Successful consultants will remain committed to expanding their knowledge base too, as concepts like sustainability, the handling of FOG (fat, oil and grease) and waste management continue to take root in the industry. "Consultants need to be more educated on those types of things," Petersen says.
While the foodservice industry embracing sustainability is a positive development, it does not come without challenges. "One of the hardest things for consultants these days, particularly when it comes to green and sustainability, is getting through the marketing to get to the facts," Collins says. "They have to be able to understand the application and how to use the product too. And you have to know when not to apply a product too."
The needs of operators continue to develop as they strive to remain in step with consumers' changing palates. For example, Schildkraut says he's now putting six-pan combi ovens in the back of concessions instead of steamers or other equipment. "It gives the concessionaire tremendous flexibility so they can do other things," he says. "All of this leads to money and labor savings."
As the operators evolve, so too does the equipment they use. "It is a business that's constantly in change. If you look at the kinds of facilities being built and the equipment going in there, things keep evolving," Schildkraut continues. "For example, look at induction. It's not just single burners making omelets anymore. The factories are preparing to build entire induction ranges."
Changes in the operators' own organizations are shaping their consultant relationships in new ways. "We find our clients rely on us for more than they ever have. Because of [corporate] downsizing, the skills that were once present in the operator organizations are no longer there," Brady says. "So the project overhead – meaning the client expectations – is more. You will have to take the project as if you were the operator and make it your own. That's what they want. But we have been asking for that for a long time. We have been telling them we are the experts for a long time."
General foodservice industry knowledge is one thing, but knowing and understanding how to interpret local codes will continue to grow in importance too, particularly as consultants increasingly reach across state lines to secure new projects. "For instance, if I have a project in Syracuse, Ind., they expect me to know the codes there despite the fact that I am from Michigan," Petersen says. "And the people doing the checking are tougher than they used to be. I am not suggesting we don't want to follow the regulations – because we certainly do. But sometimes things go so far beyond what's necessary for a project that it can shut things down. There is so much more that we need to know that might not have been as important a couple decades ago."
And Collins believes this need to master local knowledge will lead to even more partnering opportunities for savvy consultants. "You have so many different codes in so many different areas, and they are all very different. So if you are a California consultant working on a Maryland project, how often are you going to go back and forth to research the codes? And you can't afford to have your design be wrong. So you have to partner with someone."
Given these circumstances, younger consultants will still require considerable on-the-job training and mentoring to get up to speed. In other words, no matter how talented the newcomer, there's still no substitute for experience. "I graduated from Cornell with a foodservice and hospitality background, so that helped me speak the language. But it still took some training on the job before I got to talk with clients," Petersen says. "And I don't think that it is unrealistic to expect the same today."
"We seem to be getting some young people in the industry. Have we improved our ability to attract them? No. But I don't think we are any worse off than we were 30 years ago," Collins says.