Enough with the Restaurant Renovation Shows, Already

Slide1

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Restaurant Stakeout. Bar Rescue. Restaurant: Impossible. Odds are you’ve seen at least one of those shows. I’ve watched them all, and I still do, to an extent. It’s good television. If somehow you’ve managed to never see one of these shows, the premise is that a business owner (either bar or restaurant, depending on the show) is on the verge of losing everything, and is reduced to calling in an expert for help. The “expert” comes in, yells at everyone, makes an absurd amount of changes in a needlessly short amount of time and finally everything works out in the end. The business reports higher sales and staves off bankruptcy. Like I said, it can be compelling television, because everyone loves a predictable story arc. Last night I watched a new show on the Food Network called On the Rocks (get it!?), featuring yet another British “expert” telling business owners how stupid they are. I think, with this final straw laid upon the camel’s back, we should all agree to let the genre die.

At least in my young mind, this entire genre was made possible by Simon Cowell during his American Idol stint. That is, I can’t recall a time before that when someone actually criticized people on national television before an audience of millions. Whether or not Cowell actually pioneered it, he definitely created the template: Have an accent, be an expert, and deliver (sometimes unnecessarily) brutal criticism under the guise of “wanting to help.” That character was confined to competition-type shows for a while, but it didn’t take long to figure out that people love watching other, normal people get belittled on television. Now, we have angry men yelling at restaurant owners. We have reached our saturation point.

My problem isn’t really that I doubt the expertise of the stars of these shows. Everyone knows that Gordon Ramsay is both a talented chef and successful restauranteur. I don’t doubt that John Taffer hasn’t owned and operated a bunch of profitable bars. I don’t know much about Robert Irvine, but he’s the most irritating of the bunch. Instead, my problem is that making good television and actually helping a business are two diametrically opposed goals, no matt how hard you try to mesh them. I used to work as a consultant, and I can assure you that at no point were we allowed to call our clients or their staff “fucking idiots,” even if the work was pro bono, as it is in the case of these shows. Producers have to create story arcs complete with underdogs, heroes, and antagonists, none of which are necessary (or, you know, beneficial) for improving a business’ bottom line.

To see what I mean, watch an episode of the BBC version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. He goes in, spends most of his time in the kitchen (he’s a chef by trade after all), helps the owner on the business end, and uses his fame to help with the marketing. There are no heroes or villains, just a kind of boring “behind the scenes” type look at how a restaurant ticks. Note that he does all of this relatively quietly. The US version, on the other hand, is a circus. He yells and curses at the top of his lungs. There’s dramatic music. Instead of just going in and offering simple advice, he completely tears down the restaurant, its menu, and the employees. Bar Rescue does it. Restaurant: Impossible does it. Everything is re-built in a manner of days, as though three days and a facelift is enough to change the fundamental issues that plagued management in the first place (it’s not, if you search around online you’ll see that nearly every place that’s been “saved” has ended up closing anyway). The result is a program that’s, while certainly entertaining, exhausting. Exhausting to watch. Exhausting to invest in, especially in 2013 when you can pull up a bar on Yelp!, see that it already closed, and know that the episode you’re watching was for naught.

Once the “reality” aspect of the show is dead, is there really any point to them anymore? They’re all the same, and as producers fine-tune what does and does not get ratings, they’ll only become more scripted and less realistic. More than anything, they’ve become avenues for the “experts” to promote their personal brands. I love Bar Rescue, but I’m tired of hearing John Taffer have the audacity to blame a bar’s failure on menu design, the secrets to which, of course, only he knows. Restaurant: Impossible has nice pacing, but enough with Robert Irvine using it as a platform for his “my cooking is better than your cooking; follow my instructions to the letter or you’ll fail” bullshit. These shows had their moment in the spotlight, but it’s time to let them die a dignified death (if Car Lot Rescue didn’t already ruin the chances of that).

Advertisements

If You Want to Get Stronger, Lift Heavier Weights

weight_lifter

I get tired of seeing people in the gym toiling away for countless reps with meaningless weights. Well, not tired, I guess. It doesn’t affect me in any meaningful way. They’re the ones who get tired. But still, it amuses (or more accurately, bemuses) me. People go to the gym to improve their physical fitness, and lift weights specifically to get stronger. Why, then, do people waste so much time doing 1,000 reps with 1 lb. weights when they’d be better served doing 1 rep with 1,000 lb. weights? The answer is because people, and their prevailing wisdom, are retarded.

Somehow, at some point, we got into our heads the idea that lifting big weights will make you big, and lifting small, sleek weights will make you small and sleek. Women are especially guilty of this. It’s probably due to the fact that yes, the largest weights in the gym are typically lifted by the largest people. In fact, the opposite is mostly true. Lifting a lighter weight to exhaustion will tell the body to increase the number of muscle fibers, thereby making you bigger. This has its benefits, namely increased size (if you’re looking for that) and muscle endurance. For some people, that’s really important. Anyone who works a job that requires them to lift moderate loads over extended periods of time, mostly. But for the rest of us, the casual weight lifters just looking to get stronger? Lift heavier.

Weightlifting, like any other physical exercise, is something we get better at with practice. If you practice lifting light things over and over, you’ll get better at that. Conversely, if you practice lifting heavy things fewer times, you’ll get better at lifting heavy things. Consider the functional applications of that kind of strength. Do you anticipate a time where someone will approach you and say “Excuse me, would you mind helping me lift this moderately heavy thing up and down several times?” Doubtful. Instead, you’re more likely to have someone say “Please sir, will you help me lift this extremely heavy thing beneath which I am trapped, so that I may live?” Suddenly, those bicep curls don’t seem like such a good idea. Big biceps are nice, but having a strong back, legs, and shoulder cradle is a lot nicer.

If you’re still of the “lift big to get big” mindset, maybe rethink your strategy. Why do 20 lat pulldowns when you could be eeking out 10 pull-ups? Why do a bunch of pointless leg extensions when you could power through a set of 5 heavy squats? I’m not saying there’s a problem with lifting for size, or that you can realistically have one without the other (you can’t), but remember: Lift heavier, and get stronger.

Recent Grads, Beware of “Marketing” Companies

tumblr_ky2hksgws11qala8s

Though I’m by no means a recent college grad, like many of them I find myself nosing around for job opportunities so I can do things like pay my rent, feed myself, and drink with reckless abandon. Finding a job can be one of the hardest things in the world, but sometimes you think you’ve hit the jackpot – you apply for a position, and within days the company can’t seem to get ahold of you fast enough. They, despite having a name along the lines of “XYZ Business Consultants,” inform you that they’re a “marketing company.” Well shit, how cool is that?!? Everyone wants to work in “marketing,” right? Well, I’m here to tell you to watch out for these companies, because nine times out of ten, they are bullshit.

What they usually end up being are MLMs, or Multi Level Marketing companies. That’s just a fancy name for a pyramid scheme. This is how they work: As an employee, you go door to door, six days per week, selling something. It could be coupons, sports tickets, or services for a “known” company. You work strictly on commission (usually about $10 per sale), but your main focus is on advancement. You do this by doing well enough to warrant them sticking new recruits underneath you. The company grows not through the sales you make, but by the number of people you’re able to add to the base of your “pyramid” – that’s what makes it a MLM.

The interviews go something like this: You go to the office, and the “manager” speaks to you for around 15 minutes about the company, overhyping what they do and downplaying the real nature of the business (note that the script they follow makes them come across as very candid). If they like you (they will), they send you to the second “interview,” which is just you going out into the field with a salesperson. At any point, if either you decide you’re not interested or they determine you “don’t have what it takes” (there’s a lot of ambition/work ethic shaming that goes on), they will leave your ass in the middle of nowhere. I’ve seen this happen myself, when I was dumb enough to think these were legit opportunities. When the other “candidate” with me decided he was done, the salesperson just pulled over and left him somewhere in VA Beach. If you make it through the “interview,” you go back to the office around 8pm, where they’ll offer you the “job.” I declined, because I don’t entirely hate myself.

The “marketing” buzzword is how they draw young people in, so it’s important to know how that whole part of a business works. There’s advertising, which is what you see in print, the internet and on television. It’s collateral designed to compel you to take action and drive you into the arms of a salesperson. Usually, this is contracted out to large agencies that are very clear about being creative advertising firms. Then there’s sales, which is pretty straightforward. Whether inbound or outbound, the goal of sales is to get the customer to agree to a purchase. Finally, there’s marketing. Marketing can do a couple of things. One aspect is the creation of internal collateral. This can be anything from website or catalog copy, or brochures used by the salespeople. It’s their job, once a potential customer is compelled by an ad, to provide more information and act as the final push to get them into a sales situation.

The other function of marketing is for metrics-based sales planning. They’ll take sales results, online data, focus groups, and various other tests to help determine how and to whom the company should be positioning their product. This is the primary function of external “marketing” firms. They either already have data that would otherwise be costly to obtain through primary research for a company or, in the case of smaller firms, they have the capabilities to collect this data that the company simply does not. This is why a lot of recent grads, after joining a legitimate marketing firm, get jaded with the practice. It’s not glamorous and creative like they hoped. Instead, it’s pouring over spreadsheets to see which people, of which age group, in which geographic area purchased a given product or service.

The MLMs have gotten slick with their own marketing, and can appear as legitimate businesses. The one that contacted me recently had a nice looking web page where they even featured their management team, had a well-written (but vague) mission statement, and included links to their Facebook and twitter pages. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you’re being courted by a MLM, but here are some giveaways:

  • They call themselves a “marketing” company, but their website makes little to no mention of their process/strategy. Even more telling, they don’t tout any kind of metrics-based approach. Remember, that’s the primary function of external marketers.
  • They talk about being a “sports,” “entertainment” or “business” marketing firm. MLMs want to attract type-A, competitive people (particularly men), and know that these are desirable fields for those types. Be especially wary if they say something like “You’ll do well here if you’re a former athlete.” In the sports and entertainment industries, the marketing is typically done in-house. Don’t think for a minute that it could ever be so easy to be considered for a marketing position with the Washington Nationals.
  • Their entry level position is called something like a “Junior Executive.” The people who glom onto MLMs tend to have a very inflated sense of self, while at the same time are too dumb to realize that what they’re doing is a scam. What kind of person could call themselves a “junior executive” while selling crap door to door with a straight face? That’s right, a self-important, go-getting moron.
  • They’re only hiring for entry level positions. This isn’t entirely unheard of, but realistically no respectable company has only ONE type of opening, and when they do they’ll usually come out and say that it’s entry-level sales (thereby disqualifying them as a marketing firm). When you see that, it’s a good indication that the only way to advance is by climbing the pyramid from within.
  • The management team seems young. At the place that contacted me, the “president” of the company couldn’t have been more than 25, and he only started there (at the bottom, of course) in 2010. His LinkedIn profile refers to the firm as a being in the “Marketing and Advertising industry,” while the “CEO” (only 27 himself) lists it as “Management Consulting.” In no way are two under-30 dipshits from middling schools equipped to run legitimate marketing firms.
  • They place heavy emphasis on “entrepreneurial spirit,” “unlimited income,” “a team environment” and “passion for advancement.” The first two are just codewords for “this job pays by commission only.” No reputable company would take a fresh college grad and place him in a commision-only sales position, because sales is a nuanced field that takes time to learn. The last two refers to the cult-like atmosphere MLMs cultivate. They do chants in order to get “psyched up” every morning. It’s a tactic used to promote group-think and hide the fact that you’re working six days per week for little pay for a sham company.
  • There are no real qualifications for getting hired. Real marketing firms look for people with genuine quantitative abilities. MLMs make their requirements, if they have any, intentionally vague and universal. They need to cast a wide net in order to find the few who will drink the kool aid.
  • Rather than emailing you to set up a phone interview, they call right away, or email and ask you to call them. The people who “advance” within the pyramid are by default the slickest talkers, so their odds of recruiting people increase when they can speak to you one on one, when you don’t have much of a chance to process what’s being said.

I’m sure there are more indicators, but these are the ones I’ve noticed. The bottom line is, use your common sense. If it seems too good to be true, and they’re a little too eager to talk to you, it’s probably a scam.

A Quick Little Frozen Food Lifehack

McDonalds-Chicken-McNuggets

I don’t want to say that I eat a lot of frozen chicken nuggets. Not because I don’t, but because I literally do not want to tell the world that I do so. Anyway, if you’re someone like me who (ahem) occasionally eats things like frozen chicken nuggets, you know that when preparing them, you usually have three options:

– Deep frying (no one is breaking out the deep fryer for 12 6 chicken nuggets)

– Microwave for a few minutes

– Bake at 400 degrees for something like 20 years

So you’re usually faced with choosing between the convenience (but mushiness) of the microwave, or the superior output (but eternal wait time) of the oven. Depending on how hungry you are, most people will cave and just nuke the nuggets. But you don’t have to! You can, in fact, have the best of both worlds.

Set your toaster oven to broil, and put your nuggets on a plate. Get them in the microwave for half, maybe a third of the time recommended by the manufacturer. When they’re done, transfer them to the toaster oven, and let them broil for a couple of minutes per side. Remember, this is food that’s already been cooked, and all we’re doing is heating it up. The microwave will thaw it out, and the broiler finishes the job and crisps up the outside. You get oven-quality results in a fraction of the time.

Once you get the hang of it, you realize that the same principle can apply to all kinds of frozen foods. Frozen french fries that only have oven instructions? Nuke them first and cut your cooking time significantly, finishing them either in the oven or on the stove. Given that frozen food was designed for the haggard, harried, and lazy, it only makes sense to find the laziest way possible to prepare them.

BOOM. Blogging. Nailing it.

Update on Advice-Giving Activities at AskMen and HeTexted

So, I’ve been busy lately, in a good way. “Man to Man” over at AskMen is doing pretty well. The questions have gotten more interesting, both for me and for the readers. I’m bummed that they don’t yet have comments up and running, because it would be great to get feedback and be able to interact with readers. I guess if you want to join in the discussion, for now you can like me on Facebook and follow me on twitter. If you missed the previous three installments, Links are below:

Why do people change?

Ian, I like your commentary. Riddle me this:

Why do people change? It seems that when I get involved with a woman and it turns into a long-term relationship (1+ year), they change! Either they get comfortable, gain weight, become tired all the time (leading to less sex), become more curt,or sensitive to things that I do or say, etc. I feel like I stay pretty stable in body/mind in the long term, but many women I have been involved with long term change on me. Is it my perception? Do you notice this in yourself or others? Is it a natural human evolution over a period of years or lifetime?

Thanks!

Yeah, that guy had an air of douche about him, but I go over it in pretty good detail.

Being the last Man on Earth

Ian,

My buddy and I were talking about what would happen if you were the last man on earth. Like, one day you wake up and you’re the only one. He thinks it would be tedious and exhausting because you’d be the biggest celebrity in the world. I think having the “responsibility” of repopulating the world would make it worth it. What do you think?

Matt

This was a fun one. I liked working through a hypothetical like that. I wish I got more of those questions.

Why can’t I produce restaurant-quality food at home?

Hey Ian,

So I’ve recently been living on my own and trying to save some cash by taking your advice and cooking more of my own food. The problem is, I can’t seem to touch the flavor of anything I get in a restaurant. I follow recipes to the letter, I have some decent gear, and I’ve even looked up “copycat” recipes for dishes I love. Still, I’m falling short. Any ideas? Am I just not good enough of a cook yet? I don’t know anyone in the restaurant business to ask. There’s no reason why I can’t produce something equally as delicious, right?

-Ryan

This was another fun one, and something I think a lot of people wonder themselves (I know I used to). Anyway, keep ’em coming. Send all questions to me at theianlang@gmail.com

In other fun news, there have been some changes over at HeTexted. The site got a huge facelift, for one, and they’ve also added some new features. Now, when you ask me or another bro a question, you have the option to make it public. I tentatively discourage this, as my experience so far has been that the peanut gallery gives pretty horrible advice. They’s also started a blog, where I’m featured every Wednesday. My latest post is here, where I talk about having friends of the opposite sex. If you want to get in on the conversation, you can comment in there using facebook. I think that’s a great feature.

That’s all for now. I’ll probably try to get back into regular blogging later this week.

Introducing “Man to Man,” an Ok Advice Column at AskMen

Started doing the advice column thing this week, and the first one is up at AskMen. They’re calling it “Man to Man,” which keeps with AskMen’s heavy-handed “better man” theme, but isn’t bad as far as advice column names go, I guess. The formula for any good advice column is a balance of seriousness and silliness, which is what I went for here. A sample:

Hi Ian Lang,

Here’s my question: How can I let a woman know that I’m only interested in having a sexual relationship with her without coming across as cold and insensitive?

Thanks,
Michael

As you can probably tell, this is the “silly” part. A snippet of my response:

If she were interested in this arrangement, that would probably be clear, so you must be talking about a scenario in which she wants a real relationship and you do not. If that’s the case, why do you think this is an OK thing to vocalize? No matter how you word it, you’re essentially telling this person that while you think her sex parts are dynamite, you’re less enthusiastic about her personality.  That’s a pretty sh*tty thing to say to someone’s face. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot, and a woman told you that she appreciates your personality but doesn’t find you attractive enough to screw. Chances are you’d deny her invitation altogether, and maybe buy a fedora and grow a neck beard and start yelling about “the friend zone.”

So yea, that’s fun. Read the rest over at AskMen. Hopefully it takes off and I get more and more interesting questions to answer every week. It will be good for the readers, and good for the people who write in. So share, share, share and get me some more submissions, people.

How To: Never Get Laid

not_getting_laid_shirts-r974113f4d8e946188ce459cf33a326ba_f0cz5_512

Generally, I love and encourage commenters, both good and bad. As a writer, it keeps you honest. Sometimes they offer valuable, critical input. Other times, they don’t. For example, a comment from my latest article about advice:

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 11.25.43 AM

He caught me red-handed. Here I was, thinking I was positing helpful advice acquired through years of experience, when all I was really doing was tossing another log onto feminism’s testicle consuming fire.

Before I even start the advice column thing, here’s some to get you started: talking shit about feminism will never, EVER get you laid. Not once, not ever. A woman doesn’t have to be a bra-burning, armpit combing feminazi for her to be turned off by your disdain for the movement that affords her just about all of the political and social freedoms she enjoys today. Yes, there are likely some “feminists” out there who would like to see men subjugated the way women once were, but those aren’t most feminists, and not even “real” feminists. Modern feminism is, above all, about equality. Things like not being talked down to in the workplace, or not having politicians tell them what to do with their bodies. Equality is not a zero-sum game. Men do not have to give up anything to afford the kind equality most women seek.

I don’t even consider myself a feminist, but most of the things they ask for just seem like common sense to me. If you, as a man, can’t see how AT THE VERY LEAST not taking offense to that benefits you as someone who wants to meet women and maybe touch their lady parts, then you’re blind.

No one’s saying you have to agree with my (or anyone else’s advice). Just don’t be a jerk about it.