This post was last updated on Aug 10, 2020.
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Which TV shows epitomize what it means to work in a restaurant?
With so much TV out there today, you could answer that question in a number of ways. Is it a reality TV show about how detrimental a not-so-great manager can be? Is it a lighthearted comedy where the restaurant is the backdrop of the show?
Well, we considered them all and put together this list of the best restaurant TV shows. From Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant: Impossible to The Wonder Years and SpongeBob SquarePants, anyone who's ever worked in a restaurant should be able to relate to these shows.
Restaurant Reality Shows
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
Travel the world with the late Anthony Bourdain as he visits some of the most exquisite and popular restaurants on the planet. Restaurants looking for inspiration can pick up tips from show that's a hybrid travel program and international cuisine showcase.
The Best Thing I Ever Ate
This show covers the best of the best, with celebrity chefs dishing on their favorite food spots and the meals that they would travel thousands of miles to have again. Another show for both pros and aspiring restaurateurs to watch and get inspired.
Six chefs are featured in season one of this Netflix documentary series, and their recipes for a successful restaurant are the focus. Each episode of the series profiles a professional chef, with mouth-watering cinematography that brings their visions to life.
Diners, Drive-ins and Dives
While divisive on its entertainment merit, Guy Fieri's show has garnered four Emmy nominations for Outstanding (Structured) Reality Program. Local off-road dives and nationally recognized restaurants are featured on this show, and many restaurants that have been featured get a boost in exposure and proudly flaunt it in their windows.
Man Finds Food
Also known as Secret Eats, the show is hosted by Adam Richman, a man dedicated to finding "off-the-grid" restaurants. The first season focuses on domestic gems, while the second crosses international waters to showcase restaurants in England, Vietnam, and Poland, among others.
Man v. Food
Some restaurants are notorious for their food challenges. In Man v. Food, Adam Richman (yup, the same guy from above) tackles the challenges that most of us wouldn't dare take on. But it's all too fascinating to not watch.
We'd be remiss if we didn't show some local love for Phantom Gourmet. A food finder focused on highlighting New England favorites, Phantom Gourmet is practically a household name in the area, showcasing some must-visit establishments. If you're ever in New England and need a good eat, just look up restaurants featured on Phantom Gourmet – you won't be disappointed.
Have a day off in your busy schedule? Unwind with one of these great movies about restaurant people.
Restaurant Sitcoms and Cartoons
Less focused on the actual operations of real restaurants, these sitcoms and cartoons still capture the spirit of working in one. While the reality shows tend to focus more on the overarching management decisions, these programs showcase the lives of the servers, counter workers, and those aspiring artists in your local establishment.
There's something in these shows that any owner can see in their staff, and any server or back-of-house employee can see in their own lives.
2 Broke Girls
Still polarizing when it comes to quality, 2 Broke Girls is all about working in a restaurant, the title referring to the two lead characters who work as diner waitresses. Currently on its sixth season, the show serves up fun laughs for those who have worked as a waiter or waitress.
Most family-owned restaurants aren't as poorly managed as they are in Bob's Burgers. Still, those who operate one of these establishments understand the dilemma of balancing home economics with restaurant economics – and the fun that arises for those on the outside looking in.
"I'm gonna go get one of those job things," Rachel declares in the first episode of Friends. For the next several seasons, she's confronted with the daily joys and struggles of serving people coffee in Central Perk. Anyone who took a similar position when they were in-between jobs can relate.
Also, remember that Monica was a chef for all 10 seasons. We get to hear all about customer complaints, taking bribes from food suppliers, a resentful back-of-house staff, and more.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
By no means is this show everyone's cup of tea, but this gang of five bar owners provide entertainment for experienced restaurateurs deliver that need some non-PC hysterical insanity.
SpongeBob, Mr. Krabbs, and Squidward represent three different kinds of people you might find in a restaurant: those enthusiastic about the industry and their work, those focused on their restaurant raking in the dough, and those who are just there for a way to pay the rent.
Anyone who's spent time in the restaurant industry has probably worked with a Squidward – or been the Squidward.
Restaurant-Centric TV Episodes
We came across a few shows that weren't exactly restaurant-centric, but the restaurant either served as a "background character" to the show, or the show had an important episode where a restaurant was key.
Girls, episode: "I Love You Baby"
Tired of losing business to the "hipster" coffee shop across the street, Ray engages in a vigorous "anti-hipster" tradeoff campaign. Surprisingly, it works, although Ray has to remind an employee that they cannot actually turn away customers sporting a man-bun without a potential lawsuit. The episode encourages you to celebrate vicariously through Ray after he regains his business, and is all-too-relatable for those who have lost customers to new competition in the area.
How I Met Your Mother, episode: "Three Days of Snow"
Barney and Ted proclaim, "We should open a bar!" When the owner of MacLaren's Bar leaves them in charge, the boys realize that bar management might not be the career path they had dreamed it was. Bar owners: If you're sick of people saying your job must be so cool and easy, point them to this episode.
The Wonder Years, episode: "Kevin Delivers"
Singing poorly on the way to a delivery, miscommunication in the back of the house, cheap tipping, and dealing with an always-angry boss are all captured in this single episode of The Wonder Years. If you ever held a job in a restaurant during high school, this is the episode for you.