finds out the real story between Mike and his sisters at Mamma Lucrezia's, only getting as far as a truce, which may or may not be kept.
- Lethal Chef: Can literally be so if food isn't handled properly (i.e. kept warm or cold enough or kept out all day) and an oft-repeated Catch-Phrase of Robert's is declaring that "You could kill someone!"
- Lethal Eatery: You wonder how some of these places weren't shut down before the camera crews arrived.
- Lighter and Softer: Of Kitchen Nightmares, to a degree. Robert tends to take a gentler approach than Gordon Ramsay, though he can definitely go to town on a luckless restaurant owner or staff member if something pushes a Berserk Button. Also, Robert has a livelier sense of humor than Gordon, who tends to be very intense and serious, and doesn't swear nearly as much.
- Malevolent Architecture: The front of Aponte's was a wooden trellis fence, and behind it seemed to be a labyrinth leading to the front door with at least two nonfunctional doors and misleading signs. Robert and Cheryl both had problems finding their way in with Robert getting second thoughts by the second locked door. No wonder hardly anyone steps inside to eat.
- Manly Tears: Kerry from Country Cow breaks down in cathartic tears when Robert sympathizes with the situation between Kerry and his late father, whom Kerry could never please.
- The Mean Brit: Robert can very much come off as this, though he's always quick to say that he's just trying to help.
- Nepotism: One restaurant has a pretty bad case of this with one of the owner's granddaughters working there and getting away with things that would get anyone else fired.
- This has cropped up in a few episodes. Oddly, grandchildren seem to be the more common recipients of this than children.
- Never My Fault: Many restaurant owners refuse to accept the issues of the restaurant as their fault, instead blaming them on the staff or other circumstances. For example, the owner of Paliani's has a tantrum as she complains that the staff should just accept their jobs and stop complaining, and is outright offended that she has to take her two-year-old son elsewhere. The issue is that A) everyone agreed that she had no leadership skills, causing mayhem in the kitchen, and B) her son Nico was loud, disruptive, and an annoyance to the customers, mostly because she left him completely unattended.
- No OSHA Compliance: Many of the restaurants seem to ignore or are just unaware of many health and safety regulations, such as serving spoiled food, not labeling ingredients correctly, having all manner of grime, insects, and rats in the kitchen. It is a wonder these places weren't sued for poisoning their customers.
- Oh, Crap!: The looks on the design team's faces when Robert grabbed a sledgehammer and put a large hole in a wall he wanted removed, and that they'd told him was full of plumbing and electrical equipment. One designer actually screamed - understandably, though.
- Offscreen Villainy: "Villainy" might be too strong a word, but one episode had an owner with a habit of verbally abusing and demeaning his wife and employees, but we don't actually see him do it during the episode (probably because Robert's around).
- Once an Episode: In the earlier episodes, Robert would gather the restaurant staff around his paper board and outline the bullet points of everything he needs to do. Actually, it's a callback to Dinner: Impossible.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: While visiting the Cocomoda chocolate shop, the arrogant inflexible owner and head chef proved to be such a problem that Executive Producer Marc Summers decided to come out of the production vehicle and sit everyone down. You know the situation's bad when it manages to piss off Marc Summers. See that part here.
- Railroading: On more than one occasion, Robert has forced his designers to remove or modify a wall by smashing a hole in it with his sledgehammer.
"Now you've got to make a hole in the wall somewhere, because there's a big hole in it."
- In a 2014 episode, Tom got very upset when Robert smashed a wall adjoining the entrance, only to be brought up short when Taniya (the designer for that episode) came up, saw what had happened and reacted ecstatically.
- Retool: Starting in Season 12 the show changed format, with Robert & co. "ambushing" owners by showing up to the restaurant unannounced.
- The Reveal: At the end of every episode, the owners see the redesigned restaurant for the first time.
- Sadist Show: Yep, just like its big sister Dinner: Impossible. Except that you now get to see the restaurant owners getting chewed out, as well as Robert's own frustration.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
- One of the cooks at the Wagon Wheel, who is the owner's grandson, quits because he's lost his passion for working there. He's been habitually late — by as much as 2 1/2 hours — for his shifts. He'd gotten away with his constant tardiness because his grandmother wasn't able to separate family from the business. (Her daughter and granddaughter also work there; the daughter decided to stick around when faced with a similar decision, while the granddaughter is studying business in college anticipating taking it over someday.)
- This has happened more than once, especially for servers/staff very low on the totem pole, have already decided that they're not cut out for the industry long before Robert ever shows up or just doing the job for supplemental income and decide that Robert's berating or putting up with the restaurant's poor management just isn't worth sticking around for. Since these low-level people aren't the type of staff the show's going to feature or interview individually, it's mostly noticeable by paying attention to which faces disappear between Day 1 and when everybody gathers for the Big Reveal. Comparing the episode with the restaurant's "About" or "who's who" web page, if available, will often reveal this too.
- At Mike La Susa's, Robert confronted the eponymous chef's father Pat, who alongside his wife had been chewing out Mike constantly the first day. Pat's response was to leave the meeting and drive home in his car. He was not seen again for the remainder of the episode, not even for the unveiling of the new interiors, which everybody attached to the restaurant normally at least attends.
- Self-Deprecation: At Pomona Golf & Country Club, Robert Irvine invited the owners to vent their frustration by golfing at a cardboard target with Robert's picture on it.
- Sibling Rivalry: Mamma Lucrezia's was getting torn apart by Maria and Stefania, two sisters and co-owners who had different ideas of how to run the place. On top of that, their brother Mike opened a restaurant across the street, something he apparently did solely to spite them.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Skip, of Cave Inn BBQ, initially refuses to cook five dishes all at once and apparently wears a red jacket to stand out from the black-clad workers. He also, for much of the affair, believes he can juggle being the head chef of a restaurant in Florida and being a writer in Hollywood perfectly fine when it became evident that he is only good at something if he focuses solely on that one thing.
- Social Semi-Circle: If there are two or more people with whom Robert wants to have a private chat, they will collectively occupy three-quarters of a table's perimeter with the camera occupying the fourth.
- Spiritual Successor: Of Dinner: Impossible.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- When you've lost most of your senses of taste and smell putting out the Gulf War oil fires, you probably shouldn't be cooking. (An actual chef Robert met in one episode had that problem. His food was about 90% salt.)
- Several owners have gone right back to their crappy recipes since Robert left. In particular, the staff at Coffee's Boilin' Pot was cooking their boil for the day in the morning, then dumping ice right into the pot to cool it down to safe temperatures, rendering it all diluted and tasteless. Even after Robert showed them a workable method of boiling to order (by divvying up uncooked ingredients into small cheesecloth bags to cook when needed), they went right back to their old way.
- The owner of Rascal's in New Castle, Delaware, had an obvious hoarding problem. Robert worked with him, dunged out his horrid back patio and spent thousands to get his disgusting kitchen properly cleaned. The owner responded by telling local media that Irvine had planted fake mouse droppings in the kitchen (while not bothering to deny the thirteen dead mice Robert's cleaning crew found). Several months later, the hoarding problem returned and the Health Department shut the place down.
- There are four owners of Scrimmage's, a restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware, only one of whom is at the restaurant more than once per week. Two of the others are simply investors and the last an accountant, under the impression that if they just throw enough money at the restaurant, everything should fix itself. The accountant was somehow not keeping track of how much money was going in and out of the restaurant and was given advice from Robert, for whom accounting is far from his best talents, on how to do so; prior, he was simply guesstimating. By the end of the episode, the lesson learned by the investors? Visit the restaurant once per week and have more meetings. The owner who was at the restaurant every day (and had been before Robert showed up) was the only one who learned any cooking or serving techniques.
- Very Special Episode:
- One year, at Christmastime, Robert's team renovated not a commercial restaurant but the struggling kitchen of a homeless shelter, more than doubling the number of meals they would be able to provide to the local needy.
- Wedding Impossible also qualifies for this designation - Robert took charge of the arrangements for his own wedding, to professional wrestler Gail Kim. It was both beautiful and entertaining; plus, fans got to see Robert visit with his two daughters, who flew to America to be their new stepmother's bridal attendants.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: One Latin fusion restaurant Robert visited mistakenly believed this, with a menu that was authentic but virtually indecipherable due to the large number of technical and obscure ingredients listed. Robert pointed out that while he, as a trained chef, could read it, there was almost no chance that the average customer could be able to tell what the food was without a good deal of explanation.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: Robert came close at both Rascal's and McShane's (particularly at the latter when Robert found both decomposing beer spilled in the cooler and copious mold growth on the inside of the soda gun). And then it finally happened for real in the Anna Maria's episode when Robert moved an appliance in the kitchen and discovered everything from rotted bread to cutlery, and Robert flat out admitted this had never happened before.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: From Country Cow, Kerry's negative faults turn out to center almost entirely around him attempting to erase the guilt from the way his now-deceased father raised him. Growing up, his father was always Moving the Goalposts with working around the farm; any amount of effort Kerry made, his father would reject it and make him work harder. This turned him into a workaholic and an introvert, spending his days at his restaurant trying to do as much of it as he could by himself and furious that other people don't step in to help him without him having to tell them. He really started feeling bad when he was unable to attend his father's funeral and had since decorated the interior with various keepsakes of his father's.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The designers' reactions, more often than not, when Robert suddenly smashes a hole into a wall to have it removed, adding to the workload. Especially if they're already tight on time to begin with, or if they're electrical equipment and plumbing within said wall.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: Goombazz Big City Eatzz. Robert Irvine's first question upon meeting the owners was why they named their restaurant as such.note