What can you learn about business from your favorite TV shows? A lot actually, especially if you’re a fan of Bob’s Burgers. The hit television series, which is in its 13th season, has been the inspiration behind a successful blog and cookbook endeavor, and it can easily serve as business inspiration too.
Before you write off Bob’s Burgers as just another cartoon, consider this: The show is a hilarious and quirky — yet accurate — portrayal of what it’s like to run a small, family-owned business. While much of the show focuses on the characters’ bond as a family and the kids’ interactions at school, the entire program centers on the Belchers’ restaurant and the relatable trials and tribulations that come with maintaining a struggling small business.
Here are five important lessons current and hopeful small business owners can learn from Bob’s Burgers. If you’ve never seen the show, now you have an excuse to spend more time streaming — it’s for the benefit of your business!
Bob’s Burgers the show may be successful, but Bob’s Burgers the restaurant? Not so much. Bob Belcher makes just enough to keep the eatery going and support his family, but the Belchers constantly struggle with money. The series makes several references to Bob not paying the rent on time. At one point in season 1, Bob even takes on a late-night taxi driving gig to pay for a birthday party for his eldest daughter, Tina. There are also many instances in the show in which other characters write off the restaurant and doubt Bob’s skills as a cook (even though many of them are pleasantly surprised when they try his food).
Despite all of these setbacks, Bob’s passion for his craft — making delicious burgers — never diminishes, and his family never stops supporting him. His wife, Linda, along with Tina and her siblings, Gene and Louise, are always there to help and lend a little humor to the situation. Regardless of what happens, Bob still gets excited every time he comes up with a new burger recipe, and it’s clear that he genuinely loves what he does and is as dedicated to making his business successful as he is to his wife and his family.
Running a small business is never as easy as it may seem. It’s a challenge, and sometimes even when you do everything right, you can still struggle or even fail. Success is about more than having business savvy or the right products and services. You also need the right attitude and the dedication to make it work, just like the Belcher family.
This is especially true with family-owned businesses, because not being able to separate your work life from your home life can predictably cause serious strain on your relationships and your business. The Belcher family doesn’t always succeed at separating their work and home lives, but the family members make a valiant effort and are a great example of why it’s so important.
Bob, more than anyone else in the family, struggles with the family-versus-work aspect of running the business, but he also puts in the most effort to make it successful. This is partly because he’s a great boss and father, but also because he knows what it’s like to lack that balance, having grown up in a restaurant himself — and he has the strained relationship with his father to prove it. In fact, Bob, who felt like he’d been robbed of his childhood, was so afraid to do the same to his own kids that he fired them during Season 3 so they could enjoy their summer as children. The kids, however, were upset because they loved working at the restaurant, so they found another job (and disaster ensued, but that’s another story). In the end, the kids came back to work and Bob realized that he had made a mistake — he already had a great relationship with his kids at home and at work.
And while Bob, Linda and the kids often have personal conversations and discuss family issues in the restaurant, they seem to have a good handle on them, and they know when to be serious. When you work with family and friends, it’s inevitable that you won’t be able to perfectly separate the business from the personal, but finding a balance can mean the difference between success and failure.
Small businesses don’t always have access to the same resources as big companies, and it can be frustrating to think things like, “If only we had this amount of money, we could do this thing that would boost business,” knowing that you still have a long way to go before you can afford it. It can be tempting to overreach and try to pull off something that you don’t really have the budget for, but if it backfires, it can be a huge blow to business.
The Belcher family learned this lesson the hard way in season 4, when they tried to out-advertise neighboring family-owned restaurant Jimmy Pesto’s (with whom Bob has a long-standing feud) by purchasing a commercial slot during the Super Bowl. The ad cost the family $3,000 — a lot, considering Bob’s Burgers’ main form of advertising is Gene standing outside in a burger suit with a megaphone. And it didn’t even work in the family’s favor. Not only did the Belchers fight over how the commercial should be shot, but Jimmy Pesto also wound up using the same celebrity endorser. In the end, the commercial didn’t even bring in more customers, making the huge price tag totally not worth it.
The point is, trying to outdo your competitors or operate like a bigger business won’t get you anywhere. The Belchers’ Super Bowl commercial didn’t put them out of business, but taking a huge, spontaneous financial risk like that could lead to ruin if you’re not careful. Focus on what works for your business the way it is now; eventually, you might just get to where you want your business to be.
We’re not just talking about Bob’s wonderfully unique and delicious-sounding burger of the day creations, although they certainly don’t hurt. As previously mentioned, most small businesses don’t have the same resources as larger companies do, and that means you need to get creative — just not $3,000-Super-Bowl-commercial creative.
Bob may struggle to make money and keep his business running, but he does know how to take advantage of situations that could draw in more customers. For example, Gene joins a mascot race at the local baseball park, and Bob tries to get him to plug the restaurant over the announcements.
Linda isn’t afraid to take risks, either. In season 1, she convinced Bob to let her throw a murder-mystery-themed dinner theater at the restaurant. At first, it wasn’t successful; they put a little too much emphasis on the “murder” part, and some customers were uncomfortable. But after a weird encounter with a robber, customers were actually impressed, which goes to show that maybe if the dinner theater concept had been executed differently, it could have worked out.
The Belchers’ creative attempts may not always be the most successful, but what’s important is that they still tried and weren’t afraid to step outside the box to garner some attention for their business.
As a business owner, Bob is constantly fighting to keep his business open, especially when it comes to dealing with his landlord, Mr. Fischoeder. The wealthy owner of nearly everything in town, Fischoeder isn’t the nicest or most understanding landlord, and often makes Bob the butt of his jokes. He also takes advantage of his tenants, especially the Belchers, often threatening not to renew their leases.
When it comes to fighting back, Bob is often the first one to challenge Fischoeder’s actions. In the season 5 finale, Bob and his family rallied all of the tenants to protest rent hikes, which led to a Hunger Games-style showdown in the woods involving water balloons (admittedly, that probably wouldn’t happen in real life.) Fischoeder tried to bribe the other tenants to turn against Bob in exchange for lower rent (making Bob’s rent higher). But in the end, the Belchers reminded everyone why it’s so important that they stick together, and Fischoeder eventually agreed not to increase their rent for a while.
You may not have an eccentric, greedy landlord to fight for your business, but Mr. Fischoeder is a good representation of the adversity that many business owners face. If you want your business to be successful, you need to be up to the challenge.
If you’ve already binged the entirety of Bob’s Burgers and are looking for another television series that can double as business homework, consider some of our other favorites, whether they take the form of reality television, drama or more side-splitting comedies.
Entertainment is meant to be a way to unwind and relax at the end of the day, and that’s especially important if you’re putting in significant effort to build a business. However, you can also draw inspiration from the most unlikely places, whether that’s Bob’s Burgers or another television show. The most successful entrepreneurs are adept at understanding people, process and the market in which they operate. There are lessons to be learned virtually anywhere. So, next time you’re kicking back and watching television, ask yourself whether there’s any valuable insights for your small business hidden behind the veneer of simple entertainment.
Jacob Bierer-Nielsen contributed to this article.