March 1, 2018
Sometimes, you have to learn the hard way.
A healthcare culinary services and nutrition director in the Southeast went through two major hospital foodservice renovations. It was only during the second job, when he saw how the collaboration with a design consultant could work well, that he fully realized what had gone wrong the first time.
“For the first job, we let the consultant steer the project.” he says. “We didn’t ask enough questions. We got stuck with something we didn’t like, and when we tried to fix it, it was too late.” When the second project got under way, the foodservice director and his team put far more effort into selecting a consultant and then, guided by the consultant, worked closely with the design, architect and engineering teams as the project progressed. “We saw all the elevations for the project; it made a big difference in the outcome,” says the nutrition director. “We were looking at all the plumbing and electrical connections. Because if you say ‘put it there,’ it’s going to be there; if you try to change your mind later, nine times out of 10, you can’t.”
The veteran’s advice to others embarking on a major design project for the first time? “You get one shot,” he says. “Do your homework, really understand what you’re trying to achieve, ask 2,000 questions. Don’t assume that they have your best interests in mind. Don’t let them steer it. Make sure you really understand the specs, the blueprint, the equipment schedule, everything. And get elevations.”
A major, high-dollar foodservice or kitchen renovation or new build—whether it’s a residence-hall dining facility or a new prototype for a restaurant chain—can be an overwhelming prospect for any foodservice operations executive. You’re figuring out what will get you to the end result you seek. You’re working with a team of architects and engineers with various skill sets, thinking through work flow in the kitchen and customer traffic patterns in the servery or front-of-house, dealing with code compliance and energy management issues, and making decisions about ventilation, plumbing and electrical connections. It’s a high-risk, high-reward situation. An experienced, knowledgeable foodservice design consultant, one who can communicate well with your team as well as the project’s architects and engineers, makes all the difference.
What A Foodservice Consultant Does
The Foodservice Consultants Society Int’l. defines a foodservice consultant as an independent professional advisor who, for an agreed-upon scope of work and fee, works as an advocate for the client in achieving project goals. The consultant may be hired directly by the client or engaged as a subcontractor by the architectural firm overseeing the project—but he or she is ultimately supposed to be looking out for the client.
Some consultants specialize in design services for foodservice facility layouts and equipment. (The services offered may vary considerably; for example, one consultant told us he insists on taking charge of HVAC decisions, while another said it’s is not within the scope of his duties.) Other firms are geared toward management advisory services like business plans, human resources templates, cost analysis and control, and menu and recipe development. On large, complex projects, special programming consultants may be brought in at the very beginning to help an executive committee determine the project’s goals, scope and basic specifications so that RFPs can be developed and bids can be vetted. (In a big institution, foodservice personnel may not even be involved at this point.) Some consulting firms have experts who can handle all these areas.
A good number of consultants are members of FCSI, meaning that they have passed exams on industry knowledge and professional skills, abide by a code of ethics and professional conduct, fulfill continuing education requirements, and have access to a worldwide network of fellow consultants. But there are other highly-regarded consulting firms that are not FCSI-affiliated as well.
Independent consultants don’t sell equipment; FCSI professional members are not allowed to do so. However, there also are consultancies associated with equipment dealerships, which typically specify the dealer’s preferred equipment lines. Some have ongoing relationships with restaurant chains that tap into their expertise whenever units are built or revamped. Some dealers become the turnkey executors covering design to equipment staging to installation and startup, for repeat chain unit builds and for large and small one-off projects. Upfront costs to hire dealer-affiliated designers are typically lower—sometimes zero, with the dealer making his profit on the equipment package specified. (You may, of course, end up paying more for the equipment; on the other hand, independent designers don’t always get competitive bids for equipment they specify, so it could actually be a wash. But dealer-based design firms will specify the equipment they carry.)
With all these options, how on earth can you choose the right consultant for your project?
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