Why Use a Kitchen Design Consultant?

You’ve dreamed of this moment for a long time, maybe all your life, and now the time has come:  You are going to open your own restaurant.  As someone who has spent virtually all his working life in the hospitality industry in one capacity or another, I firmly believe that few professions are as rewarding.

Myriad talents are required to open and operate a successful restaurant.  As you begin to list all the areas of focus, all the disciplines that must commingle, I urge you to be very honest with yourself.  Where are your efforts best spent?  You won’t be able to do everything yourself, and there are most likely areas for which you do not possess the required skill set.  

This is not to say that you should be a passive bystander regarding the areas you delegate to other professionals you may hire.  Quite the contrary.  You will define success for their efforts, you will be engaged in review of their efforts, and you will ultimately be required to give your approval of their efforts.

One member of the team you may want to add is a food facility design consultant (FFDC).  This is a professional who designs your back-of-the-house areas and front-of-the-house support areas (service stations and bars).  At this point you would not be unique if you dismiss the FFDC as a completely unnecessary hire.  After all, you’ve worked in restaurants for years.  Maybe you are a chef, have been bartender, or have people integral to the project who do have that experience. The most eloquent short answer I’ve ever heard in favor of design consultants was offered to me by a client who is a very accomplished chef: “Eddie Van Halen can play the hell out of a guitar, but somebody else designs and builds them.”  Or for the golfers out there, keep in mind that even Tiger Woods employs a swing coach.

Now for the long answer.  There are absolutely other ways to go than hiring a kitchen design consultant.  You could do it yourself.  But again, is this where your time is best spent and is it your strength? If you have an architect, you could let him or her include it in the scope of the design.  I have worked with some of the industry’s best architects, but they don’t possess intimate knowledge of the equipment, of all the alternatives available to satisfy your program, or of how the kitchen’s design is going to effect the work flow, your labor costs, and the kitchen’s ability to ultimately satisfy your guests’ expectations.

Another way to approach this is to have an kitchen equipment dealer provide the design.  Actually, this is the way I began years ago.  I developed the design department for one of the most prominent equipment dealers in New York City, and I think we did a fine job for our clients, given the context.

Let me explain what I mean by context.  Equipment dealers, and we were no exception, make their money by selling equipment.  To secure the equipment contract, they typically charge a nominal fee for design services, basically covering their costs for the service. This can lead to compromises and potential conflicts of interest:

  1. A dealer, typically,  will not be able to allocate the same resources to a design as a consultant and still be able to charge a nominal fee
  2. The  inclination for dealers to specify manufacturers that afford them a financial advantage exists.  Let me be clear, this is not to suggest that there is necessarily  any wrongdoing, but it will be your task to evaluate the motivation behind the specification

Finally, you could hire a consultant.  Design consultant’s make their living one way and one way only, by providing design services.  Consultants are independent, objective, and without hidden agendas.  They are not enriched by the equipment you may ultimately purchase.  They are enriched only by the fees they charge and by your ultimate satisfaction with the project, which has the potential of leading to more work.  

To enjoy continued success, food facility design consultants must spend a great deal of time pursuing the quickly evolving technology in both kitchen equipment and cooking trends.  Without this knowledge they can not remain competitive.  With this knowledge they can bring to bear the best possibilities for your project.

When any designer begins, they need to understand your concept, menu, budget, meal periods, seating capacities, space allocation and desired payroll levels.  With this information, the schematic phase begins.  This should be a fluid, collaborative process.  Your will be provided with layouts that illustrate work-flow and identify key pieces of equipment.  All designers worth their salt encourage vigorous back-and-forth conversations that massage schematics into layouts they can endorse and you can embrace.

Once you can sign off on the schematic, the design development (DD) phase commences.  In this phase, every piece of equipment is specified, options are chosen or eliminated, and, in the case of custom fabrication, matters of construction and materials are addressed.  Included in the consultant’s deliverables for this phase are plumbing and electrical schedules of loads and connections, pin-point rough-in drawings for the various licensed trades to use, and special building conditions detailing things such as required wall-blocking, curbs, depressions, clear routes for beverage lines, and so forth.  This is accompanied with a detailed “cut” or catalog-specification book of every piece of equipment in your design.  

With the DD complete, the consultant invites competitive bids from qualified kitchen equipment contractors (KEC).  This is a transparent process, with you receiving the bids directly as well.  The consultant evaluates the bids and makes sure that you are provided apples-to-apples bids that conform to the specification.  After receiving the bids, the consultant may also suggest who should win the bid.  In the event the bids are higher than the budget, or the budget has moved, the consultant begins a value engineering process in an attempt to bring down the cost while preserving the design intent. 

Your consultant is your advocate throughout the build-out phase and “punch lists” the project, ensuring that the KEC finishes work in a manner consistent with your expectations.

Be aware that, when deciding whether to hire a consultant, the design fees charged by consultants are typically higher than those charged by dealers.  However, in addition to the potential for a consultant to provide a better design and a more-prudent specification, consider this: Typically, by virtue of the competitive bid, the consultant’s fee is less than the amount saved on an equipment package. 

How do you find a consultant?  There are a couple of ways.  If you are reading this article, you’ve found one.  Or you can contact Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) at www.fcsi.org.  Many, but not all, consultants belong.  By reading trade magazines and by talking to other chef’s and restaurateurs, you can also find consultants who are doing exciting work.  A recommendation from someone you respect, who has had a good experience, is invaluable.

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