Day 136: Amy’s Baking Company – A Lesson in Criticism

Ever seen a full-fledged self-inflicted meltdown?  If you’d like, spend 20 minutes to watch the second half of Kitchen Nightmares from last week.  Without a doubt, you’ll get a shock.

If you don’t have 20 minutes (regretfully, because this is almost must-watch TV), I’ll distill it in concise bullet points:

  • Gordon Ramsey, chef and TV personality, was brought in to Amy’s Baking Company to help save a failing restaurant.
  • The owners, Sammy and Amy – but most specifically head chef Amy- appear to be the most stubborn and pig-headed people you will come across between here and Timbuktu.
  • When Ramsey tried to help, she refused it, threw a fit, then another fit followed by another and another…
  • She lied to customers, fired a waitress for asking which table food was supposed to go to, and refused to listen to constructive criticism about her food.
  • Ultimately, Ramsey walked out of a restaurant for the first time in the show’s history (almost 100 episodes), refusing to help.

So why bring up a TV show?

Well, to be perfectly honest, because it’s a beautiful lesson in self-delusion.  Amy deflected every single piece of criticism leveled at her by blaming others, attempting to turn the tables, and acting offended.  According to the show, she and her husband have fired more than 100 employees in the last year alone.  Judging by her actions (and his) on camera, I wouldn’t doubt that the figure is pretty close to accurate.

Furthermore, Amy and Sammy took to the glorious interwebz to begin to attack everyone who commented on the show and their portrayal, via Facebook, Yelp, Reddit and Twitter.  The posts are clearly the work of someone who believes themselves to be infallible, complete with putdowns, threats and name-calling.  Judging by what I saw on the show, it’s not a stretch to believe who is behind the posts (hint: I think there is an A, M and a Y in the name).  And finally, to top the entire thing off, the couple tried to spin everything that occurred in the last 6 days as being the work of a hacker.  Interestingly, their responses after the hack claim bear striking similarities to those that are the work of the supposed hacker.

Once again…why bring this up?  Sometimes we can’t be told how we should handle a situation, we have to be shown how not to handle a situation.  In this case, the situation warranted constructive criticism.  Amy’s dishes were subpar, thus her restaurant was failing.  Overlay your own personal experience with a difficult situation.  Do you react the same way?  Do you deflect blame?  Do you make excuses?  Do you refuse to listen to someone who is trying to help you?

Lord knows I’ve done all three.  I’m the last person to tell you how you need to react.  I’ve had moments in my personal life and moments in my professional life where I lashed out because I felt hurt over a failure.  Part damaged pride, part guilt for failure, but it was all my reaction.  I’ve had to learn the hard way to admit when I am wrong, and I still don’t do it all the time.

That is perhaps our biggest failure as a species.  Our failure to admit when we are wrong.  We come up with all sorts of excuses.  We blame others.  We scapegoat.  We lash back in anger.  And ultimately, we fail.  If we could learn to listen to criticism with an open ear in the first place, and do so without allowing our feelings to get hurt, we could avoid so much prolonged pain and suffering.

It remains to be seen how Amy’s Baking Company fares.  My gut tells me this one will go down in flames.  There will be more people actively seeking to bring the restaurant down than there will be loyal customers.  Call it public schadenfreude, call it mass retribution, call it whatever you want.  The failure to grasp social media will ultimately be Amy and Sammy’s private waterloo, ending a losing campaign that began with a food blogger’s poor review in 2010.

The lesson for you and me:  handle the critics gracefully.  You never know when America will be watching.

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