What Makes a Good Client?

You have dreamt the dream and found the space and now you are about to hire your project’s team; an architect, a general contractor, an engineer, and perhaps a kitchen consultant.  There is one other member of this team to consider, absolutely the most important member, and that is you.  

You have roles to play far beyond dreamer of the dream and writer of the checks, and these roles may be unfamiliar.  If you are a good client, you can have a  positive effect on both time lines and budgets.

A good client?!? Why should I worry about being a good client?  I’m paying these expensive professionals to do my bidding, so why should I feel the need to appease them? A natural and reasonable reaction.  Only one reason: the ultimate success of your project.

Here are a few of the ways you can positively affect the project:

  • Have a focused vision If you have only a vague notion of the project, then, unless you have deep pockets, you are not ready to hire the team.  This doesn’t mean that you should eliminate the possibility of what I call “happy accidents”.  One client of mine found during demo that he had a huge, century-old hand-built brick oven.  A bakery component was quickly added and soon became a major focus of his concept.  Usually though, if your team is going to run full steam ahead, it needs to know where is running.
  • Communication is absolutely key. I have had clients who felt that keeping the team members separate gave them an element of control.  One such client saw his project run nine months late and over budget by nearly 80%.  In my experience, an integrated design team is fundamental to a successful project.  Most often, the architect will take the lead role, clear all information, schedule regular job meetings with all team members present, and issue minutes of what was covered, noting who is responsible for the next actions.  In the event that your architect does not assume this role (and no one else steps up), then either get a new architect or take on this role yourself.  By facilitating communication via regular meetings (I suggest weekly), it takes you out of the middle and moves your project ahead with a coordinated effort, with the best chance for success.  Understand that virtually every decision in a project is a domino.  A decision may seem innocuous in and of itself, but it may cause another member of the team at  the table to consider doing something different, and so on down the line.  Another benefit of conducting regular meetings is that it keeps you completely in the loop and best informed to make the myriad decisions you will be required to make.  During these meetings is not the time to be shy.  If you do not understand something, make sure it is sufficiently explained to you.  That is not an imposition! It is your project!
  • Show up with a developed budget.  Budgets can be a challenge and a potential source of frustration.  I’ve never met a client who didn’t want more than his or her budget would allow.  OK,  I want to drive a sexier car than I do. Nothing wrong with that.  But it would make little sense to ask someone to sell me a car without mentioning what I would like to spend.  Don’t show me the Aston Martin if I’m on a Toyota budget.  I believe clients sometimes fear that if they share their budgets with a consultant, they are losing an opportunity for savings.  You may remember from my previous article that consultants add nothing to their fee as a result of the equipment you ultimately purchase. You more than likely have developed this budget when you wrote your business plan.   Discuss the viability of the budget with your consultant as you would with your architect.
  • Understand time lines.  The time line is going to have many milestones.  At each meeting every team member should report the status of the time line, what is or is not happening on time and what can be done to get things back on track if necessary.  Because this conversation is close to being useless in a vacuum, it is imperative that it takes place with everyone at the table.

I can’t speak about the entire construction cycle, but for the kitchen, from starting design to installing equipment (provided the space is ready), consider the following:

Schematics X

Design Development

 X X

Bid Process

 X X X X X

Equipment Lead Time X X X X X X X X

Equipment Install

 X X X

This a fairly conservative time line. If there are holidays in the calendar of your project, know that they will affect the schedule.

The wild card in your project is the schematic phase.  This depends on:

  • How definite the kitchen space is.  If subsequent changes are made that affect the kitchen envelope, reconfigure the bar, or add/eliminate service stations then the schematic phase may lengthen
  • How quickly you can make decisions and respond to the consultant after reviewing drawings will affect the time line
  • Changing your mind may extend time lines

I’m sure you have heard of fast-tracking projects.  It can be done, but as always there are compromises:

Fast-Track Strategy Compromise

Reduce time for design phase Design may be compromised

Eliminate bid process You may pay more

Eliminate custom fabrication May eliminate efficiency and aesthetics

Consider alternative manufacturers As long as you stay in the same tier of quality, no down side

The strategies above could, if combined, save as much as nine weeks from the overall time line.  These strategies, however, only make sense if the site will be ready when equipment is delivered.  In my experience, typically it is not the kitchen equipment that delays a project. 

Worried?  You needn’t be.  Pick your team of general contractor, architect, consultant and engineer carefully.  Get references and vet them.  Make sure that the team is well integrated and that all members are held accountable.  Stay involved.  It is not going to be easy.  There will still be mistakes, and you will still have surprises – so don’t be surprised!  But if you do these things, you will have gone a long way toward ensuring the success of your project.

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