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 (359)

  1. Laird Macomber says:

    The RI write up here ends saying: “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.” If it was the same sandwich made of lettuce, tomato, bacon and bread, Robert didn't raise the food cost. It was not a case of replacing canned and frozen food materials with fresh.
    Robert claims that fresh is cheaper; so, the Dinner Bell's switching back to its old menu seems arbitrary, especially since the owner admitted that Robert's meatloaf and catfish tasted much better.

  2. Nikki says:

    i don't understand the problem with the prices. you have the money to go out to eat, at a sit down restaurant at that, but can't afford the $7 it costs to eat there? i take it you've never been to any of the major chain sit down joints? cause you'd be paying more than $7 for a b.l.t there. my husband and i live in clarksville and it's not exactly a cheap place to live and neither is nashville, not saying it's more expensive than some other states/cities out there. we don't have alot but we manage to get ourselves out to a sit down restaurant every once in a while and we sure as heck pay more than $7 for an entree!!!

  3. Dee says:

    Admit it, RI's combat tactics is what's most interesting about the show and would be mambypamby with out it! He's an entertainer, not there to hold their hand or play therapist, he's there to entertain, get ratings, and make an interesting TV show. If the restaurant benefits in the process, all the more interesting! Either way, a good reshaping is better for the show and the restaurant than where either started. All too often, restaurant owners and staff look a gift-horse in the mouth. If they were more grateful and enlightened by RI's example of what makes for success, more than likely they would turn the business around. I have to scratch my head every time I see the restaurant owner pride get in the way of good common sense, although have to admit that too, is part of what makes the show entertaining.

  4. Colorado chef says:

    I have been in the restaurant business as a cook/chef/owner since 1975. Since 1987 I have been in the ownership phase. I watch R.I. on my night off. That speaks volumes about my lack of a life. Oh well.

    To be successful in this business it is very helpful to be part Captain Bligh and part Mother Teresa. One simply cannot be too friendly with the staff. But even if you are, they have to accept the fact that you will fire them without hesitation if they deserve it. Robert does this Bligh/Teresa routine quite well. In one scene he is screaming and belittling the owners and next thing you know he is playing Dr. Phil with them. Well done Robert!

    As far as the prices go: businesses are price takers not price setters. In other words; if you own a business and want to be successful you must price your goods and services at a level that the general public will pay. If you go too high or low you will fail. There are many regional variations of the proper price level for a certain commodity. Our menu is priced from 5 dollars to 13.50 for lunch and dinner. We prepare everything in house, with the exception of 2 items we have made for us. That puts our food cost at a little over the target cost but we make money by being full and/or having a waiting line most every night.

    The restaurant business is a "take no prisoners" business. The hours are brutal and the competition is fierce. The economics are not in our favor: there is way too much going on under one roof. But with all the challenges I love it and would not do anything else.

  5. Ray says:

    It's time to thank some long term customers for their business, tell them I'm sorry you can't afford my BLT and say goodbye

  6. Pete says:

    You folks realize this is a "made for tv show" ?

  7. PRW94 says:

    I live in the Deep South, not in Tennessee, but in a city that is equivalent to Madison population wise and economic demographic wise, registered to add my .02.

    1. First off, price of a Mickey D's Quarter Pounder meal … not just the sandwich, but the meal … in my city is $5.49. I deliberately checked to make sure it hasn't gone up. So the price points are different in different areas of the country, depending probably on economic situation, cost of living, etc.

    2.Only place you can get a BLT around here is at one of the 24-hour diners like Waffle House or Huddle House (two Southern chains). Checked both menus, price is $4.59 at both (sandwich, no side). Again, another example that going rate can be different in different locations. Of course these two establishments are chains so they probably get a break on pricing that mom and pops don't get … and which may be the reason no mom and pops sell BLT's.

    3. Basically, foodies like me have to drive an hour, hour and a half to get a meal at anything else but a chain, because in a market like ours, unless it's a chain that people know, or unless it's a place that sells fried catfish, chicken fingers or barbecue … the three main food groups for the stereotypical Southerner … it just ain't gonna fly outside a significant metropolitan area where people have more cultured tastes. Going rate in my town for catfish and barbecue is $8.95 a plate with sides, for chicken fingers $5.95 with sides, mom and pop or chain, again different price points. It goes up when you drive that hour, hour and a half, and in most cases so does the quality. Those who make that drive for a good meal know it's going to cost more because those are the folks to whom dining out is something special. For a lot of folks in my area, they dine out just because they don't want to cook at home, or because they want catfish, chicken fingers or barbecue, and they can be cheapskates.

    4. I have no sympathy for the guy whining about Robert getting in his face. He knew what he was getting into. And I don't think Robert is overly cranky and mean, I think he's passionate.

    5. My biggest issue with the restaurant owner is that he's going bust with a meat and three. Now I know Robert has no frame of reference for a meat and three, I think it's obvious some folks here don't either. But a good meat and three is a freaking GOLD MINE. I'm a foodie, I can talk duck comfit, jamon iberrico de belotta ham or good wine if you want to, but every now and then I need my beans, taters, turnip greens and cornbread fix, and so do a lot of other folks particularly in the South and maybe elsewhere too (you see all these Southern food restaurants opening up in NYC, etc.). Somebody who has a good meat and three, using all fresh stuff, in a clean establishment that offers quality service, might as well have a money printing machine, the way people will line up. And you don't have to charge a mint. Best meat and three in my town charges $7.95, not including drink, for a menu that rotates daily as far as meats and veggies. And it is all fresh. And they are doing it at that price point and doing it well, and prospering. It can be done, if you have a clue, and this guy and his staff don't.

    • valerie says:

      in all seriousness, can you please write a book? or write anything at all? great review of the episode, you seem to know what you're talking about regarding food, and the southern-ness of your writing is downright perfect.. and i agree completely

    • Susan says:

      If you eat MacDonald's, that tells us that you have no tastebuds or pallet. That food is disgusting and makes me sick. The smell of it would gag a maggot and I doubt that even cockroaches will eat it. How can you even compare real food to that pig slop?

      Thus, your evaluation is null and void.

      • Emily says:

        They didn't say they ate it, just checked the price. Susan, I suspect you are one of the Dinner Bell employees reincarnated with a new name.

      • steve says:

        Uh… the popster never said they ate at Mc Donalds.

        Thus, YOUR evaluation is null and void.

    • CBAG says:

      Bravo! Intelligent! Kind! Word-smith! Mature! Diplomatic and respectful! A rarity my dear.

    • But that solely relies on VOLUME, VOLUME, VOLUME, You can't survive on 6 waitresses and 6 old couples after church. You know eats cheap, steals the rolls and silverware off the table for "later". Any cafeteria type place has big food orders and gets good prices. Plus clean as you mentioned, no ptomaine parlor like this joint that had the health department reports to back up what Robert pointed out.

      This was a man that had no business being in business and this proves it. I do feel bad for the wife, the spouse always seems to have to support the other partners "dream" of playing at a business.

    • Francine says:

      McDonald's and Waffle House are franchises. The Dinner Bell is a family owned business, and because of cheap dinners or sandwiches, they are not able to pay bills, therefore, in comes Robert. Robert knows what he is doing, and for a family business to succeed, they may have to raise the prices of their items, and unfortunately, the older customers may not be able to afford a $7 BLT, which is understandable, however, they have to understand that the family owned restaurant has to pay bills, pay for food, pay for worker's compensation, etc. Therefore, maybe that isn't the place for them._

      • jay says:

        PRW94 is right about the cost and southern foodies. I hope more restaurant owners can consider the prices fast food vs mom and pop. I also agree with Francine about the older customers who can't afford to pay the rising costs. Maybe it isn't the place for them and based on the amount they wanted to pay the owner wouldn't have lost much. Another solution may have been a senior citizens special menu and a kid's menu to accommodate the less fortunate and create a dish you can't get anywhere else and charge $15 to even the cost.

    • Guest says:

      I would not compare a Waffle House to any actual restaurant unless you don't know what the term Greasy SPoon means.

    • PHS1967 says:

      Madison is not a true city it is greater Nashville it has no city hall or police department unlike Berry Hill which is a city inside a city because it has both city hall and PD with a mayor. Madison owes 90% of its revenue from outside the community because of Rivergate mall. Hendersonville, TN is just beyond as well as Goodlettsville, TN both just a mere stones throw away. Hendersenville while not a Brentwood by any stretch is home to many country stars so its residence would have not suffered with the price increase. Goodlettesville is home to the Dollar General Corp. and some promenint nieghborhoods also could have taken the brunt of the price increase. If old customers were capable of keeping them afloat it would have the only way to have save this place was an infusion of new customers the old one would have found a place to their liking eventually. I said all of this just to clear up that Madison is an Area of Nashvillle not a city. A waste of time on my part but I had time to kill anyway.

  8. Customer says:

    You can do a $10,000 remodel and "fix" the physical appearance of this restaurant, but there is no amount of money that is going to change the filthy habits that have been instilled in these lazy employees and owner. This makeover was like putting lipstick on a pig. A Leopard doesn't change his spots and in this case, a pig doesn't change it's oink!

  9. ray says:

    extradonary show. i watch it every day and i dont like food the business restuaraunts , small buisnesses or even cooking.

  10. Kaie says:

    Here's what I have to say, people go to fast food place's and have no problems spending from $7 to $10 on a crappy meal, but won't spend that for a fresh home down cooked meal?…. Come on people!.. All I have to say is "Increase your prices". This is a business and not a handout. I live in Jacksonville, Florida and I would go to a local diner here and gladly pay $7.00 for a BLT.

    Jacksonville, FL is off I95 and 99.99% of people that know us just go right through jacksonville to go down further south of Florida for vacation. We are an average city so our costs are not high like Daytona, Orlando, Tampa, Miami etc.

    Our Diner's here are awesome and the prices are from $7.00 to $10.00 meal and it is well worth it!

    The Dinner Bell can brand and market their restaurant tremedeously in Nashville. They can go to local Networking Groups, Clubs, Chamber of Commerce (Networking) to get the word out! Also, there are so many local events that they can be a part of and not to mention the Country Music Industry…. Need I say more.

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