Restaurant Revisited: Dinner Bell Restaurant

by in Shows, February 27th, 2013

Robert Irvine on Restaurant: Impossible

Not long after Robert Irvine arrived at Dinner Bell Restaurant in Madison, Tenn., it was clear to him that this mission would be unlike any he had done in the past. “This has got to be the most desperate restaurant I’ve ever been to,” he reflected after meeting owner Tommy Kirkpatrick. Before its Restaurant: Impossible experience, Dinner Bell was just two days away from closing its doors, so it was up to Robert and his team to rescue the eatery from the brink of financial ruin. Despite initial tension between Robert and Tommy, who was frustrated with the acknowledgment of his failures, Dinner Bell ultimately reopened to a full house after a much-needed deep clean, a revamping of the menu and an interior overhaul. We checked in with Tommy a few months after the renovation to find out how his business is doing today.

Dinner Bell remains “very clean,” according to Tommy, who, since the renovation, has held his employees accountable to excellence in both the front and back of the house. “Kitchen staff are expected to taste the food before each shift to ensure quality and expected to keep the kitchen in clean, working order,” he tells us. The servers “definitely look more professional than they did before the show, and Tommy is “ensuring [they] are consistently wiping the tables and table bases down, and guests are greeted with personality and friendliness.”

After the renovation, Tommy received some “positive” feedback from customers about Robert’s new menu — especially the Derby Pie, a favorite at the restaurant. However, they’ve since resorted to their previous list of offerings because the prices were too high for some diners. “Several long-term customers stated they would not return to the Dinner Bell because they could not afford a $7 BLT sandwich, which was priced previously at $4.50.”

More From Restaurant Revisited:

Nanny Goat’s Cafe & Feed Bin (February 20)
Sapori D’Italia (January 23)
Windseeker Restaurant (January 16)
Whiskey Creek Steakhouse (January 2)
Rising Sun Bistro (December 19)
Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Missouri (December 9)
Bronk’s Bar and Grill (December 5)
Rohrer’s Tavern (November 28)
Poco’s on the Boulevard (November 21)
Oleander Bar and Grill (October 17)
Valley Inn (October 10)
Whistle Stop (October 3)
The Maple Tree Cafe (September 26)
Michele’s (September 19)
Paliani’s Restaurant (September 12)
Frankie’s (September 5)
Gusanoz (August 29)

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Comments (348)

  1. HeatherG says:

    With a printed menu that used Comic Sans, the restaurant was doomed from the start.

    • cherryblock says:

      Y’know, I agree completely! My husband and I went to dinner in Madison, about a half mile away from the Dinner Bell, last Saturday. I suggested the Dinner Bell to the couple we met for dinner — they live in Madison (we live in Nashville). The wife had never heard of it, never been there, didn’t know anyone who had been there. I had not seen the episode at the time — but the ironic part is, as we drove past it, I was describing to the group how you just can’t take anything seriously if it’s in Comic Sans!

    • ASLJFA says:

      I agree completely! You can't take anything seriously if it's COMIC!

  2. George says:

    If your going to open a resturant, take a resturant management course at a local community college at night first. You will learn about food costs, budgets, etc., before opening a resturant.

    • officialgame says:

      Care about your customers, serve great food, keep your place spotless and hire employees that love people. Good luck.

  3. Kathie says:

    Would like to see a brief recap of various restaurants a year after the Robert intervention. A short how are they doing now segment or a special annual show of revisiting restaurants and see how they're doing.

    • ritgar says:

      Totally agree, especially since you can't even look up some of the older shows now & see what is going on. They are showing reruns & you can't see if they are even in business anymore.

    • stan says:

      A well known restaurant here in Port Charlotte FL (Captain n' Cowboy) was having difficulties and RI came in changed the menu, raised the prices after comparing it to a upper scale restaurant in a neighboring community and the business closed after 6 months. The clientele would not support the increased prices.

  4. sleepy33 says:

    Ok, all of y'all who are saying "people won't pay $7 for a BLT in Madison, TN", come on! You can't go to McDonald's and get a quarter pounder meal for less than $7! Are you serious?

  5. Bahamas says:

    So many comments, not sure how to chime in. Will say this, the upkeep of this rest. was deplorable, and it does happen when we get stuck in a rut. I do believe that if time was on his side R. could take time and cuddle the owners a bit more, but the more you see people making silly mistakes the angrier you become. Perhaps R. needs a break.

    The cost of dining at home has increased, therefore you'd expect prices in a restaurant to increase. perhaps they can win if they narrowed the old menu choices, but simply put people should get fresh, health, well prepared food. This means you must charge, Dont feed me slop unexpectedly because your "old clientele" dont want to pay. When I sit down and order, I expect to get the best.

  6. Dave says:

    A lot of commenters criticizing Robert about his 'obnoxious' approach. On one hand, I can understand their feelings, no one like to be treated that way. On the other hand, you also need to understand that Robert does not have the luxury of time to nicely coax these people into a new frame of mind. 99% of the time, he needs to break them of complacency, denial or whatever mindset that is holding them back. While it is disagreeable, anger is an effective emotion and stirs people to action. It is pretty basic psychology. Think of it as 'restaurant bootcamp'.

    Even so, like some others have mentioned below, I would like to see a 2nd revisit of these places. While some drastic changes take place in two days, it would be interesting to see how many times those changes have stuck. People are creatures of habit and they do not change those habits easily. Two days is not a long time to change habits that are usually years in the making.

    • brazil 77 says:

      The owner has been on the local tv news several times saying how bad the show was to him and his staff.Most the resturants use the show to flip the resturants to sell.

      • bottengubbe says:

        Nonsense!

      • Dawnskye says:

        Unfortunately, you are correct. There are some really good and deserving folks out there that want to STAY in business but it seems only these crappy, low class, scammers get on these shows, take advantage of a free makeover and sell the restaurant within months. I wish there was a clause in their contract that the owner has to make a documented and legitimate effort to use what he learned in a specific amount of time or they have to pay back the 10K. Turnaround does not happen overnight or even in 6 months. I can take at the very least a year or two to see if the changes that were made have been profitable and if that profit is enough to keep the business solvent. These people come to Chef Irvine with a mess on their hands and, like the rest of the world, expect instant gratification. Wake up people, this is NOT how life works!

        • Jumping Bean says:

          You got that right, plus the other $40K or whatever administrative and production costs amount to should be tacked on. Or, better yet, bounce that money into the next restaurant that lasts 2 yrs. post-renovation as a bonus!

      • MissGlam67 says:

        This owner was a crybaby who couldn't handle the truth. It speaks volumes about what kind of person he is. The fact that is decided to sell might be a good thing. He won't be serving pig slop by a slovenly staff anymore. He couldn't take the heat so he got out of the kitchen. I almost wished he got his ass kicked by Chef Robert when he threatened to fight him.

    • bottengubbe says:

      I completely agree with Dave, Robert Irvine is unapolgetic in his approach to restoring failing restaurants. 75% or higher of restaurants he has rehabilitated return to a healthy business after his visit. The fact that he often has to deal with family failures on top of a failing business model is quite amazing. He does not let "stupid" get in the way of doing what he sets out to do! Of course, if there were no interesting personality conflicts there wouldn't be a show! Come on–when you see the amazement in the faces of customers who taste the new items (that he teaches terrible cooks) Chef Irvine puts on the menu, you have got to say, wow! The cooks and owners who complain about his brusk manners should not have signed up in the first place. He hates dirty, slimy kitchens, frozen foods, and foods sold as "fresh" when it is nothing of the sort.
      Most of the food served in these places was terrible or unfit for human consumpption. Who wouldn't spend $10,000 to fix something that can become a potential goldmine. He is a virtual Dr. Phil of restaurant fixes!

    • Iris says:

      Right on, Dave — I couldn't have stated it better. Mr. Irvine definitely does NOT have the time to 'coddle' people or slowly convince them of what they're doing wrong…all he has is two days!

  7. lovetheshow says:

    No way Chef Irvine "ruined" what was a filthy, filthy kitchen and servers unaware of their poor hygiene habits! Regardless of how it's presently being run, if it has a CLEAN kitchen, they are no longer serving FROZEN food and the servers now utilize "PROPER HYGIENE" habits, they are way ahead of the game. Can't believe the health dept had not shut them down before now. If the place remains open, Chef Irvine must have done something right!

  8. janice says:

    I don't understand why people are complaining about a $7 BLT but spend that much or more (if you super size) at a fast food restaurant. You might say the prices of the items are pricey, but the thing is, a business must make a profit or they will close the door. Who wants to break even all the time, or lose money? If a person buy good quality meats, fresh fruits and veggies that is in season, and maybe some actual home baked pies, cakes and cookies. Then it's going to reflect in the prices. It's worth it.

  9. Bob says:

    Look at it this way – if you turn 10 tables every 30 minutes and make a profit that's good right? Well wouldn't it be better (and Robert was trying to drill this point home) to make the same profit (or better) by turning less tables but making the same profit. What does that do – gives the staff time to focus on the customers. If the place is going backward – then he will lose more than just the business – he will lose self respect. He needs to lead, and get into the business and make NEW customers that will pay for the food he cooks. If they can't pay – the place can't serve them – its really simple.

  10. skgrkg says:

    I just had a look at The Dinner Bell menu. Its no wonder they were going broke. I would pay more at any drive thru joint than what they charge, And of course regulars complain when they raise prices, customers knew they had a great deal going. Why on earth the restaurant went back to what was putting them out of business is beyond me, If they had bothered to watch Roberts shows they would know he didn't treat them any differently than anywhere else he goes. Guess no good deed goes unpunished.

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