As roles change and projects get more and more complicated with faster-than-ever timelines, maintaining good project management skills become critical, whether you are the project manager or are working with one. 3.14DC, an offshoot of my consulting and design firm Dynamik Space, specifically handles foodservice project management for companies.

Melanie Corey FerriniMelanie Corey-Ferrini, FCSI, NCARB, Owner, 3.14DC, Seattle There are a few key steps to take in order to settle this confusion, and to set up projects for successes from the beginning.

Step 1: Connect with the core and shell architect as soon as possible.

Working with the core and shell team before they even broach the topic of foodservice is important because doing so ensures all the mechanical, plumbing and electrical needs for the foodservice operation are set up before designs happen. I will often walk through with the core and shell architect and the owner/operator to get a visual of how food will move through the facility, from the loading dock toward the kitchen. I will also look at pathways of food going out of the building, from the kitchens and dining spaces back to the loading dock and/or composting areas. Understanding how food moves throughout spaces helps determine where to build in key functional elements like freight elevators. Architects need to understand these basic elements before foodservice designers can do their jobs.

Unfortunately, not every foodservice designer is involved in the early stages of a design project. I have been on the other side of the fence as the foodservice designer who was brought in after the core and shell was developed, having to build a case for additional utilities and hookups once the kitchen design process takes place. I have also seen many owners or general contractors hire project managers without any foodservice background.

This scenario is frustrating, for sure, and there are not always clear ways to work around the situation. On a current project with a large restaurant group in Seattle, the contractors started work before I was brought on board. One of them knows restaurants, the other doesn’t. What I have been trying to do is gently encourage everyone to determine what will pass health inspections, what are the core utility requirements and understand the core needs that will help the kitchen operate effectively.

It’s also helpful to determine the scope of everyone’s work and deliverables to see the bigger picture. If it’s necessary to educate others on the importance of bringing in a foodservice designer or foodservice-focused project manager earlier in the project, try to showcase studies where this tactic has worked well and why other projects might not have gone as well or cost more money when foodservice was an afterthought. Many consultants would agree that it’s important for all players to be in the same room right at the beginning of any major project.

Step 2: Work with various teams to ensure flexible spaces.

After adequately designing the core and shell to handle foodservice operations, take a deep dive into the building’s programming. Rather than just looking at the square footage designated for foodservice, look at all dayparts and activities in the building, what times of day each area will be used, by whom and for what use. For example, many offices always look for more meeting space. Maybe there is a way to design the cafe such that the dining spaces can convert into additional meeting space with moveable furniture when food is not being served.

Also think about back-of-the-house kitchen support for catering and meeting spaces. During this programming phase, it’s crucial for people to work closely with the facilities players or real estate team.

Step 3: Maximize plug and play, and closely follow construction and installation.

Today’s operators want maximum flexibility in the kitchen space. Or, maybe they don’t realize they need this, but we designers do. Lately, I swear by plug and play equipment on casters with quick electrical and plumbing disconnects. When it comes to supply and installation, I work closely with the equipment dealers to understand from the beginning who will do what during the install. Coordinating those efforts from the beginning helps eliminate any surprises that might otherwise come up during construction.

It’s important to note any exclusions the dealer might have so the contractor can be prepared to have another installer in place. Once I have this information, I document these details for installation, hook-up and follow-up, so everything is laid out and it’s very clear who is responsible for what.

Step 4: Leverage the right tools to stay organized.

I have researched countless project management tools and apps and believe the less complicated, the better. I still use a spreadsheet and Google Drive, even though more robust tools exist. On larger projects with architects, contractors, consultants and utilities experts, people have a wide range of tech-savviness, so I like to keep it simple when it comes to on-site scheduling, budgeting, to-do and task lists. For visuals, however, I use an online collaboration tool for sharing 3D drawings. And, because it’s not always possible for everyone to be physically together in the same room these days, I use a video call service with screen sharing. The FaceTime app even works on my phone to show someone the interior of a building. It’s often easier to make quicker decisions when looking at something in real time.

Project management is not just a skill, it’s truly an art form. Foodservice project management, as many of us know, is a whole separate ball game. Treating it as such, therefore, remains more important than ever as projects get bigger, faster, more complex and more food-focused in a food-obsessed day and age.