Hiring a Restaurant Consultant. Advice and Tips from Restaurant Industry Experts

November 18, 2019 • 14 minutes

Mercedes Diaz
Mercedes Diaz
Independent content creator for business and foodservice niches. She provides content aimed to build relationships between customers and companies.

Owners need help when they’re putting together a plan for a new restaurant or turn around their existing location. When they open a new location, the owners are often left overworked and in a position of extreme stress. While turning around a current location is difficult because it seems like you’ve been doing everything right, except the best you can do hasn’t been enough.

These two situations are what lead restaurant owners to hire a consultant. Restaurant consultancy is the solution to many problems that owners face during critical pivot points. A consultant should have an in-depth knowledge of the food industry and a sincere desire to see your business succeed. Read this article to learn about hiring a consultant for your restaurant. You may find valuable tips along with actionable advice on how to start a restaurant with the help of a consultant.

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What do restaurant consultants do?

Restaurant owners seek out a consultant when the restaurant is either struggling or expanding, two opposites that require the same support. It’s important to know why you’re looking to hire a restaurant consulting business and use that to set your expectations.

What do consultants do for new launches and business expansion?

  • Work with small, large, and mid-sized businesses to meet legal requirements for operations. Such as identifying which permits are necessary to open for business.

  • Provide advice on operating within the food and beverage industry.

  • Help to select an effective software stack, including restaurant POS system and inventory management software, employee scheduling and marketing.

  • Educate the client on how to maintain the success of the new location after they leave.

  • Bridge the communication gap between the project/construction team and operational team.

What do consultants do to turnaround a struggling location?

  • Provide high-level and objective insight into performance and business objectives.

  • Help build communication between teams, owners, and management.

  • Advocate for successful habits and profitable operation tactics.

  • Build client base.

A food industry consultant can do anything from helping you take control over your budget, staff, or re-engage your customers. But, they can also help with bigger picture ideas such as launching a new location or revitalizing a concept that seems stale.

When and why should you hire a restaurant consultant?

If you’ve thought about hiring a consultant, then you do need guidance. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should start interviewing restaurant consulting companies right now. Figuring out why you need a consultant is the very first thing to work on.

Joshua Clifton, recent debut author of his book The Hospitality Survival Guide, a Co-Host at Slammed Hospitality Talk podcast, suggests that before asking for any help in business, you do your research. It’s important to distinguish between cases where you need something outsourced and the instances when your team can achieve the desired result. In Joshua’s opinion, if you look for similar businesses to yours and determine if they are outsourcing similar activities, it may help you make the right decision.

“The reason for needing help or outsourcing tasks must be clearly understood before any action takes place, not just within your business but yourself. Two of the biggest factors that limit people’s ability to outsource help are ego and lack of strategy. Some operators believe that they know what’s best and refuse to look for help when it’s necessary. Others may not realize that help is available in various situations.” — Joshua Clifton

Joshua emphasizes that identifying the reason for hiring a consultant can come from one specific activity. He instructs restaurant owners to list their key skills and then identify the gaps between the skills they have and what their business needs.

“In business (especially in the hospitality industry), you need to have a love for people and a love for business. A love for people means you know how to recruit, train, inspire, and build an incredible team. It also means you must know how to negotiate and build relationships outside of the business. A love for business means you understand your numbers, margins KPI’s and ultimately your core product.” — Joshua Clifton

David Scott Peters, the creator of the Restaurant Prosperity Formula, works diligently to help owners and managers cut costs while leading their teams to success. As an expert in restaurant consulting, he offers insight into understanding the function of a consultant.

“Hire a consultant when you want something done quickly in your restaurant. Otherwise, hire a coach who can encourage you and teach you how to be successful on a long-term basis.” — David Scott Peters

Understanding the existence of a skills gap can help you know why you need to outsource this part of your business. Knowing why you need help is the first step in finding the right consultant.

How can you choose the right restaurant consultant?

Restaurant consultancy services make it look easy to find the “right fit.” A restaurant owner must trust the person before entering a restaurant consulting proposal.

Ryan Gromfin of The Restaurant Boss began consulting in 2014 after years of experience working within the restaurant industry. Ryan advises owners to hire a food and beverage specialist and stay away from consultants that specialize in other industries, or have no experience in restaurants. He explains that consultants without restaurant experience can’t understand the dynamics of this industry, and it wastes time and money of the owner involved. Another issue that Ryan sees frequently is a mismatch between a consultant’s ambition and a client’s capacity to execute those ambitious ideas.

“The key to success is striking a balance between the right-side and the left-side of the brain. I call this ‘creativity that is executable.’ Look for professionals who provide creativity that is executable, day in and day out. Not your friend who’s between jobs or has experience with a corporate office. Working for a big chain and following systems does not mean you can build them. A pilot would struggle designing a plane, and an aeronautical engineer will struggle flying it. Don’t hire a pilot to build a plane. They are two different skill sets.” — Ryan Gromfin

From David Scott Peter’s perspective, you should find a candidate that has experience in your restaurant niche. For example, quick-service restaurant owners should look for candidates with quick-service experience. Essentially, you need to do careful research to ensure that a consultant is capable of taking on the project and won’t waste your resources.

“As with any major restaurant decision, hiring a consultant and obtaining strong results requires thorough due diligence on both the scope of the project at hand, as well as the ‘fit’ of the project to the consultant’s expertise and approach.” — Roger Beaudoin

Every consulting experience should start with multiple candidates. Then you can evaluate those options and decide which best suits your business needs.

“If you wish to outsource, make a list of at least 5 businesses offering the same assistance, and ask questions such as: What sort of support do you offer in the short AND long run? Can you provide examples and testimonials of your work? What types of businesses do you commonly work with? What’s the benefit of working with you over… etc.” — Joshua Clifton

When evaluating consultants, bring together a pool of potential candidates. Research them thoroughly and learn what experience they can bring into your restaurant. Be careful with people that may be too good to be true.

Is hiring a celebrity restaurant consultant the key to success?

If you try to look for an expert online, your attention may be captured by several personalities who became famous after they published a book, participated in a TV show, or built a strong following in social media. While public attention is good, it’s not proof of success in your particular case.

Danny Klein, an editor at FSR Magazine and QSR Magazine, says that the key to finding a great restaurant consultant, as with all things in this business, is to understand your customer and where your brand wants to go.

“Celebrity influencers and well-known experts are great, but if they’re not aligned with your brand’s core DNA, the message will be out of sync and ineffective. Find someone who appreciates your concept’s equities and voice, and the relationship could go a long way to elevating your restaurant to the next tier of its growth. ” — Danny Klein

Despite the proven proficiency of well-known, acclaimed, and celebrity consultants, they just may not be the best choice for you because you don’t have the personable match.

How to check a consultant’s proficiency?

Testing a consultant’s professional capacity and prowess is easier said than done. Thankfully there is a standout suggestion for understanding what a consultant could bring into your restaurant.

Being a behavioral and marketing psychologist, Dr. Ellioit B. Jaffa of Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa Associates, suggests using a disruptive strategy for checking the abilities of a restaurant consultant. This strategy can help you explore your doubts, and decide if you can put your concerns at rest.

“Ask the restaurant consultant to mystery shop your restaurant and submit a report. Do not ask for specifics; leave the task totally open-ended. Ask them to spend about an hour in your restaurant or bar and share their observations with you. The comprehensiveness of their report should tell you if you have a legitimate consultant.” — Dr. Ellioit B. Jaffa

Dr. Jaffa provides a few suggestions to give some structure to such an open-ended request:

  • Ask that the consultant and their guest spend at least 30-minutes at the bar.

  • Ask the pair to order at least one alcoholic beverage.

  • Ask the consultant to order an appetizer, two entrees (different entrees for them and their guest), and to share a dessert.

Although paying to test a consultant seems like a step in the wrong direction, it can save you losing a substantial amount of money later. Restaurants consultants don’t have to be expensive, but do view the experience as an investment. That includes investing in testing their abilities and the actual cost of their services.

How much does it cost to hire a restaurant consultant?

Restaurant consulting fees are a grey area because consultants in any field will generally charge what they believe is fair for their work. A restaurant consulting firm may have general guidelines on pricing, still, it’s best to discuss costs before signing a restaurant consulting agreement.

Roger Beaudoin, founder of Restaurant Rockstars, and a successful restaurant entrepreneur, speaks on cost and expectations. Roger directs people to consider the extent of the project requirements first, as it has a major bearing on the cost of the project.

When evaluating or negotiating costs, Roger suggests asking these vital questions:

  • Does the consultant work on a fixed-price or hourly rate?

  • Are communications such as phone calls, and emails included in their rate, or separate?

  • How flexible are you with your budget?

Put a more significant emphasis on value than you would on cost. Budget is often a driving factor, but don’t allow it to push you into a consultant agreement that isn’t right for you.

“Although most operators have a budget in mind and will strive to keep on-budget, the most important thing to keep in mind is the Return On Investment to be realized if the project is executed effectively.” — Roger Beaudoin

Joshua Clifton goes into detail on prices, acknowledging that realistically, many jobs can be outsourced, but it isn’t always affordable. He urges restaurant owners to decide if they need to hire a consultant or if they believe that it should be done.

“Price is a major factor, but in my opinion, it always comes down to support. I’ll always pay more if I can see their results, and there are effective communication measures in place.” — Joshua Clifton

When discussing restaurant consultant fees, you need to look at your expectations, the consultant’s experience, and the demands of the project. Part of finding the right restaurant consultant services includes having the services be within your budget.

“You need a system in place for everything. A restaurant consultant should show you how to cookie cutter that into your business. If they’re developing systems and solutions on your dime, look out. Confirm they will teach you how to run these systems for your business when they’re gone. It should become part of your company culture and the fabric of your business. A restaurant consultant can bring an outside perspective and serve up expertise to your employees, but they can also be a very expensive investment if you don’t have a way to carry on what they teach you.” — David Scott Peters

Of the many factors to consider when negotiating cost and pricing, give careful thought to communication, experience, support, and expected results. If you need support to implement procedures or systems, the price is completely between you and the restaurant consultant. However, if you’re looking for someone to turn around a failing restaurant while you’re on vacation, the bill isn’t the only expense you could experience.

Is it safe to let a third-party restaurant consultant in?

You need someone that you can trust, and it becomes a major concern when you’re sharing sensitive or private information. Many restaurant owners question how safe it is to allow in an outsider.

“Once you decide to hire a consultant, you need to decide who will be the primary contact at your operation. Will you work exclusively with the person, or will you involve any of your management team or other staffers? If sensitive company information is to come from other members of your team, such as cost of goods, labor, etc., the employees may feel threatened if the consultant uncovers performance shortcomings or incompetencies, and it is a negative reflection of the person’s performance. How will you deal with this information, and will you then hold the manager or staff person accountable?” — Roger Beaudoin

Considering this, your agreement should cover points of contact, information on who can handle sensitive information, and what information the consultant can access.

Take these tips from the pros and give thought the skills you’re lacking and why you need a consultant. Next, look for candidates that are specific to your needs and research them thoroughly. Finally, evaluate aspects of the agreement that will impact your business, such as cost and security. A restaurant consultant is a good option for restaurant owners that need guidance.

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