Tuesday, December 14, 2010

They really want to direct

It’s surprising that restaurant leaders have any time left to manage after fulfilling all their reality-TV gigs.

Chefs started it. They moved in fast-forward from cooking demos to cooking on TV to competing in televised cooking competitions to demonstrating for at-home audiences that tyranny thrives in restaurant kitchens. They can become celebrities without feeding a single consumer.

Now we have chain executives trailing the culinarians’ apron strings. Enough headquarters biggies have appeared on “Undercover Boss” to merit one of the annual rankings that the industry loves so much (“Top 100 ‘Undercover’ Chains”).

An episode featuring a disguised Don Fertman, the chief development officer for Subway, aired Nov. 21. Three weeks later, the show focused on Johnny Rockets CEO John Fuller.

Aren’t there other industries with photogenic officials?

Now other programs are following suit. This morning brought word of a new TV reality show, “The Mentor,” a program on the 24-hour Bloomberg business channel that matches the leaders of upstart companies with seasoned vets. The notion is to foster a meeting between Grasshopper and the Kung Fu master, all while the cameras roll.

An episode to air later this year will feature James White, the CEO of Jamba Juice, serving as a mentor to Michael Laundau, the leader of a franchised hair-drying business called Drybar. And, yes, there is a chain whose core service is using blowers on consumers’ hair.

With all this screen time, chains should forget about sales boosters like catering or takeout and focus more intently on negotiating contracts for residuals and syndication.

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