In fact most recently, Posternak assisted a consultant on a project in the Middle East, where team members were looking to make multiple substitutions with less expensive, and in the consultant's view, lower quality brands. "We helped research the proposed substitutions and pointed out deficiencies where they existed," Posternak says.

Aside from dealers and manufacturers' reps, Sedej also looks to frequently align with other consultants, particularly through her involvement with FCSI. "The society is always working on continuing education to educate other industry members about the consultant's role, particularly general contractors and architects," she says.

Get in early. Work on building strong relationships throughout the entire project — from the very early stages of concept development through the bidding process and then during follow-up to leave a lasting impression. Build a strong relationship with the general contractor and particularly with the end-user early, and then continue that ongoing dialogue with the customer to build an alliance, Sedej says. "The larger the project and the further the person writing the check from the person actually using the equipment, the odds of value engineering increases."

It's easier for the person writing the check to make sweeping cuts without consulting the designer or even the operator. "On a large convention center or casino project, it's easy for foodservice to become a small piece of a big pie," Sedej says. "What I found successful is educating the client right from the very beginning, and then making sure they understand that I'm their advocate from beginning to end. I encourage them when they get submittals to let me review them so they're written in a way that makes sure they are getting what they asked for."

Build a strong reputation for holding spec. Apples are not always the same apples. "I have to constantly remind the client that they hired me to find why this is the case," Sedej says. "That's part of my services. I can tell right away when a particular substitution might not make sense for the client. Holding spec involves a lot of education and understanding why we selected the equipment we did."

It's not just about always choosing the most expensive or highest quality equipment; operational, material, value considerations are all part of developing the specification, according to Sedej. Even service and installation characteristics have been taken into consideration. "A coffee brewer is not just a coffee brewer. Depending on the electrical characteristics, you can have a completely different production rate from one brand to the next," she says.

The more other team members understand this, the more trust they will have in the consultant's work. "If we were to remain constantly stuck on price, the value of projects and equipment would decrease," she says. "My job is to listen to the client to determine what it is they want to accomplish, on what budget and then I need to essentially give them the best bang for their buck."

Going beyond education and working closely with other project team members, holding spec in more cases than not shows you are confident in what you've selected and believe in your ability. Sedej has a strong reputation for maintaining her specs. While some situations sometimes require substitutions, trivial substitutions made without her knowledge don't end well. She's had shelving ripped out of the walls when the wrong kind was put in on the sly.

There should be little need for substitutions when the project team addresses questions about budget, goals, longevity and other needs before writing the spec, according to Sedej. "Once something hits the streets if you're a good designer you're going to hold spec because it's integral to the design," she says.

Keep your specs tight. While building in room for equal-quality alternatives is a common practice, sometimes it can backfire. At that point, it's a "he-said, she-said" conversation when it comes to deciding which equipment pieces can be considered equal in quality for the design, and which really are not appropriate. In that case, some consultants will write in more detailed alternatives, including brand name and specs, rather than leaving that open to interpretation.

"The more detailed I can be, the more chance that the spec will hold," Sedej says. That means not just listing manufacturer brand names, but also the firepower needs, production capabilities, accessories and other details. The more detailed the spec the easier it is for dealers to come up with suitable alternates if need be.

In fact, Lindsey prefers specs that give little, if any, room for substitution. "If consultants write a single spec with no gray areas or misconceptions, it's better that way," he says. "A lot of times a consultant will specify something and say 'or equivalent.' But if that's not detailed enough a lot of manufacturers will come back and say they qualify as equivalent even if they're not."

Deal with VE accordingly if – or when – it happens. Government and school projects can take years to complete. It's natural for budgets to shift slightly from the time they're established to the end of the line. Building in budget increase projections ahead of time can help consultants prevent a backlash if prices increase.

"Consultants who are very clear with their numbers ahead of time can best prevent sweeping cuts later on," says Lindsey. "Many consultants will say the kitchen budget should be plus or minus 10 percent of a particular number."

Again, maintaining strong relationships and an ongoing dialogue with all team members can help consultants get in front of project budget cuts when they happen, rather than lose that control to someone less qualified when it comes to specifying the right equipment for the design.

"A lot of times the GC will come back to us and say we need to cut $30,000 out of a project and what are your suggestions," Lindsey says. "The proper thing to do is take it back to the consultant and ask for their input." That way they can make the right cuts without damaging the project in its entirety and making sweeping, general cuts across the bottom line.

Sedej will consider substitutions not already outlined in her spec if someone can show that there is a financial benefit to owner. "If the substitution gives a credit back to the owner and allows him to save money, I'm OK with that."

In the end, holding spec means ensuring the foodservice operator receives both what they ask for, and what's in their best interest.