Coping with Faster Timetables for Foodservice Design Projects

Seems as if every foodservice design project today operates on a fast track. So how can design teams accomplish what used to take years in a matter of months? One seasoned foodservice consultant suggests a variety of steps including leveraging technology, improving communication and going back to the basics.

As budgets loosen and more money flows, many foodservice designers find their clients want a faster design-build schedule. Projects that used to take at least one but usually two or more years now need to wrap it up in less than a year.

Scott Reitano, principal of Reitano Design Group in Indianapolis, Ind., recently took on a project with just an eight-month timetable for a university — from concept design to completed construction. "Many architects these days are afraid to say no — they need and want the work," Reitano says. "At the same time, clients might have forgotten why things should take longer."

While Reitano will work within the client's desire to finish a project faster, he still requires a 12-week design deadline at minimum. "You want to push back a little so you can handle the work, but also for the benefit of the client," he says. "Otherwise, if you shorten the design process, you can miss out on creativity, innovation and a chance to step back and take a second look at the concept. We now have less time to do the proper research and come up with three or more options and take time to look at other sites for inspiration."

Here are some ways Reitano and his team manage faster timetables.

Remain Flexible
In many cases, the concept and design development stages happen in tandem, rather than one after the other. "Engineers are saying we need specification sheets and spot locations and we're trying to produce the documents, but we also need to have the client sign off on them," Reitano says. "The architect needs something to start working on so we have to make our best estimates."

Due to the "estimations" Reitano's team sometimes has to make, changes often become addendums. "We're becoming more flexible as an office because of the nature of the beast," he says. "That's been the hardest thing — we write the specs but there is no guarantee there won't be more changes. Making an eleventh hour change used to be a big deal but now it's part of the deal."

Maintain Open Communication
The most positive thing that has come out of these faster projects, says Reitano, is the naturally closer collaboration between the design and construction teams.

"Our communication has gotten better not only internally but also with our architect and construction manager partners," Reitano says. "Everyone figures we're on the same team so there's not as much argument as there was in the past. Project managers simply want to know the best way to get the project out to bid and they realize all of our tails are on the line so they're looking at us consultants more to help them."

That said, in faster projects, consultants might be called upon for more help than just kitchen equipment specifications. "We are much more involved in all the scheduling, design and project management," says Reitano. The 'that's not my job' mentality simply doesn't apply.

"The momentum is helpful in this case," he adds. When projects take a backseat that momentum, collaboration and urgency can be lost.

Use Time- and Travel-Saving Tools
A number of online tools and other sharing software products can help replace the need for frequent and costly travel.

"We've increased our use of WebEx and GoToMeeting for virtual meetings and teleconferencing," says Reitano. Google Docs, Dropbox, Producteev represent but a few of the shared document programs that foodservice design teams can use to work collaboratively without leaving their offices.

While the sheer number of options available can overwhelm even the most tech-savvy design team, don't be afraid to go back to basics, Reitano says. "Sometimes I'll even take a piece of trace paper and draw something up fast for the client," he says. "Don't be afraid to show that level of work product to clients and architects — they understand we're all on a faster timetable."

Get More Organized Internally
With the sheer number of projects on a speedier timeline, it's important to delegate well and get more organized.

"We have a much more open level of communication internally," Reitano says. Everyone understands the sense of urgency and there's a much stronger sense of independence in terms of getting work done, he adds.

So it's not all bad. In fact, faster projects can bring about more efficiencies and collaboration than in the past. And, with the right approach and tools, the faster projects are completed, the faster new ones can begin.

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