main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
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 him to. 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 counsellor 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 swearing a blue streak, 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 somesuch, 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?
  • Berserk Button: Robert has several:
    • Canned or frozen food. One of the quickest ways to tell when a restaurant is in trouble is if it's overusing frozen food; it's cost ineffective (fresh food is generally cheaper), rarely, if ever, of good quality, and is frequently used as a crutch by chefs who either don't know how or are unwilling to make things themselves. He looked like he was going to have a stroke when he realized that one chef's "family recipe" barbecue sauce mostly came from a bottle.
    • Oversized menus as well. He always seems to cut the menu to one page or maybe two. One establishment had 400 (!) items on its menu. Another restaurant had over 200, including 32 different steak dishes
    • 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 Mc Shane's - that he was literally on the verge of walking out and refusing to do the mission.
    • Do not imply that Robert intentionally messes up your restaurant for show. He will be very quick to correct you.
    • Certain design elements always get Robert's goat: carpets, tablecloths, fake plants, and Christmas lights are always among the first things to be torn down and thrown out during the design phase. They went to town incorporating every single one of his pet peeves into the set design for the 100th episode special.
    • Another one is owners not knowing their finances at all, which is amazing really. Robert was particularly astonished when this was the case with Grace's Place Bagels and Cafe, whose co-owner, Eddie, is a math teacher; and at Scrimmages, which kept no organized records of money despite one of the co-owners being a professional accountant.
  • Big "OMG!": Robert's reaction upon learning that the chef at Frankie's in Three Rivers, Michigan cooks 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 calls one of the owners on this when she claims that people come just to eat the mac'n'cheese, and Robert asks her why, if people come to eat it, the restaurant's failing. She does 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. Reading it took the owner over 20 minutes.
  • 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: In the Sweet Tea (in Chapin, South Carolina) episode, Robert rates the liver pudding a -10 on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I Call It Vera: Robert refers to his sledgehammer as "Robert's Rabble-Rouser".
  • Catchphrase: Robert has a few:
  • 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.
  • Crossover:
    • 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.
  • Customers 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Follow the Leader: Just as Restaurant: Impossible was inspired by Kitchen Nightmares, several other shows have adopted the same format of "celebrity X saves failing Y", including Spike TV's Bar Rescue, the Travel Channel's Hotel Impossible, and the Food Network's own Restaurant Takeover, Restaurant Stakeout, Mystery Diners, Restaurant Redemption (focusing on Asian restaurants), and most recently, Save My Bakery.
  • Gender-Blender Name: An interior designer Robert frequently turns to is Lynn Kegan, who's a man.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Good Lord, how do they even stay in business?
    • The chefs at Del's would cook their marinara sauce, then cool it by dumping ice into the pot. Not only is this unsafe (as ice machines harbor the kind of bacteria that would grow voraciously in a tomato-based sauce) but it also renders the sauce bland and tasteless. Of course, these are the same "chefs" who would prepare "chicken parmesan" by taking a pre-breaded, precooked chicken patty, adding cheese and their watery sauce, then microwaving it.
    • A big problem with a lot of places seems to be the chef being reluctant to add salt and pepper to their dishes. When called on it the typical response is that they don't want customers who don't like salt or pepper complaining, while ignoring the fact that the food comes out bland and tasteless.
    • The owner/chef at Pollard's in Memphis used a sauce that was handed down from his father. The first ingredient? Bottled barbecue sauce. And to boot, not only did he feel his sauce was better than Robert's in a blind taste test (his wife and daughter picked Robert's), he'd been stubborn enough to keep using it even though his business had been struggling for the past 16 years.
    • The "chefs" at both Sweet Tea of Chapin, South Carolina; and Salt Works II of Wilmington, North Carolina made everything (and we mean everything) from cans and mixes. Robert had to spend parts of both episodes showing them how to make basic stuff like chicken stock and white gravy, because they didn't know how. Of course, their reliance on cans and mixes had rendered the food both expensive and tasteless. Robert even had to tell a proprietor of Sweet Tea that a drinkable "Ginger Iced Tea" does not include whole pieces of raw ginger in the glass!
      • Proving true incompetence, the Sweet Tea "chef" apparently went right back to serving out-of-the-freezer food.
    • Averted with La Stanza in Philadelphia. Lucia came off this way at first, but it was more a case of not knowing what running a restaurant entailed, and her horribly overworked head chef never complaining. Robert spent much of the episode teaching her what she needed to do and how to equitably divide the work with her head chef. The result was a Happy Ending.
      • Same thing at The Chatterbox Cafe in Windham, New Hampshire, where the owner (previously a stay-at-home mom) had absolutely no idea how to manage a staff or run a business, while her oldest son/head chef clearly resented having to run both the kitchen and the front. Robert walked her through how to split responsibilities, hold her staff accountable, and reduce unnecessary costs.
    • The cooking staff at Heather's Country Kitchen get by mainly microwaving frozen packets of food. They have so little knowledge of fresh food that Robert's voice-over narration, when he's showing them new menu items, has to specify he chose recipes that can be done with "their level of skill."
    • Almost all the restaurants you see now have a fair amount of this - about 80-90% of them are making the same mistakes, even though they should have seen the show, and know some of the basic things to look for. The fact that Robert keeps finding dirty kitchens wherever he goes is incredible. If you watched the show, let alone had Robert coming to visit, wouldn't one of the first things you would do is to make sure the kitchen was clean? "Thy kitchen shall always be clean" is only Robert's first, second, and third Commandment.
    • Oddly frequently, the food Robert tries at these restaurants are incredibly bland, with no salt added whatsoever, or in extreme cases like Heather's, no spices at all. Like with Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares, Robert once inquired why they do this but has since stopped asking, as the responses are the same again and again: Either they get a vocal minority who complain about the presence of salt or they themselves have been eating bland food for so long that it's what they're used to.
  • 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. It'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.
  • 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.
  • 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 (as seen in other entries here). 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Robert wants to have a private chat with, they will collectively occupy three-quarters of a table's perimeter with the camera occupying the fourth.
  • Too Dumb to Live: This, and Incompetence, Inc..
    • 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, who 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, of 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 from 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.
  • 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 his now-deceased father's upbringing. Growing up, his father was always Moving the Goalposts with working around the farm—any amount of effort Kerry made, his father rejected it and made 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.
  • 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 

Queer EyeReality TVSnog Marry Avoid
Rescue 911American SeriesRestaurant Stakeout

alternative title(s): Restaurant Impossible
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy