by Steve Roh
Hello, I’m happy to offer my latest article for the Banyan Hypnosis E-Zine. This series is intended to help hypnosis professionals by briefly summarizing books from outside of the field, and describing how the information can be applied within a hypnosis practice.
This time, we will do something a little bit different. Besides, not all of us are bookworms, so this time we will take a look at the TV program “Kitchen Nightmares” and what we can learn from it as hypnotists. Hey, it was either that or “Jersey Shore”!
“Kitchen Nightmares” (KN) is a popular reality TV program starring Chef Gordon Ramsay. Chef Ramsay is famous (or notorious) for having absolutely no patience for sloppy execution in the restaurant business. He is well-known for his explosive outbursts of profanity whenever someone fails to meet his standards. The thing that makes Chef Ramsay tolerable is that he clearly loves food and is serious about cooking done properly.
Anyway, in each episode of KN, Chef Ramsay visits a restaurant that is on the brink of disaster. After observing the restaurant operations and sampling a meal, he acts as a consultant who is tasked with fixing the problems in the space of a few days.
This show is really more about human behavior than about cooking. Even though the restaurants and the owners are a varied bunch, there are commonalities in each of these rescue operations that I think are interesting:
The Delusional Owner
An astonishing thing about this series is that in practically every instance where Chef Ramsay is called in, after Ramsay identifies the problems (which almost universally involve filthy kitchens, terrible food, bad service and miserable décor), the immediate reaction of the owner is to angrily deny that there is anything wrong, and there must be some other reason that the restaurant is failing.
After being shown a walk-in refrigerator full of rotting and moldy food inventory, the owner appears to develop a curious form of negative hallucination, as if they had never noticed it before.
After Chef Ramsay points out that the dining area is empty, the owner experiences positive hallucination and somehow sees a room full of happy customers, and revivifies all the times when customers told him how great their meal was.
After witnessing Chef Ramsay nearly vomit from eating a sample dish, the owner gets angry at Ramsay because “It can’t be that bad. People love our food. He’s just a jerk!” And confronted with a group of former customers from the community, who are given the opportunity to give completely honest feedback, the owner attacks them as liars and people who have no understanding or appreciation for his establishment’s fine dining experience.
The most difficult change that Ramsay attempts to bring about is the realization from the owner that the owner (or at least the owner’s emotions and habits and complacency) IS the problem, and the source from which all other problems stem. The drama of the “Kitchen Nightmares” show is watching the reality of the situation clash with the habitual denial of that reality by a hapless owner.
This is common to people who are struggling in any field, including hypnosis. It is natural that humans want to only hear things that they want to hear, and easily ignore the rest. But although this is natural, it is a tendency that hampers skill development and process improvement. It is why most people have a tendency towards mediocrity.
For example, one of the most common things that damages the confidence of a new hypnotist is hearing “I don’t think I was hypnotized” from a client. The automatic defensive reaction is for the hypnotist to after-the-fact try to convince the client that they indeed were hypnotized. The hypnotist takes the position that they are the expert and the client’s report of their experience is not valid, and tries to basically persuade the client that they are too stupid to have an opinion about the matter. That may sound harsh, but that really is the meta-message being communicated to the client.
This is a losing game to play, because if someone positions themselves as an expert in hypnosis, it is quite reasonable for the client to expect that a hypnosis expert could create an experience that feels “hypnotic” in the frame of reference of the client, is it not?
As hypnotists we know that there is no specific way an individual will feel when they are hypnotized, but at the same time, as supposed experts we should have no problem creating an experience for them that leaves little doubt about the hypnotic experience.
Of course, a restaurant customer should not be the one telling the cooks how to prepare the meal. Similarly, a hypnosis client should not tell the hypnotist how to run a session, and it is advisable to ignore the self-diagnosis of a client as to why a problem started, and that kind of thing. However, I think it is not advisable to ignore the feedback of a client or customer by taking the attitude that “I am the expert, they do not know what they are talking about.”
Convincers and trance ratification are crucial so that clients realize that something out of the ordinary is happening; otherwise the all-too-common (and completely natural) response is: “I closed my eyes and got kind of relaxed but otherwise I don’t think anything really happened.”
The worst time to “convince” a client that they were hypnotized is after-the-fact. That is like having a mediocre, nothing-special meal at a restaurant, and then afterwards the chef stops by your table and tries to talk you into believing it was delicious and a mind-blowing culinary experience, and if you don’t believe him, you must be one of those awful frustrating “resistant” diners, who “just wasn’t ready” to have a good meal. No way.
Covert testing and close observation of the client is also important for proper state management, and can help bring the hypnotist’s attention to potential issues with a client’s hypnotic experience (if they are even hypnotized at all). A competent and professional chef would not just send out food to the dining room without ever sampling it and checking it for quality. No matter how many times they’ve cooked a dish before, they would not just say “Send it out… I know my food is good, I’ve made this a thousand times before.”
A hypnotist who does not at least covertly test, and who does not run convincers, is basically sending out suggestions with that same careless and complacent sloppy attitude (which probably masks insecurity about it possibly NOT being good — they’d rather not know). So they should hardly be surprised when clients reject suggestions, sending them back to the kitchen, and when clients tell them that they are unconvinced that anything special really happened.
Really, the “I don’t think I was hypnotized” statement does not have to be so damaging or discouraging. The real damage of that statement is the natural defensive response that it provokes, because the defensive response does nothing to develop genuine confidence.
First of all, accept that if you are starting out, you might hear that a lot! Don’t ignore it or fool yourself into thinking that you are really a great hypnotist, and those are just ignorant or resistant clients. The fact is: just like me or any beginner, you will probably stink early on (although you might still help lots of people anyway, even if you mostly stink).
And accept that once in a while, even after becoming more confident and having a lot of successes under your belt, you will occasionally still hear that “I don’t think I was hypnotized” — but this should be an uncommon occurrence. Sometimes it’ll be because you failed to hypnotize them, sometimes it’ll be because you failed to convince them that they were hypnotized (when they were), and once in a rare while it’ll be because the client really is an ignorant doofus. Oh well.
But if you hear that statement consistently, that means a re-examination of your operating procedure is in order. Not just the pre-talk or convincers, but whatever you do even before the pre-talk such as client selection and pre-screening.
Whatever you do, don’t be like those silly restaurant owners who just pretend that everything is great. You’re too smart to fool yourself for very long; eventually you will be exhausted by the internal charade and throw in the towel, when all you really needed to do was to fix the parts that weren’t working.
Well, I am nearly running out of time here to submit this article, so I will run through quickly a couple of other points about “Kitchen Nightmares” and hypnotic work.
The Menu of Mediocrity
Another common characteristic of these failing restaurants is that they often have huge gigantic menus with an enormous number of options for diners to choose from. The owners apparently believe that this will attract more people. The logic seems to go: if I have 10 items on the menu, and only a few customers, then maybe if I put 100 items on the menu, maybe there will be ten times as much business.
One of the first things Chef Ramsay does with these menus is toss them in the garbage. Ramsay knows that approach is a sure way to kill a business by leading to a lot of wasted inventory that never gets used — or even worse, horribly old food inventory that does get served. The cooks in the kitchen struggle to maintain quality when they are trying to prepare unfamiliar meals from a menu that contains a mish-mash of different cuisines.
Similarly, I think hypnotists sometimes think that the way to get a struggling practice to grow is to add on different modalities, or doing things like trying to sell audio programs online and other types of brand extension. Let’s try adding life coaching and energy healing and massage and nutritional counseling and wedding photography and clown-for-hire at children’s parties and oh yes also become an instructor or trainer or marketing guru in all those areas. Come on.
Think about it: when you imagine a fine-dining experience with a master chef, do you not imagine a petite menu tightly focused around a culinary theme? Or do you imagine holding a big 3-ring binder with laminated plastic sheets describing all the hundreds of choices to choose from? It’s your choice: whether the market sees you as the master chef, or the guy in the kitchen who’s running a deep fryer.
The Emotional Breakthrough
Finally, the last common theme running through each episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” is that when the hapless owner hits bottom and is unable to deny reality any longer, the transformation almost always occurs as a result of Chef Ramsay creating an emotional and out-of-the-ordinary experience for the owner (and often the owner’s family).
Chef Ramsay often does this by taking them on a “field trip” of sorts to get them out of the box (restaurant) for a while for an excursion. This is often the pivotal point after which the owner “wakes up” and accepts the change.
I think this is very much like the change-work we do within hypnosis. After all, Chef Ramsay could sit there all day long and try to intellectualize and show the owner spreadsheets about the restaurant finances and use rational arguments in attempts to help the owner wake up to reality, but in the end the resolution is found by powerful emotional experiences, bypassing the rational logical faculties.
Well, I hope you got something useful out of this article, or at least it entertained you for a little while. Chef Gordon Ramsay is fun to watch, and “Kitchen Nightmares” is an interesting theater of human behavior.
Perhaps for the next article, I will take on The Situation and the rest of the “Jersey Shore” gang in the context of hypnotic work!
PS. For simplicity, I used the male pronouns when referring to the restaurant owners. In the program, there are just as many desperate female restaurant owners as there are males.