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Child's Play on "Last Restaurant Standing"

One of the things that I find most interesting on BBC America's culinary competition series Last Restaurant Standing is how much the competitors' standings can shift from week to week. One week, your eatery has earned Raymond Blanc's coveted Restaurant of the Week award; two weeks later, it seems like you could be going home and your restaurant's doors closed for good.

That's just what happened to former superstars Jane and Jeremy, whose multiple course restaurant, Eight in the Country, was the clear winner during the series' first week. Since then, however, things have gone downhill for the couple. In recent weeks, they've struggled to book the restaurant and the introduction of an a la carte menu (in addition to the restaurant's namesake eight-course prix fixe) meant that their take went down considerably as no one opted for the more expensive tasting menu. In fact, they were the only couple this week to actually lose money, landing a negative balance at the end of the day. Ouch. Consequently, a disappointed Raymond Blanc--who scolded Jane and Jeremy for their poor profit-taking and surprising lack of customer happiness--forced his former golden children into the next Challenge.

Meanwhile, things couldn't be more different at Adwoa and LLoyd's Ghanian-food themed restaurant Spinach & Agushi. If it seemed like anyone was going home that first week, it was these two. The restaurant was poorly managed at the front of the house, Adwoa nearly killed inspector Sarah Willingham with undercooked chicken, and it was just a scene of chaos and confusion all around.

This week, Adwoa and Lloyd took home the Restaurant of the Week star and I couldn't be happier with Raymond's decision. These two took on board every suggestion that Raymond and his team made and managed to turn their restaurant completely around. Adwoa is the ONLY chef on this series that runs her kitchen like an actual restaurant. Food goes out quickly, empty plates come back, happy patrons buzz about, an actual queue forms outside. A lesson for their fellow competitors: this is how you do it, folks.

Lloyd and Adwoa also did brilliantly during the children's task. Challenged to come up with a children's menu and a special early pre-dinner service for the kids and their parents (complete with entertainment), they pondered with whether to remain true to their restaurant's Ghanian theme or whether to just serve the kids "burger and chips." Happily, they chose the former, refusing to sell-out and demean their vision of the place, but willing to tweak the recipes and dishes enough that children would like them as well. Adwoa called the experiment an "introduction to Ghanian food" and I have to say that I was impressed with this duo all around this week.

The others didn't fare so well, though I was happy that previous winners Laura and Jess did so well this week as well (despite a nasty burn that nearly shut down the kitchen in the middle of service). As for the teams' marketing ideas, I couldn't help but scratch my head. Grant and Laura's haggis-themed scavenger hunt which attracted two participants and ended up costing them £150 without any promise of paying customers? Bizarre, especially given their marketing and promotions background and a "hunt" that consisted of one location.

Martin and Emma, meanwhile, planned a 100-balloon "launch" but neglected to fill the balloons with enough helium (and tied weighty notices to them) so that they all just stayed sank in the local square... not that anyone seemed to notice. Eeek. Tom dressed up as a monk to promote the restaurant he and his mum Nicola run together... and was avoided at all costs by all passers-by.

Eddie, in a misguided attempt to drum up business for the Treacle Well, insulted a concierge at Oxford's luxe Randolf Hotel (stayed there several times, BTW) by asking whether he could commission favorable recommendations for his restaurant, a grievous offense in the eyes of a high-minded hotel staffer who takes his hotel's reputation very seriously (and rightfully so). It was a disaster to attempt this, especially as the Randolf Hotel has a fine dining establishment of its own, and every attempt to win over the concierge was met with steely resolve. Though he did appreciate the flowers Eddie brought.

All in all, these teams really need to step up their game and concentrate on filling the seats at their restaurants and hitting the street to market, market, market. While Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares can teach you many things about how to fix failing restaurants, the most important thing he always tries to impart to his subjects is the importance of marketing, of forming solid reputations among the locals and getting them to (A) try the restaurant, (B) impress them with the quality of the food and service, and most importantly (C) come back again and tell their friends.

If any of these teams want to win the grand prize at the end of Last Restaurant Standing, they'll have to do just that. Right now, all eyes are on Lloyd and Adwoa and Jess and Laura...

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing, Jeremy and Jane, Grant and Laura, and Tom and Nicola face the challenge of their lives: they must host gourmet evenings with local produce and offer entertainment celebrating local history. Some end up encountering difficulties sourcing seasonal ingredients (really?) and others decide to break the rules...

Comments

I can't believe how far Adwoa and Lloyd have come! I never thought they'd make it past the first week and now they're the only team who really seem to be running a proper restaurant. Adwoa has proved not only that she can cook delicious food but also run a kitchen, something which Nicola has yet to accomplish. Sadly, I think it will be Nicola and her son who go home on the next round as this is their second challenge. I like them but they have yet to prove they have what it takes to run their own restaurant.

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