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Restaurateurs know that statistics regarding the failure rate of restaurant businesses are, well, rather grim. About 17-30 percent of restaurants fail within the first year. In 2020, approximately 110,000 food and beverage establishments closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, in 2022, restaurants are struggling to hire staff, and respond to inflation and supply chain shortages.
There is a wide variety of estimates for what percentage of restaurants fail within the first year - nevertheless, as soon as you notice your restaurant struggling, it is time to hire professional help. Source: Upserve, 2017
Who do restaurateurs turn to when they need advice? They may want to make changes, rebrand, execute important business decisions, or open up a new restaurant location, and need to run ideas past someone and get a second opinion. In these circumstances, they could potentially discuss these things with their business partners, investors, or connections in the industry.
While these individuals may be helpful, they are not necessarily experts in the restaurant industry. If you are looking for valuable insight from a restaurant industry professional that will help ensure your business’s success, turn to a restaurant consultant.
A restaurant consultant is a third-party organization or professional that has had many years in the hospitality industry, and can therefore act as somewhat of a guide for your establishment and assist with restaurant development. Whether your restaurant is just opening, struggling, or desiring to expand, a consultant can be of service in implementing both small and big changes in your business.
What Value Does a Restaurant Consultant Provide?
Starting and operating a restaurant is well-known to be a challenging endeavor, even by those who do not work in the industry. You may be managing all internal factors well, but it can be extraordinarily difficult to adapt your business in response to external factors (such as the pandemic, labor shortages, and supply chain issues). With their many years of experience, restaurant consultants can guide a new concept or existing restaurants through tumultuous times.
You might be wondering, So, what exactly does a restaurant consultant do?
Restaurant consultants don’t have one job, nor are they full-time employees. They can assist with many areas of your restaurant, and some even specialize in different niches. This type of business consultant wears many hats; they can assist with menu development/menu design, or analyze the pricing of your menu items. They might offer suggestions for your restaurant’s interior design, or help create a new marketing strategy.
Overall, their purpose is to help you run your restaurant smoothly and efficiently, and improve upon identified weaknesses. Their core goal is to improve your restaurant’s chance of success through tried-and-trued business strategies.
Here are a few of the things a restaurant consultant can help with:
1. Research and audit.
If your restaurant is operational, the first thing a restaurant consultant will do is likely come in and observe day-to-day operations. They will need to know how every part of your business functions before offering suggestions. These professionals will also look over your menu, the popularity of dishes, staffing, and how the BOH (back-of-house) and FOH (front-of-house) operate. Additionally, they will conduct due diligence on your competitors in the area, and conduct research to see if your concept is a good match for the area’s demographic.
Elizabeth Moskow, Principle Advisor of Bread & Circus says, “It's so important for advisors and consultants to restaurants to take the time to understand the unique situation of each client, whether their cuisine type, ratings, labor availability, target demographic, supply chain, menu or other, each client benefits from personalized service depending on their particular operation.”
After researching and auditing how a restaurant operates, consultants will move on to the analysis phase. This is where they will share information and data gathered with the restaurateur or manager, and break down what your restaurant business is doing great at, as well as improvements that need to be made.
“Although many basic principles are the same from restaurant to restaurant, mom and pop to enterprise chain, not every solution fits”, says Elizabeth Moskow. All restaurant situations are different, and therefore, cookie-cutter solutions won’t work. After identifying and analyzing the positives and negatives of your restaurant, a consultant will work with you to create a customized strategy to improve your business. Ideally, you should set business goals for your restaurant, and share this with your restaurant consultant.
As well-established professionals in the restaurant business industry, consultants will have a large network of connections. Business owners and entrepreneurs already know how valuable having the right connections is, and this is especially true in the restaurant industry. A restaurant consultant will know lawyers, contractors, investors, and other professionals that they can recommend to your restaurant. Having access to a strong network will ensure support and solidify your reputation in the industry.
When Should I Consider Hiring a Restaurant Consultant
As a restaurateur, making business decisions independent of anyone else’s input leads to a limited perspective. You may have years of experience under your belt, but you won’t be able to have a consultant’s “outside-looking-in” perspective. Having a non-biased, third-party set of eyes on your business can provide valuable insight and critique that you may be missing out on.
According to Dean Small, a Founder & Managing Partner of Synergy Restaurant Consultants, “There is rarely a “bad” time to hire a restaurant consultant or coach because there is a huge benefit to having an outside perspective that can calmly and analytically address your biggest opportunities or shortcomings and help you take the next step.”
That being said, here are a few key times when one might consider hiring a restaurant consultant:
Cost estimates of opening a new restaurant from New School, a hospitality consultant based in Los Angeles, California. Source: New School, 2022
You are starting a new restaurant.
Many choose to hire a restaurant consultant after their restaurant is open, but hiring one before you do so will help set your business up for success. The first year of being open is often the most difficult for restaurants, and professional consultants are aware of this. Therefore, they can assist in working out all the kinks that come along with opening a new establishment and help with acquiring the required permits and licenses.
Note: It can be more difficult to make changes to a restaurant that has been established for a few years, especially compared to a brand new business that is much more malleable.
You’re considering expansion.
You might find yourself in a position where expansion makes sense as the next step in your restaurant business (congrats!). This is a great place to be, and also a huge step. You may know that you want to expand, but not know exactly where.
Whether you want to open a new location somewhere else in town, or you want to take your concept from one coast to another, a consultant can help with finding the right location for your restaurant business.
A consulting firm can research customer demographics and receptivity in different regions for you; your business likely does not have the resources or bandwidth to conduct its type of research on its own. Expanding to more locations is a costly endeavor on its own, but ensuring that your next location is ideal for your business can greatly increase your profits within the first few years of being open.
You are adjusting a concept.
Whether you are making adjustments to your restaurant concept or fully pivoting, this can be one of the most difficult changes to accomplish. Regular customers often become accustomed to how you operate and what you serve, and have this expectation when dining at your restaurant. Therefore, when committing to this change, it needs to be well-calculated and executed to perfection.
A consultant will compare your current conception to your new idea, and offer guidance for a smooth transition. They will also conduct research to determine how your new concept will fare amongst competitors in the area and customer demographics.
When you want to improve your brand.
So much goes into improving your restaurant’s brand, and it can therefore be overwhelming to know where to start. You might already have a successful, well-known brand that you would like to push to the next level. A restaurant consultant can analyze the viability of extending or improving your brand, while examining competing brands.
When looking to maximize efficiency and profit.
Profit margins are one of the main key performance indicators looked at to determine the success of a restaurant. Restaurants will likely not make a profit in the first year of being open, but should expect to do so in three to five years. Restaurant consultants can guide owners and managers on the right path to ensure that they are running their business efficiently, and will begin to turn a profit sooner than later.
Elizabeth Moskow of Bread & Circus says, “Because restaurant owners, executives, and managers are all very much entrenched in the everyday intricacies of their business, they aren't always abreast of the latest technologies, trends and products or protocols that can enhance the success of their businesses.”
When the business is struggling.
When running a restaurant business, it is inevitable that you will run into challenges and the ebbs and flows of success. Instead of waiting for issues to iron out, take action. Waiting too long to make changes can cause irreparable damage to your business. Invite a restaurant professional to audit and analyze your business to identify weaknesses and stressors. Equipped with this information, you can create an action plan to make changes that will ensure long-lasting stability and success.
Things to Consider when Choosing a Restaurant Consultant
Now that you have a better understanding of a restaurant consultant’s job, there are a few things to look for when hiring one.
Experience is one of the main things to look for when researching who to hire as a restaurant consultant. Restaurant industry insight is invaluable: sure, you can take classes on restaurant management and hospitality, but the complexities of this industry are learned through in-person, hands-on experience. When researching different consultants, compare how many years of experience they have, and if they specialize in anything.
You will find yourself spending a lot of time with the professional you choose to hire, and therefore, it is important that you get along. Your staff and managers will also be around this person often, so ensure they are positive, pleasant, and receptive. When reaching out to potential candidates, pay attention to how they communicate and their ability to collaborate. Reading reviews and analyzing their experience is an important step, but also be sure to observe how you initially interact with this person, and if it is a positive or negative experience.
Dean Small of Synergy Consultants posed the questions, “ Where do you see yourself in ten years, five years, and next year? What can we focus on now, this quarter, this week, today, that will move you in the direction of your desired outcomes?”. Your consultant should be able to clearly understand your restaurant’s vision and concept, and be able to support each of these with clear, incremental goals. If your goals and vision are not yet clear, a consultant helps restaurateurs gain clarity and outline long-term goals. Using best industry practices and proven frameworks, consultants help businesses create a roadmap to reach success.
Consulting services can get expensive quickly, especially hospitality consulting, so this cost needs to be factored into your restaurant’s budget. If you are a restaurateur just opening a startup business, then this cost can be factored into your business plan. Ideally, the cost of hiring a restaurant consultant should pay off in the changes made and strategies implemented. Before you hire, know how much the consultant charges per hour or per project.
As previously mentioned in the “Connections” section, a solid network is an additional component that a restaurant consultant brings to the table. When you are hiring a consultant, you are essentially also receiving this added bonus of a network that comes along with them. Good referrals to professionals in the restaurant industry are an invaluable asset.
Examples of National Restaurant Consulting Firms
In the U.S., there are many well-established firms in the restaurant business consultancy space. Some operate nationwide, while others operate in major cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Chicago, and Austin. Whether you operate a fast-casual concept, fine dining establishment, or a restaurant group, these firms will be able to provide assistance and a customized strategy to improve upon your business.
Coyle Hospitality operates nationwide and throughout the world, offering customer service and hospitality consulting. The well-established firm provides customized solutions for hotels, resorts, restaurants, cruises, timeshares, retail, cannabis, real estate, and other high-touch experiential industries. Since 1996 Coyle has facilitated over 200,000 evaluations.
Synergy Restaurant Consultants.
Synergy Restaurant Consultants has been in business for over 30 years, and in this time, the firm has assisted over 275 chain establishments and 1,800 restaurant locations in the United States. Working with foodservice outlets, restaurant chains, independent operators, and entrepreneurs, the company has received a 4.9/5 rating on Google Reviews. Synergy can assist with restaurant operations, concept innovation, training, and education. Dean Smalls, a cofounder and managing partner of the firm, said, “More often than not, our clients
find that our fee pays for itself when they execute our action plan through reduced costs and improved revenue.”
Synergy Consultants helped Flores & Pine reorganize their space to incorporate an open kitchen and dining bar, and relocate the existing bar to an underutilized area of the property to create a warm and inviting lounge area at the entrance. Source: Synergy Consultants, 2022
Operating in New York City, Blackwood Hospitality is a full-service hospitality consulting and advisory firm. With over 60 years of experience, the firm specializes in restaurant and hotel openings, as well as assisting with turnarounds for struggling operations. Blackwood’s team of restaurant professionals can assist with concept development, operational procedures, marketing, staff training, menu development, and more.
Gentilly Kitchen + Bar, based in New York City, is an example of an establishment that Blackwood Hospitality has worked with. Source: Blackwood Hospitality, 2022
Based in Los Angeles, California, New School has decades of experience in the hospitality and restaurant space. The boutique agency cares equally for both the numbers and the creative process in opening and running a restaurant. Administration, planning, development, building, and execution are just some of the services the firm offers.
TRG Restaurant Consulting.
Working with establishments of all types and sizes, TRG Restaurant Consulting is a firm that provides solutions for restaurants’ operational needs. When consulting with new restaurateurs, TRG can help develop business plans and create viable brands that attract repeat business. For restauranteurs that want to steer their concepts to maximum success, the consulting firm can provide assistance with expansion, turnaround, design, and concept development.
You wouldn’t turn to a friend, investor, or business partner and expect them to fill in as your therapist or life coach - nor should they attempt to take the place of a restaurant consultant. If your restaurant is opening in the near future, or if your existing establishment is rebranding, expanding, or struggling, a restaurant consultant can provide crucial advice and guidance. A consultant’s job varies based on what your business needs and they can assist with everything from restaurant design to social media. Hiring and spending money on a restaurant consultant may seem daunting, but they are industry professionals that can bring your restaurant business to the next level.