Crosses the Line Twice: Even in a series made of incompetent/ill-tempered restauranteurs, there are some examples that truly stand out:
During the "Burger Kitchen" episode, the owners are an elderly couple and their adult son Daniel. Over the course of the episode, it is revealed that the restaurant was opened after Daniel's grandfather (the husband's father) had passed away, leaving a sizable inheritance to his son and grandson. The grandfather had left his grandson's portion of the inheritance in a trust which the son used as start-up capital for the restaurant, without his own son's knowledge or permission. Basically, Daniel was presented with a fait accompli and felt he had no choice but to go along with it, despite not having any interest in being a restauranteur, taking on a job as a kitchen manager. On top of that, the restaurant itself was in dire financial straits, with his parents constantly coming to him for further funds to meet payroll, not keeping accurate books as far as his initial and continuing contributions to the restaurant fund, belittling his fiancée when she volunteers her time to help him out, and constantly stonewalling him when he comes to them wanting official documentation about his 50% share in the business. The best they do is a handmade document printed from a home computer that looks like the legal equivalent of an I.O.U. written on a cocktail napkin. The overall situation, and resulting discord, was so great that the result became one of the few two-part episodes in the entire series.
Wendy, Daniel's girlfriend in the Burger Kitchen episode, fit this for being the only one supporting him and calling his parents out on their abusive behavior.
Mama Mary from the Blackberry's episode has quite a lot of fans and sympathizers due to funding the restaurant out of her retirement fund, calling her daughter out for rejecting Ramsay's help and walking out during their dinner service, and being grateful to Ramsay (in contrast to her daughter). Being able to make food that Ramsay likes doesn't hurt much either.
Steven, the affable waiter from the Black Pearl. He got along exceedingly well with Gordon, and even returned to talk about the Black Pearl shutting down in one of the Revisited episodes...causing an hilarious awkward-silence moment with Gordon.
Rami from Oceana was quite well-liked and sympathized (especially by siblings who have overbearing older ones) due to being the more reasonable sibling, and trying to rein his more arrogant older brother to listen to Gordon Ramsay. He also got along well with Ramsay, and listened to his advice and words. It's also telling when Ramsay left for the first day to sort things out, he hugged Rami, while he just left Moe. His snark and how he tricks Moe to just accept Ramsay's words was also pretty hilarious.
Follow the Leader: At this point, it seems safe to say that Ramsay's show has created its own little genre:
Food Network's Restaurant: Impossible is point-for-point almost identical to this show, the only major difference being that Impossible is hosted by the much more compassionate but more overtly violent (and English) Robert Irvine.
Spike TV's Bar Rescue, where an expert bar manager comes to the aid of failing bars and does not hesitate to chew the owners or employees out. The real differences between that show and Kitchen Nightmares is that the host goes to bars rather than restaurants, the show emphasizes more of the science of what goes on to help improve the bar and its employees, and that he's American, not British.
Another Spike TV show, Tattoo Rescue has tattoo expert Joey Tattoo and his cousin Sammy rescuing and renovating failing tattoo shops. Every episode there's a competition for the employees, and the winner gets a prize.
Bravo's Tabatha Takes Over , where an expert hair salon owner aids failing beauty salons. The eponymous Tabatha, though Australian rather than British, is similarly harsh.
Another Australian, cake and pastry expert Kerry Vincent, hosts the new Food Network series Save My Bakery, in which she visits failing bakeries across America and resusticates them in a manner similar to Restaurant: Impossible, with the addition of a tea party about halfway through each episode in which she hashes out the establishment's problems with the owners.
Hotel Hell is a spin-off of Kitchen Nightmares, and also stars Gordon Ramsay, but it also follows both UK Channel 5's Hotel Inspector and The Travel Channel's Hotel Impossible.
Duane "Dog" Chapman and his wife Beth have a show in the works where they will travel the country fixing troubled bail bonding businesses.
Another Food Network series, Restaurant Stakeout, follows the Kitchen Nightmares format pretty closely, but uses hidden cameras (as opposed to the physical on-site presence of host/restaurant owner William Jack Degel). Another interesting difference is that Restaurant Stakeout almost always focuses on problems with the front of the house. As with Kitchen Nightmares, the owners invariably say "I know the problem isn't with the food." On Kitchen Nightmares, this is almost always incorrect; on Restaurant Stakeout, the statement is almost always taken at face value.
Yet another Food Network seriesMystery Diners. The show focuses more on sting operations and rooting out employees rather than judging the food. Also the shows are only around a half-hour instead of a whole hour. However the show is a lot more formulaic than the others.
TLC also gives us Buddy's Bakery Rescue (which appeared as a an episode of Cake Boss called ''Bakery Boss''), which is similar to Save My Bakery, but it features Buddy of Cake Boss fame.
Growing the Beard: While few people have argued that the US version is outright bad, most agree that Season 3 was a marked step up from the previous two, due to the postscript sequences that show whether Ramsay's efforts actually counted for anything in the end (perhaps surprisingly, just to be fair, they have shown several instances where they didn't), along with a more diverse selection of restaurants rather than the bistros and Italian restaurants that Seasons 1-2 tended to focus on.
Harsher in Hindsight: During Gordon's visit to Campania, he warned that the business was about to "float down the Hudson River". Cut to a few years later, when owner and head chef Joseph Cerniglia's body was recovered from the Hudson River after a suicidal jump off the George Washington Bridge. Unsurprisingly, this episode is not aired any more.
The owner of Cafe Hon trademarked the word "hon" and tried to sue or C&D anyone in Baltimore who used it commercially (including the city itself), which led to a negative reputation of her and her restaurant. It's practically identical to what the Fine Brothers on Youtube would do years later with the word "react".
Ho Yay: Palpable in the Chiarella's episode between Gordon and the troubled but fundamentally sweet owner, Tommy. When Gordon saves the day, there is much hugging, mutual admiration and Tommy even kisses him on the cheek when they part company. It's ramped right up though in the revisited episode, where Tommy shows off his bench-pressing skills in his basement gym before telling Gordon he loves him when he finally leaves, after finding out that Gordon has part-funded his badly needed liquor license. Aww!
David Blaine, the (initial) head chef of the Burger Kitchen. While he engaged in some major Jerkass behavior, such as repeatedly accusing one of the owners of being bipolar and then semi-seriously threatening to hit one of the others (resulting in him being fired midway through the two-parter), it was clear that he was a pretty talented chef who had been hamstrung by the owners' obsession with using frozen Wagyu burgers, and had been working for several months without pay. He was also the tenth chef that had left Burger Kitchen. Despite his nastiness, many of the points he made about the family's inability to run a restaurant were correct.
From the same episode there's Daniel: his own bad attitude makes it hard to feel sorry for him when David threatens him; but when one remembers he was forced into a job he didn't want after his father stole $250,000 from him, it's hard to blame him for being so bitter.
The owner's husband in the Fiesta Sunrise episode comes off as aggressive and confrontational with the manager (to the point of almost starting a fistfight on camera), but it is revealed that not only is he paying his own bills, but he is putting money into the restaurant to keep it from failing and even paying the manager's bills because of the manager's incompetence.
The family in the Kebab Room - the children don't have any money, and are working at the restaurant for free, seven days a week, and the stress and suppressed resentment really shows in how they treat each other.
The UK series has Alan Love and Nick Anderson, owners of Ruby Tate's and Rococo respectively. Both were reliving past glories that left them stuck in the past and unable to move on. Both proved to be rather egotistical (Alan in particular was flat-out manic), uncooperative, and resistant to any changes to their restaurant. They also were both looking at foreclosure and homelessness. Both men broke down in tears on camera talking about the failures of their restaurant.
Trevor, the former head chef from the Mangia Mangia episode. He starts out being shown as a cocky, indifferent, incompetent (and often violent) prat with a bad attitude, but he evidently caves in and tearfully admits his chronic depression and addiction to crystal meth after a particularly bad service (during which Janelle screamed at him that his life didn't matter and that he would be better off dead), culminating him in him being sent to Drug Rehab, paid for by Ramsay on the condition that the owner at least considers rehiring him after he cleans up.
Memetic Mutation: "This is all ROTTEN!" Typically with as thick a Scottish accent as possible.
Nightmare Fuel: Some of the kitchens are filled with rotten food (Dillon's and Fiesta Sunrise in particular, both of which also had insects crawling around everywhere), which is not only disgusting but very dangerous given that poorly prepared food can kill you, or at least make you very sick. (This happened in one episode when a customer had a rotten lobster, and in the UK pilot where Gordon threw up after eating a rotten scallop and flat out told the owners it could've killed him.)
Suspiciously Similar Song: In the Dillon's episode, Gordon suits up as a steam cleaner in a uniform with equipment that almost looks like something out of Ghostbusters. The upbeat synthesizer music accompanying the scene is obviously a nod to Ray Park Jr.'s Ghostbusters theme song.
The American version includes the usual reality tropes (excessive use of flashbacks, cheesy and continuous background music, and replacing Gordon with the narrator from The Dog Whisperer). Most importantly, Gordon no longer has exclusivity on deploying Cluster F Bombs.
Several restaurant owners say this about Gordon's changes. As it turns out, they make the place better more often than not.
Many of the owners in the American version are clueless, but Moe from Oceana is truly something special.
One example among many: after Moe revealed that he refused to write down his recipes because he was afraid of other restaurants stealing them, Gordon calls him a "busy idiot" — somebody who spends all his time worrying about the wrong things. Moe was so upset by this that he refused to do anything. To get things back on track, his brother claimed that in England, "busy idiot" is actually a compliment. Moe believed him.
Moe also refers to Gordon's home country as "British" (rather than "Britain") as heard in Moe commenting that Gordon should "go back to British."
On the UK version, both Piccolo Teatro and Bonaparte's closed within a short time after Ramsay's visit. The owner of the latter threatened to sue Ramsay, claiming she had been "set up".
When Ramsay revisited the Walnut Tree Inn he found the business still failing due to the sky-high prices the owner was charging, and stormed out after the owner bluntly told him that he'd rather see the inn go out of business than look like a cheap restaurant. Guess what happened? Then, for an encore, some more sensible businessmen bought the inn shortly afterwards, set up a menu that was more along Ramsay's guidelines, and made the restaurant into a success once more.
The owners of Zeke's in the US version, on the confession cam, complain about Ramsay and state that he doesn't know what he's talking about and until Ramsay's name is on the lease, Ramsay doesn't know what it's like. Let's see... failing restaurant versus five 3-Michelin (out of 3) star restaurants. Sure, Ramsay knows nothing about how to make a restaurant successful... Then to make matters worse, after Gordon renovates the building and improves business, the owners close down shortly after and sell the restaurant, because they figure that Gordon's donated renovation can make them a lot of money if they sell the place in its repaired condition.
Tim Gray, head chef of Bonaparte's. It's hard to tell if he's arrogant or brain dead. After being drilled for a week into becoming a half-competent chef, he manages to forget it all within the span of a few months by the time Ramsay comes back. This results in him being fired. The best part of it all? Ramsay, after the episode, offered Tim the chance to learn on the job at one of his restaurants. Tim refused. Then, despite being exposed as possibly the worst "chef" in Britain, he tried to get his own TV show. Unsurprisingly, it was denied. He's still getting into kitchens, and still getting fired.
The parental owners of the Burger Kitchen. Lots of examples pop up, one of the most blatant ones being their investing in a restaurant despite knowing nothing of the business, as their son pointed out. Then they stole their son's inheritance money to buy the restaurant and were confused as to why he was upset about that.
Additionally, when Gordon demands that the executive chef — continually backed into a corner and forced to cook food he doesn't believe in with recipes that aren't his — cook him a burger to show him his skill without being hampered by the owners, the owners try to show their own chef up by cooking one of their own recipe burgers and then deliberately hamming up bad reactions to the chef's burger after Gordon dismisses theirs.
Hell, any chef that insists "my food's good" or some variation when Gordon first arrives - if their food is so good, then why is most of the city avoiding the place and why is Gordon disgusted by eating it?
La Riviera from UK season 2 had a clean restaurant, a generally competent owner and manager, a trained staff, excellent and fresh ingredients, a proper decor and good food. What was the problem? The owner hadn't done his research into the area- the small Scottish town simply wasn't interested in high-priced fine French cuisine and as a result, saw very few customers. This lack of basic research cost the business a fortune.
Retroactively Denise of "Cafe Hon." Wanting to Trademark "Cafe Hon" would be one thing, but the word "Hon" itself, which is a cultural icon in Baltimore? How else would the people of Baltimore react? And that's not even mentioning her going after anyone who would use the word "Hon."
The Woobie: Peter from "The Seascape". It's pretty clear his mother is more than a little overbearing and his meek mannerisms saw him getting abused by his Jerk Ass chef, to the point where he was cleaning the kitchen for them, even after a (rather pathetic) attempt to order them to do something. Then he reveals he was a "Well Done, Son!" Guy and even after getting pointers and tips from Ramsay is still clearly a nervous wreck.
The staff from the Mill Street Bistro. Their boss, Joe, is a dictator who constantly talks down to them, mistreats them, and drives away the customers that provide their livelihood. The chef is a talented guy getting hamstrung with mediocre recipes, and one of the waiters even stated that his dad wanted to strangle Joe after witnessing his son's mistreatment. It's not shocking that by the end of the two-parter, some of them eventually left the job.
John of Mama Maria's. He establishes fairly early on that he was pressed into the family business at an early age but doesn't really show any resentment toward his parents over this: he's merely struggling to keep the restaurant and his family legacy alive out of love for his parents, and stuck in his ways. Gordon points this out and shows that even his staff know more than him, and helps show him that he can still preserve what he loved about his parents but move on from their methods and style.
Perla, at Mama Rita's, had no experience in cooking food from scratch, only prepping and reheating, and had a limited knowledge of the English language. Unfortunately, she was also the head chef of the restaurant, meaning when dinner service came around she had authority over the cooks and responsibility over the food being served. Perla was so used to the prep-and-reheat method that she drastically undercooked all the meat by applying microwave times to traditional methods. When her co-workers, Gordon, the owner, and the customers started screaming at her to be more competent, she broke down in tears. It didn't help that she was put into a taste competition with the owner and Gordon, where she spent five minutes just staring at her raw chicken, not knowing what to do with it, and her dish was the only one the staff disliked, or that Gordon continued to rant at her as she was crying. It was made clear through the episode that Perla never learned even the most basic of cooking skills, though Gordon never saw that (despite him noticing a severe lack of cooking experience in other prep-and-reheat locations he's visited). Rather than firing Perla, as Gordon suggested though, the owner put Perla back in charge of the catering department, which Perla had made into a success in the past.
Anthony and Frank of Davide. Tony's a recovering addict (painkillers), and has done time in the slammer. But he owns his mistakes and made a serious and honest effort to turn his life around and gave the restaurant 110%. But his brother Frank, who's also the head chef, wouldn't give him any credit or acknowledgement for his effort and just kept beating Tony down. And Frank himself is so burned out and defeated that he's just a shell of the man he once was. And throughout the whole episode, it's clear that Tony only has love and respect for his brother and believes that Frank can be a great chef if he just found his passion again.
Tropes specifically related to the Amy's Baking Company episode:
Big Lipped Alligator Moment: After a particularly nasty exchange between the owners and the customers in the Amy's Baking Company episode, the show cuts to a rabbit hopping around as if to say, "Yeah, that was horrifying. Watch this cute little bunny now to make yourself feel better."
Bile Fascination: The revisit made clear that this is the only reason the place is still open: after seeing it on the show, people are coming to ABC just to see if it's really as bad as it looked. And according to most visitors, it is.
Crosses the Line Twice: When kicking out a customer for complaining about how long their pizza was taking (over an hour for a single pizza), the owner of Amy's Baking Company not only swore and yelled at the customers, but demanded that they pay for the pizza as well (since it was in the oven when they were kicked out). He threatened to call the cops when they refused to pay.
Redditors begged and pleaded for an ask-me-anything session from one of them, to which Katy responded here.
Epileptic Trees: Some netizens took Samy's obsessive control over the till, and his admonishing Gordon that, "You're not the gangster here, I'm the gangster!" as signs that the restaurant was actually a money-laundering front for The Mafia. Which would just raise even more questions.
Fridge Horror: The more and more the episode goes on, the more you realize that Amy is seriously mentally ill. She most likely has Schizoaffective disorder, whose symptoms include: bi-polar/mania like symptoms; paranoid delusions; and disorganized speech. These are all behaviours that Amy has shown in the episode.
Amy certainly shows signs of being a paranoid schizophrenic, seeing as one of her main personality traits is an apparent assumption that everyone in the world is against her.
Hatedom: Try to find anyone who likes Amy and Samy and/or will defend them as perfectly reasonable victims of online vigilantism. Or just be accused of being Amy or Samy as they are known to pull this stunt.
Jerkass Woobie: Samy actually got just a little bit of this towards the end of the episode. He'd been one of the biggest jerks ever seen on the show up until that point, but during the last meeting with Ramsay seems to have honestly realized the restaurant is having huge problems and is at least considering Ramsay's advice. Amy, predictably, flips out and throws the biggest tantrum to date, leaving Gordon to walk off and Samy to sit there, looking morose as he ponders his money pit (and the failing restaurant she's running).
Also, when Amy fires Katy, Samy actually tries to calm the crying girl and make Amy see reason, although he surrenders easily. It's sort of obvious that he just acts like he does because he's scared of his wife.
Memetic Mutation: The sheer over the top behavior of the owners of Amy's Baking Company before, during and after Gordon's visit have taken the internet by storm, generating numerous articles, including a full article on Forbes using their reactions as precisely how not to react in the face of internet criticism.
The biggest meme to come out of the episode was that it was "the one where Gordon gave up"
Moral Event Horizon: Samy crosses it in the first minutes by threatening violence on a customer who complained at having to wait for over an hour for one pizza, calling the police on the customer, then demanding the customer pay for the pizza that he hadn't received. Amy herself crosses it immediately after when she makes a pizza really spicy in the hopes of hurting another customer, and later fires her only waitress when she asks a question. Amy is proud to have fired hundreds of staff, seeing it as a badge of honor. Their attitude is so toxic they are worse than every chef on Hell's Kitchen ever. Dead. Fucking. Serious.
Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Amy. Beside her horrible demeanor and thoughtless cruelty, it's quite clear something is just not right with her. Her bulging eyes, constantly open mouth, and the fact that she's virtually insane makes it even worse.
So Bad, It's Good: People started visiting the place just to see how hilariously inept, incompetent, and insane it is.
Strawman Has a Point: As Amy says at the beginning, "The customer is not always right," which is essentially true... just not for the reasons shown in this episode.
Streisand Effect: After the debacle that was the infamous Amy's Baking Company episode many of the show's fans started posting negative comments on their Facebook page criticizing their rude behavior. The owners did not take it well. The resulting meltdown caused a feedback loop, drawing in more commentators. Membership on their Facebook page skyrocketed just to see the drama unfold.
They have since pulled their previous comments and replaced it with the following message (as of May 15, 2013) before making a new Facebook page.
Tear Jerker: Amy firing Katy just for double checking which table to take an order to, especially watching the poor girl break down right there. Samy tried to comfort Katy after and she was so disgusted that she didn't want to be touched by him. Ugh.
What an Idiot: Amy and Samy, especially Amy. They insult customers and tell them to leave if they don't like the food they are given. Amy fired one of the waitresses simply for asking "Are you sure?" about one of the orders, then claimed that the girl had an attitude problem, when it was clearly Amy herself who had the attitude issue. Ramsay wound up leaving before taping was finished because they would not listen to any criticism and he knew that none of the changes he made would have stuck.
Note that this had never happened before. Even the infamous Sebastian couldn't drive Gordon out of his restaurant, but the owners of Amy's managed to do it. They had a rather amazing meltdown over the whole affair on their Facebook page. The meltdown got so bad it has been used as a case example for what businesses shouldn't do on social media.
What elevates the mess to borderline Too Dumb to Live status is when Samy states on camera he doesn't let servers keep their tips, instead taking them for himself. Ramsay wasn't exaggerating when he said you can't do that; it is illegal for employers in the United States to take their employees' tips. In other words, Samy admitted to committing criminal behavior on national television. There was even a petition (now closed) calling for the US Department of Labor to investigate.
Amy, likewise, admitting that she made a pizza overly spicy explicitly to hurt a customer who had complained. Food and drink tampering is a very serious crime, and for good reason.
And again. Despite signing a contract with FOX stating they cannot give out any statements about the show aside from admitting they were on it, Amy goes out on record and calls Ramsay a "Ginger Hair Troll", which could cost her $100,000 for breaking the contract. This, more then anything, plants them firmly in Too Dumb to Live statue
They still haven't learned. As of March 2014, they have been claiming that the real reason the episode was cut off was because Ramsay sexually harassed Amy and they threw him out. Needless to say, the producers have already denounced the claim as more berserk rantings.
The Woobie: The staff. Miranda starts out as sort of a Sad Clown, joking with Gordon about the constant drama, bad food and all the other crap she has to deal with (such as being the only server on staff, and Samy stubbornly not allowing her to record orders on the electronic system despite her having plenty of experience). Then the audience finds out the staff doesn't even get tips because Samy keeps them, claiming that he's doing all the service work anyway. By the end of the first day, Katy winds up leaving the building in tears after getting fired for asking a question about an order mix-up. (Amy going on an insult tirade about her afterwards certainly didn't help matters.) Henry and Jessica (former members of the staff) were put through the wringer quite a bit themselves, Henry in particular being forced to do unpaid menial jobs for Samy, such as washing his car in the middle of service. On top of all that, Miranda was fired a couple of weeks after the episode was filmed, for accepting a $5 tip from a customer rather than handing it over to Samy (of course, what Samy was doing was illegal according to the Wage & Hourly Division's laws, so she wasn't doing anything wrong). During the segment showing Amy and Samy watching the security camera of this incident, you can hear the smug satisfaction in Amy's voice as she talks about how they're going to have Miranda arrested.
On the plus side, both Miranda and Katy have since found jobs at better restaurants.
Even worse, when Ramsay confronts them about the employees they had hired and fired in a short time, Samy admits that they have already gone through 100 waiters. Just imagine 100 people having gone through the same things as Miranda and co. Who knows how many of them were subjected to the "if you're terminated for any reason you can't work at any another restaurant within an hour's drive for a year" contract, and took it seriously.
Seriously, you can't help but feel bad for Ramsay after that episode. Amy constantly blows up in his face, going total Drama Queen on him, Samy's sitting there letting her do it, and all Ramsay wants to do is get things turned around. At points, he seems genuinely dismayed. When he gives his final thoughts, you can't help but feel bad for the guy for pulling off his first American Screw This, I'm Outta Here!.