The expectations for today's foodservice operations continue to mount. The net result is that the process to design and build a new foodservice operation or remodel an existing one has never been more complex
To rise to the challenges of the day, a growing number of design and management advisory services (MAS) consultants continue to form partnerships with their colleagues to help deliver the kind of dynamic results their operator customers require to be successful.
One such example is a non-commercial foodservice project where design consultant R. Todd Guyette, FCSI, principal at Pembroke, Mass.-based Colburn & Guyette, brought MAS consultant Karen Malody, principal of Seattle-based Culinary Options, on to the team.
FE&S asked Malody and Guyette to reflect on their experience working together.
FE&S: Why don't MAS and design consultants work collaboratively more frequently?
KM: There are likely several reasons, but I think the primary one is that they don't realize how or when to do it. MAS consulting consists of many disciplines, which can be confusing to foodservice design consultants. When a client comes to a designer with kitchen needs, and has not yet articulated their concept or menu, it is a perfect time to bring in a MAS consultant to sort out all of the fundamental conceptual and menu development strategies that will allow for an optimal kitchen design — one that meets all of the operational needs. However, this means convincing the client that such a service is necessary, despite the fact it will cost more money. If a budget is limited, the client may rankle at the idea. The ideal scenario is when a designer, during the very beginning conversations with the client, can see that a need exists for MAS work. This allows the design consultant to join forces early and have the MAS partner in the first interview and then package the bid as one fee. This also presumes the designer is comfortable saying that they do not, or do not want to do, concept and menu development.
RTG: We typically encounter three kinds of design projects. First, are projects that don't include and don't necessarily need a MAS consultant. These projects are usually fairly straightforward with clients who know what they want and who have a strong foodservice team in place. Second are projects that need and have a MAS consultant. These are easier as the client team has already recognized the need for both disciplines of foodservice consulting. There can still be issues, however, if the MAS and design consultants do not work closely together. The architect typically hires the design consultant and the owner typically hires the MAS consultant. In some cases this arrangement can result in a more adversarial relationship rather than a collaborative one, especially if the two consultants are not able to work closely together. I prefer to team directly with the MAS consultant if possible. Third are projects that don't have a MAS consultant and definitely need one. There are definitely projects that need this type of collaboration and don't get it. I would say that in many cases the need was not recognized until the project was well under way or near completion. In these cases the consultant ends up pressing on and hoping for the best. There is also a reluctance to add cost to the project, especially when it is well underway. The real key here is for the design consultant to recognize the need early on in the process, preferably during the proposal phase. Education is also a key here as many architects are unaware of the existence or role of MAS consultants. When I begin this discussion with architects a typical response is "don't you guys do that?"
FE&S: What are the pitfalls of MAS and design consultants not working together?
KM: Let me count the ways! First and foremost, the client may get a kitchen design that does not suit their operational needs. Without a menu at least in a conceptual phase, there is no way to accurately determine what equipment, how much cold and freezer space, and what dry storage space is necessary and how to establish the flow of the kitchen to best serve menu execution. Also, in my experience, the collaborative inventiveness of MAS working with a great design consultant leads to far better and innovative solutions for the foodservice operator. Designers inevitably think of issues that MAS consultants don't — and vice versa. It is truly an exhilarating experience. And the client always benefits.
RTG: The biggest concern is creating a foodservice facility that is not consistent with the financial and operational needs of the client. This can happen when you work with a client that thinks they know what they want but they really don't. There is usually a lot of pressure to keep the project moving and the foodservice operator gets caught up in the fast-paced nature of a building project. Clients don't always keep their eye on the ball. A MAS consultant can help the client stay focused on key financial and operational issues while the designer keeps the design and construction portion of the project moving.
FE&S: How can a design consultant or a MAS consultant tell when it's appropriate to bring in the other discipline?
KM: It requires keen listening when the first phone call comes into either the design or MAS consultant's office.
I have brought in kitchen design consultants for more than 50 percent of my projects because I do not design nor would I attempt to design. All clients know they have to build a kitchen, what they may not realize is that the kitchen will be significantly better if they first sort out their concept (often a result of trend analysis done by MAS consultants), throughput needs, spatial and financial planning and service styles.
If a design consultant does not wish to engage in these activities, that is when a MAS consultant should join forces with them. Likewise, though most seasoned MAS consultants understand kitchen flow and efficiency, we don't design.
RTG: It is not always easy, especially when clients seem to really know what they want. The signal for us is when the conversation begins to go beyond the number of seats, space allocations and basic platform types and into check averages, food costs and FTEs. If these items are critical to the design, and in a lot of cases they are, then we start discussing the inclusion of a MAS consultant as part of our team. Again, this hopefully occurs while we are negotiating or at least in the programming phase of a project.
FE&S: Once a project begins it may become apparent that a design consultant may need to bring a MAS consultant or vice versa. How should that be addressed with the project team?
KM: A consultant on either side of the equation can assess the need to collaborate through question-and-answer techniques. The challenge becomes knowing enough MAS consultants (or vice versa) well enough to be assured that their skill sets match the project needs. I have gotten several calls from designers working on projects not within my areas of expertise, so it would be wrong for me to attempt to collaborate with them. Some design consultants don't want to work on restaurant projects, so I don't call them. It takes a while to figure out who in your contact file to call for what kind of projects. One size does not fit all.
RTG: I think early recognition of the need is key, followed closely by education. In our experience many architects are unaware of the fact that these two disciplines exist within foodservice consulting. While typically very familiar with design consultants, architects tend not to be aware of the role MAS consultants can play on a design project.
FE&S: When working collaboratively, how can design and MAS consultants make sure their efforts work in concert instead of in conflict?
KM: Establish rules of conduct at the very beginning: Who is the lead consultant? How will the project team handle client communications? Who prepares and processes billings? Most importantly, utter and total respect for each other's roles and opinions must abide. Conflict during a project can be a good thing, in my opinion, as resolution usually creates an even better solution than either of the original opinions offered. But when conflicts do arise, resolve them between yourselves — not in front of the client. Only work with other consultants who share similar values. In my case, that is someone who applies their own creative genius with an eye toward benefiting the client at all times.
RTG: Determining the overall goals of the project and working as a team to reach those goals is the key. We need to work closely together and have a direct line of communication. This doesn't always happen and if we are not careful the relationship can be more adversarial than collaborative in nature. Another key is to work together through the entire project. In some cases the MAS consultant is involved at the beginning and at the end of projects, while the designer is involved in the middle. Our most successful projects have been the ones where both consultants work closely together through the whole process. That means that the design consultant is involved with the concept and programming phases and the MAS consultant is involved with reviewing design documents during the development phases of the project.
FE&S: You both just completed working on a project together. What lessons did you learn about working collaboratively with a different type of consultant?
KM: Listening, respecting, responding in a timely manner and inviting alternative viewpoints at all junctures was such a positive experience. I know what I know. I don't know what I don't know. So I constantly learn when working with those who have other skill sets and disciplines. I thrive on hearing how others see a situation — and how their vantage point, if included in the ultimate solution, will benefit the client. But the fundamental rule is to never undermine, sabotage or damage each other's effectiveness or client relationship.
RTG: We went into the project as a cohesive team, which resulted in clear and open communication. When it came time to do conceptual design, it was extremely helpful to have MAS partners reviewing the work prior to submission to get validation from the operational experts. MAS consultants helped confirm these designs kept with the operational and financial concepts that were in concurrent development. I also learned that MAS consultants have great ideas about design and that they were very open to my suggestions about operational and financial considerations. This allowed me to think more like a foodservice operator and to test some of my own ideas and theories about operations relative to design.
FE&S: What are the benefits you realized by working together collaboratively?
KM: Certainly in the case of working with Todd and two other MAS consultants on this particular project, I gained enormous insights into the world of non-commercial foodservice challenges. Though that will likely never be my primary area of focus, I was challenged by the new ways of thinking and the different-yet-similar strategic elements that non-commercial projects share with commercial ones. It also confirmed for me that "commercial restaurant culinary" thinking is being utilized more and more in non-commercial settings as subsidization decreases and customer participation becomes more and more challenging. I gained appreciation for what my non-commercial brethren face in their projects. And, most importantly, I gained three new industry friends who I plan to know forever!
RTG: As a team we were able to deliver a very comprehensive program to the client that allowed their team to move forward with a unique vision for foodservice. Personally, this kind of collaboration helps me grow as a designer and I am able to do it in a way that is less stressful and less risky to my reputation than if I were trying to take on the MAS portion on my own.
FE&S: It would seem that working more collaboratively is the wave of the future for design and MAS consultants — particularly when you consider budgets are tighter and the pressure to provide culinary excellence seems greater than before. Would you agree?
KM: Absolutely! Positively! Commercial or non-commercial, small or large, all clients must have the benefit of hearing what MAS consultants know as a result of constant immersion in trend analysis and national and international observation of operations and menus. Likewise, the focus that design consultants place on studying new equipment innovations, energy savings through design, reduction of kitchen footprints and myriad other spectacular skills matches ideally with culinary and business planning skills. I cannot imagine a truly successful project without both.
RTG: Yes, but not just because of tighter budgets. It is already an incredible challenge to stay on top of all of the advances in foodservice equipment, sustainable design, food trends, health/building codes and project delivery methods. There are consultants who have been capable of doing MAS and design, but as each of these disciplines continues to evolve, I believe that it will be increasingly difficult to be an expert in both. On projects where the synergies between operations and design are paramount the comprehensive approach that a collaboration between design and MAS consultants will be critical.
FE&S: If you were talking to a MAS or design consultant that was considering working collaboratively, what advice would you give them?
KM: First, assess what the client needs. Second, locate the type of MAS or design consultant that would benefit the client/project the most. If you don't know who that is, call FCSI headquarters or another consultant that you know. Third, call the potential collaborator and frame the opportunity as accurately as possible. Ask the other consultant as many questions as you need so that you are assured that the potential ally will be a positive contributor and extension of your brand. Remember, bringing in another consultant reflects on you, as your relationship with the client is the primary one. So ask good questions, listen carefully, choose wisely and embrace the experience. Your client will be the beneficiary of a well-crafted and respectful collaboration.
RTG: Recognize the need as early in the process as possible, find a partner you can be comfortable working with, check your ego at the door and be prepared to learn a lot more than you ever thought you would.