Restaurant consultants can not only help you take your business to the next level but teach you valuable skills to continue to take your business to new heights.
Contrary to what many restaurant business owners still think, consultants are not always using cookie-cutter solutions to your problems and giving you fixes you do not know how to apply.
In reality, a good consultant is rather quick in identifying the core issue, collaborates with you, finds a viable solution, and helps implement the recipe for success.
A great restaurant consultant does not even stop there but helps you better understand how to address your problems appropriately in the future when they are gone. This post will help you answer better understand when you need a consultant and how to properly engage them.
Many restaurant owners struggle to realize the need for a consultant for their business. This is usually prompted by a fear of an added expense, poor or lack of previous experience, fear of sharing their challenges, and so on.
There are many reasons stopping you as the restaurant owner from going out and hiring a great external contributor.
So, in this piece, we cover the situations where it is in your best interest to pay the premiums and hire a great consultant.
Then we will walk you through how you can go about the process and highlight different ways you can engage these consulting professionals.
Table of Contents
Areas Where a Restaurant Consultant Can Help
The items outlined below are just some of the major areas where restaurants can generally benefit from the services of a consultant. While the areas remain constant in most restaurant businesses, struggles and solutions are highly different.
A good restaurant consultant can usually dive deep and can “take a look under the hood” to give you a detailed assessment of your business, followed by a list of personalized solutions for your restaurant.
New Concept Development
Whether you are developing your first single-unit restaurant business or planning the hyper-growth for your brand, it is a costly and risky endeavor. Consultants have a pulse on the new trends, consumer tastes, successful concepts, and those that are specific to your service type and cuisine.
From pricing to decor to operation flow, they can help you with varied service touchpoints. They can help you shorten the timeframe between idea and implementation by acting as experienced coaches, mitigating costly mistakes, and ensuring time are not wasted.
Some concrete deliverables by a consultant under this category could include concept ideas, floor plan renderings, financial projections and modeling, space plan, location sourcing, investor deck, and more.
Creating a menu is a combination of art and math. While you or your chef might have the expertise on the artistic side and bringing those items to life, often these new menus miss the mark on profitability or product mix. A great menu needs to be profitable, drive customer return rate, help your brand stand out and build an identity, be feasible to execute (both from the kitchen and from an ordering standpoint), and push your business forward.
Needless to say, Menu has a big impact on your restaurant business, one could even say, it is your business. Additionally, when you think about operating a 21st-century restaurant, there is the added complexity of calorie counts, nutritional analysis, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HAACP) compliance, and more.
Some concrete deliverables by a consultant under this category could include product mix projections, vendor selection, menu calorie labeling, recipes, preparation recipes, plate assembly plans, menu optimization, HAACP recommendations, take-out, and packaging plans and much more.
The restaurant business is becoming a really crowded space and building a brand image and a point of differentiation is now more important than ever. With such a high failure, the ability to distinguish your steakhouse from every other steakhouse in town has never been more vital.
Whether you are trying to establish your new brand or revamping your existing one, the restaurant consultants’ influx of new ideas and experience can help you be more creative and strategic with your efforts.
Some concrete deliverables by a consultant under this category could include building brand elements (logo, color palette, signage), identifying vision and core values, building brand strategy (positioning, story), and enhancing brand experience (website, touchpoints, menu boards, advertisements) and more.
Turnaround or Performance Improvement
When your business is underperforming, most restaurateurs dig deep and push through, instead of addressing the items that need to be improved upon.
Turnaround consultants can step in and help you improve a slipping financial performance or a complete turnaround. These restaurant consultants can either help you with slipping sales, food costs issues, operational disasters or simply streamlining the business with leaner processes, reducing costs, and optimizing supply chains.
These situations require restaurant-specific experience (even service specific experience as well), operational expertise, financial engineering, and proven business acumen. As a restaurant owner, it is difficult to conquer both the dining room, team leadership, and a business turnaround.
An external restaurant team or agency with experience in similar performance improvement situations comes ready to work with helpful insights.
Some concrete deliverables by a restaurant consultant under this category could include concept assessment, P&L analysis, expense analysis, margin comparison, restructuring, debt payment strategies, management analysis, and many more turnaround related items.
For most restaurants, labor, one of its core inputs is also one of its biggest challenges. Labor is a huge part of every restaurant business, and this expense plays a key role in restaurant profitability and longevity.
Problems associated with labor can be of many different natures, dealing with everything from management structure to the organization of the kitchen and a labor consultant is uniquely equipped with tools to tackle them.
Some concrete deliverables by a consultant under this category could include productivity analysis, labor performance, setting up KPIs and tracking, labor costs reduction plan, operation optimization strategies, and much more.
This is not an exhaustive list, and depending on your need and the services provided by the consultant, the list can be extended by a lot.
Some more areas could include operation optimization, financial advisory (For example I offer CFO consultants), restaurant technology, planning off-premise sales, contract management, food, and beverage innovation.
Some Basic Factors to Look for in a Consultant
You will invest a lot of your time and money working with the consultant, and therefore, a thorough check while hiring a consultant is of the utmost importance.
Here are some of the factors you should focus on when narrowing down your options:
The restaurant business is one of the most challenging industries to operate, where experience separates the beginners from the professionals, a business where you need to get your hands dirty in the kitchen and on the service floor.
Additionally, the restaurant business will also vary in regards to locations, type of restaurant, restaurant size, and so on. More experience or service-specific experience in your particular restaurant niche could be something that allows a consultant to stand out from the others. You could also ask the consultant for a reference list or case study of his or her past clients, this will likely highlight the nature of the consultant’s business.
Also, many consultants have their websites where they include their past case studies, up to date blog, and a broad overview of themselves along with their services, showcasing the kind of knowledge they possess.
Often not given that much importance, but it is an important factor to consider since you and your team will spend a lot of time working with this consultant (or consultancy).
Remember, it is not just you, but chances are that the consultants will also interact with your team, and potentially train them. It doesn’t stop there, these consultants will represent you and interact with your customers, suppliers, vendors, on your behalf depending on your project nature. You want someone with a winning personality that properly represents your brand.
I suggest you look for solid leadership traits like firmness, communication, creative solutions, enthusiasm, ability to connect with people. Take a moment and visualize if you can work with them and their personality for the weeks and months to come.
Many consultants come with established networks that could be beneficial for your projects. The best professionals in the industry are usually busy, not easily accessible, and highly sought after.
For example, you want the best of the best to design your kitchen, but there are high chances this designer is only available via the personal network, recommendations and only prefers to work with their current clients. By using a great consultant, you get access to this individual through his or her network and also get their stamp of approval. Consultants in this industry usually come with connections, for contractors, designers, legal teams, marketing, and so on.
You can always discuss this beforehand to find out if your consultant is open to giving access to their network as part of the engagement. Any great restaurant consultant knows people in the industry and will be able to bring them to the table in some format.
These are just some starting points that you can use to narrow down your list in the process we discussed previously. Next, we cover how exactly you hire this consultant.
How Do You Hire a Consultant?
Making the decision to hire a consultant, once you have decided you need one, can be a daunting task. With so many options out there, knowing which service providers to even consider, let along go with, can be challenging.
As always, our goal is to help you make better decisions for your restaurant, and that’s what we layout in the coming section. Below, we list a series of steps that can help you narrow down your list and move ahead with the process.
Some of the next sections will go into depth on how you can make the decisions highlighted in the steps below, but this section gives you an overview of what your process should look like.
Creating a List of Potential Consultants
As discussed in the previous section, you could need help in many different kinds of situations. A great first step is to know what issues you would like to address, and having this in mind, so you can look for consultancies that come with niche expertise.
The consultants could also be sorted through based on their experience problem area you are addressing. Apart from looking at sources such as directories or online, asking your friends in the industry could also be useful. They can give you insights about their experience with the consultant.
The First Meeting
Once you have a preliminary list, reach out to the consultancies or consultants. Most of them arrange a first meeting or introduction call free of cost. Ideally, you have already told them about your pain points in your first communication before setting up the meeting.
During the first meeting, the consultancy comes up with a proposal, price packages, ideas, and steps they will undertake. The preliminary call is a great opportunity to learn about the consultant’s methodology.
I recommend you also request case studies or references at this point, with the goal of reviewing them or contacting these individuals. This is a key opportunity for you to get a basic understanding of how the consultant will go about the project.
Now, the ball is in your court. You have some proposals, ideas, price points, methods, a background of the people, case studies, references, and other information to analyze and compare. Now compare these factors based on which are more important to you, whether it’s how much they collaborate with you, availability, how they do their assessment/research, ideology, pricing, and so on. There is no one way to go about this as it will differ from your project needs, personal needs, business needs, expectations, and so on.
Some additional points you can focus on for your analysis are – how well the consultants understood your project and business in the first round, how detailed are the ideas and the methodology, their mode and style of interaction with you (some restaurateurs prefer calls to emails, etc.). This analysis should lead you to a place where you narrow down your options even further or perhaps even choose the right match.
Selection and Drafting Contract
Once you have decided who you will go into business with, now comes the step where you need to formalize the arrangement. You will draw a contract with the consultant, which should definitely have the following elements: deliverables, project timeframe, NDA, information exchange method, fees, expense reimbursement, payment structure, and schedule of deliverables.
Depending on the scope of these services, tenure of agreement, and overall cost, I often recommend you involve your lawyer at this step. They are useful if you have access to one to ensure that you do not miss any major points or misread any clause, although such proposals tend to be very straightforward.
If the project involves revealing your financial information, insider secrets, recipes, etc. then it is better to take some time and money to ensure your proprietary information is protected.
How Much Do You Pay Your Consultant?
The payment structure that you set up with your consultant could be different based on your project and your budget. Some of the common structures used are:
Hourly or Daily
This kind of payment is more suitable for smaller projects like staff training, basic assessment, those on a fixed budget, etc. The concept is simple, the consultant gets paid as per the number of hours or days worked.
Additionally, it is normal to expect that you also have to pay any extra expenses incurred by the consultant, such as travel expenses, food, access to databases or tools required for your project, and so forth.
This is a great structure to start off with, as it allows you both to get to know each other (I start off most of my large engagements this way). This allows you to experiment with working with the consultant for a short term and then move on to bigger projects with more complex fee structures.
This is a lump sum amount for your project that both the parties mutually agree upon. This usually includes the consultant fees, any anticipated project-related expenses, any equipment or services required, and other overhead.
This is more suitable for bigger projects when the deliverables are towards the end of the project phase. Ideally, the scope should be structured with benchmarks along the way, and a related release of funds when those scope items are completed.
Some larger projects, where it is possible to have different milestones allow the goal-oriented structure to work well. Under this scenario, partial payment is agreed upon when each phase of the project is complete. The consultant has a chance for feedback and to pivot, and also the client if unsatisfied it gives the opt-out opportunity for both parties.
This could be used for projects like a restaurant launch, where different milestones could be on the lines of concept development, bringing in investors, operational set-up, launch preparation, and so on.
This is not commonly preferred by the consultants, especially for less established clients. Though, if you have a promising business, consultants accept incentive-based fees. Under this, you will probably have some low base payment, and add to that a certain percentage of sales or profit.
You could use this kind of a fee structure for projects such as launching a new line of products, for example, launching your famous chicken noodle soup in the grocery aisle.
The fee structure is not one-sided, but rather a proposal and negotiation from both sides in the consultancy game. Knowing your options, and having a strong proposal will help you craft a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Let Your Project Begin!
Consultants are a valuable resource to a business that as a restaurant owner, you should consider. As a consultant, I know that we can have a positive impact for restauranteurs, helping them see gaps in their business, improving both top and bottom line.
Restaurant consultants (the right ones) come with experience and a specialized skill set that helps and teaches you to conquer the multiple restaurant projects you want to accomplish.