How To Hire a Restaurant Consultant

Running a restaurant is a complicated job, whether you’re opening your first, or have a successful chain of them behind you.

But there are people who specialize in helping you run your business. Restaurant consultants can help with almost everything—from creating a marketing plan and designing a website, to injecting life into a stale concept.

They can be brought in on what Brandon O’Dell, owner of O'Dell Restaurant Consulting in Kansas City, Kansas, calls a consultative approach, or a project-based approach.

Consultative approaches are used when there’s no definable goal. “It is to be used when a restaurant is just looking for someone to bounce ideas off, or to improve,” he says. “It usually doesn’t take a lot of time and is when restaurants are looking for somebody to guide them on industry best practices.”

Most of the time, however, restaurants turn to consultants for specific projects—they are writing a new menu, doing more marketing, or redesigning their interior, for example.

Here three restaurant consultants provide tips on how restaurants should hire their help:

Brandon O’Dell, owner, O'Dell Restaurant Consulting in Kansas City, Kansas

  • Never have a consultant work without a definable goal that is measurable.
  • Always receive a quote for the consultant’s services before he starts work, as well as how long he expects it to take.
  • A restaurant should always be sure to validate the consultants’ expertise. Check references from other restaurants they’ve worked with; search out recommendations for them online to see if other people are publishing negative things about them
  • Look at the consultant’s previous experience. Look at what size chains she’s worked with—do they work with independent restaurants, small chains or large franchised operations? What types of restaurant has she worked with—full service, quick service? And what specific issues does she work on?
  • Interview a consultant as you would a future employee. Find out where he has experience—and where he doesn’t.

Traci Allen, owner, Traci Allen, Inc., Washington, D.C.

  • Ask for references of clients a consultant has worked with in the past. The consultant should be able to specify what clients wanted and how she achieved it. She should be able to talk about how she worked on similar projects before. The best references are the ones she’s still working with. The restaurant still values her enough to keep her around.
  • Look at hiring a restaurant consultant as an investment rather than just an expense.
  • Be careful about hiring someone who says they can do it all. The consultant should be able to put down his approach in writing before you even hire him. Know exactly what you’re getting.
  • Know how involved the consultant is going to be. Is she going to be there for 30 minutes a week or working with you side by side?
  • Have some key questions you want the consultant to answer.
  • Also make sure the consultant’s core values are aligned with yours.
  • The consultant should tell you how the project will be measured in his proposal, whether it’s through covers, sales, analytics, or comment cards from guests.

Terri Henry, owner, Terri Henry Marketing, Los Angeles

  • Don’t fall for the dog and pony show. A lot of consultants make big promises and that can be a big disappointment.
  • Have the consultant come into your business rather than take you to her workplace and dazzle you with her fancy offices.
  • The consultant should have done research on you before the very first meeting. He should have been to eat at your restaurant to observe, checked your advertising, read up on you, and more, before he even has the account.
  • A consultant should have actually worked in a restaurant or restaurant company, to understand how it works.

By Amanda Baltazar


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