All Along The Watchtower

films . videos . television

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Restaurant Makeover

I have no idea why I'm so fascinated by Restaurant Makeover, an obscure, low-budget reality show. It's produced by Food Network Canada and is aired on the weekends, with very little fanfare, by the U.S. version of Food Network.

The basic premise is that a small, family-owned restaurant is made over. The restauranteurs must put up money (usually $15,000 Canadian, or about $13,000 U.S.) and the producers of the TV show match it dollar-for-dollar. A designer supervises the renovation of the dining room and kitchen, while a chef works with someone from the restaurant's kitchen staff on revamping the menu.

The fun is the sometimes prickly relationship between the designer and chef and the local restaurant owner. The show has a small rotating pool of designers and chefs; one chef who turns up frequently bears an almost-eerie resemblance to Gary Busey. The designers -- and especially the chefs -- sometimes have frou-frou ideas that the restaurant owners can't quite wrap their brains around.

The show's chefs usually lean towards stripping down overloaded menus and concentrating on doing fewer dishes better.

"We've got to get rid of the deviled eggs," they say. "If people want deviled eggs they can make them at home."

"But our customers love the deviled eggs."

Then, the chef will show the restauranteur how to make some really nice gourmet dish, or perhaps a more upscale version of something that's already on the menu. Sometimes, the chefs seem to know what they're doing, but sometimes they seem more interested in their own egos than in really learning about the restaurant they're supposed to be helping.

Meanwhile, the designer is usually pulling his or her hair out because the new lighting fixtures haven't been delivered yet or because the construction crew isn't working fast enough.

Eventually, there's a big reveal where the restaranteurs get their first look at the newly-redesigned dining room and some of their friends or family members are treated to a taste of the new menu.

Not all of the renovations are well-received. Some of the restaurant owners are thrilled with the new look; others aren't, or at least don't think it was worth the money. There's usually a text-on-screen epilogue with details of how the new restaurant was received by critics and / or customers, and in one case we learn that the owner put black paint over the redesigned walls and badmouthed the program to the local press.

As I said, I don't know why I find this program so fascinating. It's not like it's the only redesign show on TV. But there's something romantic about the idea of the little family-owned restaurant, and something scary about the idea of putting the family business at risk in hopes of taking it to the next level. Will the customers hate the new restaurant, and stay away? Or will the new restaurant become the toast of the town?

Do any of you have an obscure little show like this to which you're attached?

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