You could go about answering this question in a variety of ways. Is it a reality show displaying how detrimental a poor manager can be? Or is it a lighthearted comedy where the restaurant is always the background of the show?
Restaurant Reality Shows
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
Travel the world with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain as he visits some of the most exquisite and popular restaurants on the planet. Restaurants looking for secular inspiration can pick up tips from this part travel program, part international cuisine showcase.
The Best Thing I Ever Ate
This show covers the greatest of the greats. In the clip, Ted Allen explains that after tasting Chef Scott Conant's pasta, all other pasta has been ruined for him. Another show for both current and aspiring restaurateurs to watch in the hopes of reaching that aspired level of edible greatness.
Nothing tops a good burger, and George Motz spends a television season searching for that unbeatable burger. The program delves into the art of crafting the perfect hamburger, and if your mouth isn't watering by the end of every episode, I assume you're a vegetarian.
Six chefs are featured in this Netflix documentary, and their recipes for a successful restaurant are the focus. The team here at Toast was so moved by this production that we actually published a post on what restaurants can take away from the show. Check it out here!
Diners, Drive-ins and Dives
I love wings, but Guy Fieri takes that passion to another level. While divisive on its entertainment merit, it has garnered four Emmy nominations for Outstanding (Structured) Reality Program. Local off-road dives and nationally recognized restaurants are featured on this show, and restaurants included get an automatic boost in brand exposure.
A look at how bad things can get, Kitchen Nightmares is a fierce reminder not to lose control of your restaurant and to prioritize the respect of your staff and your customers. Granted, many of the restaurants featured on this show still fail, but even if the lessons aren't always spot-on, the entertainment value usually is.
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 some of these challenges that most of us wouldn't dare to take (but are too fascinated by to not watch).
I'd be remiss if I 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 my area, showcasing some must-visit establishments (like Toast customer Saloniki, featured in the video above)! 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!
Host Robert Irvine takes on the seemingly impossible task of turning a failing restaurant around in two days with a slim budget of $10,000. These time and budget restrictions add some excitement to the already intriguing premise, and it's easy to get sucked into watching episode after episode.
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 raunchy laughs for those who have worked as a waiter or waitress.
The Big Bang Theory
Don't forget that Penny was a waitress at a fictionalized version of The Cheesecake Factory for seven years, while Bernadette also had a brief stint at the job in season four. Penny deals with all the downsides of waitressing in the show, such as the overly-particular food requests, the poor tipping, and customers going over her head to her manager.
Ask any restaurant owner in a big city about the server who came on for a few months while looking for acting gigs and ended up staying for several years - more likely than not, they'll have a story for you.
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 hilarity 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 bringing people coffee in Central Perk. Anyone who took a similar positions when they were in between jobs understands her many plights.
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 basically the whole restaurant experience.
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 to make them chuckle.
I'm ready to admit that I love SpongeBob...at least the early seasons. But I digress. SpongeBob, Mr. Krabbs, and Squidward represent the three kinds of people working in a restaurant: those enthusiastic about the industry and their work, those focused on getting rich off their restaurant (only in a cartoon, right?), and those who are just there for a way to pay the rent.
Face it, at some point in your career, you've worked with a Squidward.
Restaurant TV Episodes
During my research, I 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.
Family Guy, "Baby Not on Board"
After running out of money, Stewie takes a job at the local McBurgertown. Laughs ensue when he gets reprimanded by his boss for eating customers' food and refusing to clean the bathroom. Anyone who has been forced to mop a stall knows his reluctance is all too real.
Girls, "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, "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, "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. Side note: if you haven't watched The Wonder Years, get on that! It's amazing.
Did we miss any of your favorite restaurant TV shows or episodes? Let us know in the comments!