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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Day

Hiring a Restaurant Consultant for Long-Term Success

Starting a culinary venture is a journey filled with excitement, dreams, and visions of long-term success. However, it can quickly become unpleasant and costly for those unfamiliar with the restaurant industry's intricacies. 


This is where the guidance of an experienced restaurant consultant becomes invaluable. This article reviews why a good consultant makes sense for your restaurant or bar and why honesty, transparency, and openness to ideas and opinions are imperative. We will also share the story of a client who wasted thousands of dollars and a lot of time because pride got in the way.


Bar stools at at a restaurant.

The Consultant and Restaurateur Relationship


Realizing the need for a restaurant consultant marks a significant moment in an owner's life. It may come at the beginning of your venture, at the end for a good exit strategy, or somewhere in between. Knowing and understanding you need guidance is not a sign of weakness or failure. It is an opportunity for growth, improvement, and longevity. And for those who have never stepped into the industry, the sooner you incorporate a consultant, the better.


Inviting a consultant into your restaurant is a gesture of trust and openness, exposing your business's heart and soul for scrutiny and improvement. This partnership thrives on transparency—sharing ideas, finances, and ambitions without reservation. In doing so, restaurateurs and consultants embark on a collaborative journey towards a shared goal: the restaurant's success and longevity.


The relationship between a restaurateur and a consultant must be open to where visions and strategies meet without judgment. A good consultant doesn't just evaluate; they engage in a vibrant dialogue, challenging and refining ideas to forge a path that aligns with the restaurant's unique identity and goals. The exchange of perspectives enriches the planning process, ensuring that decisions are well-rounded and informed by passion and pragmatism.


 

One Owner's Costly Mistakes


Our cautionary tale recounts a restaurateur's premature decisions — signing vendor contracts before securing a location and hiring a seemingly reputable Chef whose hidden past of misconduct came to light. 


Our former client was not as forthcoming about their actions before hiring us. They had no restaurant experience and were very excited about being restauranteurs. This was their dream, and after retiring from a previous career, this was meant to be fun and easy, and it was their final venture. (Side note: It is fun, but if you think it will be easy, you might want to reconsider.)


Their first mistake was signing several contracts with different equipment and food vendors before they had a signed contract for their building and space. Several factors could have and did go wrong. Things to consider when occupying a new space: 


  • Determine how and if the equipment purchased fits into the desired space.

  • Is it electric or gas? Is it a one-phase or a three-phase? 

  • And the most significant concern: what if the previous owners had changed their minds? No one signed contracts or agreements, and they could have decided not to sell, leaving our client with expensive equipment and no place to put it.


They had to renegotiate one major contract because of electric outlets, spacing, and timing. This delayed delivery and set-up, moving their grand open day by two months.


In addition to their preemptive buying, they searched for staff. (Side note: They still needed to develop a concept for their restaurant and were planning to renovate the entire space.) They quickly found a "highly acclaimed Chef" our client believed to be the perfect fit. 

Melissa and Michael in the car.

At this time, we were hired as consultants.


Upon meeting their Head Chef, we knew something wasn’t right. We often have good instincts, but we watch and listen before judging. In this case, we knew the kitchen would soon be a blank slate, as our client wanted to remove all the old equipment and start fresh. (Side note: Considering the market and menu, we might not recommend a complete kitchen redesign. In this particular location, not all equipment needed to be replaced.)


The new hire was adamant and almost demanding about buying all brand-new, shiny equipment, which was going way over budget. We explained to our client that this was unnecessary and several pieces of equipment were way over the top. Some were uni-taskers, and a talented Chef should know how to cook without such tools. But our client listened to the Chef and bought what was recommended.


We then encouraged our client to implement the mystery basket technique or to have him create a menu to cook so we could taste his flavor profiles and watch his flow in the kitchen before construction began. (Side note: We highly recommend you do this before hiring.) It took a few days, but he created a unique menu and was confident he could make the dishes without flaws. 


A very chaotic dish of chicken, waffles, eggs, vegetables, and noodles.

When he prepared and served his menu the next day, the dishes turned out differently than expected. Full of excuses, the Chef blamed the equipment, the weather, and the tools. After seeing his lack of talent in the kitchen, we knew we had to learn more about his story.  


We contacted a vendor who knew this person and the previous restaurant where he worked. As it turned out, he had a background that included sexual assault, sexual misconduct, theft, and mental and physical harassment. He was not eligible to be rehired by the previous restaurant. During the interview, he indicated he would have to give his two weeks' notice. Yet, in reality, he had been fired two months prior. 


We discreetly revealed what we had discovered to our clients, and they did not like our news. They felt attacked, that our intentions were wrong and that we had gone behind their backs. What hurt worse was that they thought we judged them and their hiring ability. Looking back, we understand it to be more of an embarrassment on their part. Their pride was attacked. They hired and paid a full, high salary to someone for three months they did not vet, and clearly, it was too soon. Three weeks later, after an altercation, they fired the Chef. 


We continued to consult them until their opening day. They began to take our advice on menu development, cooking, marketing, and more. And we are excited to say they are still open and continue to run a thriving place. 


 

Conclusion


A restaurant's journey is packed with decision points, each with red flags signaling the need for professional insight. The warning signs, whether unrealistic equipment budgeting or hiring staff without due diligence, are unmistakable. Recognizing and acting on these moments by seeking a consultant's expertise can steer a restaurant away from potential disasters and towards growth, success, and longevity.


Hiring a restaurant or bar consultant is tricky. There needs to be trust, transparency, and a connection between both parties. We know only some people will be the right fit for us, so we offer free consultations before a contract is signed. After all, you shouldn't open your doors and confide to just anyone. We want you to get to know us first.

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