Service 101: How I Became a Restaurant Consultant

When you open a new restaurant in Los AngelesI recently received an email from a business student who wanted to know how most restaurant consultants get into the industry. Though I may not have the official statistics on restaurant consulting at my finger tips, I do know my own story. I’m happy to share my perspective on the business of restaurant consulting with you.

How do restaurant consultants get into the industry? 

For me, I started young. I was a teenager when I got my first restaurant job. I worked in the 110 degree kitchen making milkshakes at a fried seafood shack. My intention getting into restaurants at that time was to make some spending money. I never imagined the food and beverage industry would be where I would make my profession.

I became a waitress and bartender in my twenties. I enjoyed taking care of people and found comfort in the camaraderie I felt with my co-workers.  I knew I had a unique talent for service and my entrepreneurial spirit helped kept me rolling in the tip money.

From Part time to Full Time

I went from dabbling in restaurants to taking things a lot more seriously when I started managing restaurants in my 30′s.

The more I poured myself into my job, the more I discovered that the work I did in restaurants fulfilled me in a way that writing never could. I enjoyed building a community, being of service to others, and getting passionate about the products we sold. I saw how leading others not only helped transform their lives, but also mine.

It was also around this time that I began to see that restaurant work was an honorable profession. It was a job I was learning to enjoy from the inside out.

Then, after six years of thriving as a restaurant General Manager, I went to work for Nancy Silverton, Joe Bastianch, and Mario Batali as part of the service team of Pizzeria Mozza and later, Osteria Mozza. It was there I honed and developed a service vocabulary and systems.  I became a trusted leader in the dining room — in sales and in happy, return guests. Then, after more than four years of putting my service theories to the test through personal research and development, I felt ready to begin my work as a Service Consultant.

In 2010, a former employer agreed to give me a chance at being his first Director of Service or “Service Guru” for two of his Asian food restaurants. I wrote training manuals, developed and implemented service protocols, and worked hard to improve the culture of service within the organization. After almost a year at Buddha’s Belly I had the experience I needed to officially start my own business as The Service Coach.

Working as a restaurant and service consultant is an art form that I love. The work I do with restaurants is incredibly creative. I use my writing abilities, intuition, faith, desire to connect people, and hard work ethic in my daily work. Every day I learn something new as I work with people who teach me new ways of approaching challenges and unique ways to grow and improve business.

service consultantWhat type of projects do restaurant consultants typically work on? 

I think every restaurant consultant has their own specialty. For the first couple of years I specialized in building systems and opening restaurants. Now I like to help restaurateurs see the Big Picture, help them get clarity in their Vision, and assist with team building and growing talent.

One of the best parts of consulting is the diversity of clients I work with. I have had the pleasure of working with first-time restaurateurs and Michelin-starred pros. I have helped open several Los Angeles restaurants (Italian, Asian, Cal/French bakery and restaurant) that have gone on to win several industry and press awards. I have assisted in leading the opening of a fast-casual, artisanal hot dog stand and a fine dining night club. I’ve even spent some time at a vegan juice bar, helping the team improve systems and service.

Focus of the work

My work is always different, but my primary job is always the same: to serve the particular needs of my client. Before I begin implementing any programs, I always sit down with my clients to gain clarity on their goals and define what their guiding principles are. Once I am clear what their mission is for the restaurant and staff, I am able to channel the needs of my client through the work that I do.

I typically start by creating operational systems for the restaurant. I develop and implement service protocols and training programs, hire and train staff, and work hands-on with the staff to get them to where they need to be in their performance. In existing restaurants I help trouble shoot, problem solve, and implement or improve systems (be it accounting systems, streamlining service flow, organization, or improving health code protocols).

Finding new clients

Most of my clients come to me through recommendations or by seeing my work in action. Frequently, restaurateurs come into the restaurants I help open ask me  about my role within the business. “Are you the owner?” they say when they see how I move through the dining room or greet a new guest. When I tell them that I am a restaurant consultant helping out some friends for a few months, their eyes light up. Business cards are exchanged and a connection is made.

Seth Godin, an entrepreneur, author, and public speaker, describes in his talks and numerous books about how we are currently living in a connection economy. In this new economy, people want to spend their money on a unique product that offers them some kind of value that they can trust.

My work brings value to my clients through my ability to coordinate all the moving parts of a restaurant and its people. I give valuable time and space to my clients so they can keep their eye on the big goals while I work hard to channel those objectives through big-game solutions and smaller details.

Recommendations for future restaurant consultants

1) Keep an open mind

Going into a new situation with an open mind and a flexible plan has been incredibly helpful in my work. Having an unwavering or fixed point of view on a particular aspect of service or a cemented plan of attack may be detrimental to the client and their business. I have learned over the years that listening to the client and designing a unique solution for their needs results in a sustainable fix.

2) Work for people who not only want your help but are willing to be part of the solution. 

An important piece of the work that I do is making sure I get buy-in from my clients. If a potential client asks me to come in and “fix” their restaurant for them but has no interest in what that fix might look like or what it will take, I know I can’t — in good conscience– work with them.

If I were to push my way through the problems of another person’s restaurant, I would be doing the client a huge disservice. Without an owner’s involvement or a key leader’s buy in, the turn around work will disappear within weeks of my departure and the money they invested in finding a solution will be wasted. For this reason, I interview my clients to ascertain if they have a key ingredient: willingness.

If a restaurant owner has willingness and a team in place that can work as culture keepers of the work that is done while I am there, I know that I may be of maximum service to my clients and create a sustainable fix.

Interview your clients to see if you can work with them.

3) Be a student 

Developing a willingness to be open to suggestion and influence has been incredibly helpful to the growth of my work and my process.

Learning from other masters in service — in and out of the restaurant industry — has been incredibly beneficial. My teachers come in many forms. Some are masters in business and others are teachers of living a life of service. People like Matt Armendariz, Karen Armstrong, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hahn, Seth Godin, Danny Meyer, Cesar Milan, Ron Kaufman, and Tabitha Coffey have been influential in the way I approach my work.

Humility and willingness to learn from others helps me grow and for my business to evolve.

If you are interested in building a career in consulting and would like additional help, I offer mentoring services and coach the coaches workshops. For more information please  email me at Brooke [at] Foodwoolf.com.  

7 comments

  1. nechelle

    Thank you for posting this! you have provided some valuable and educational advice for people like myself interested in restaurant consulting.

  2. Merrill D'Arezzo

    Hi, I am a current journalism grad student at Northwestern University. I am writing an article due Friday and was hoping I could ask one question. In your opinion, what is the most important thing an older restaurant should keep in mind while striving to propel its business into the future and compete with newer, trendier restaurants? Thanks, hope to hear from you soon!

    Best,
    Merrill

  3. Fola Bakare

    Hello Brooke,

    Thank you for posting this.
    I have been working training front and back of house staff in restaurants, bars and pubs around the UK for several years now. I feel it is time for me to use that experience in a consultancy.

    The block that I have is with getting started. This article has helped.

    I hope it is not too forward of me if I return here and post the odd question.

    Regards,
    Fola

  4. Natasja Erskine

    Hi Brooke,

    I am an aspiring restaurant consultant and is in the process of researching as much as possible. Restaurants has been my life for the last 16 years – and I have had the pleasure of being part of countless restaurant environments.

    After researching similar services, I have found that there’s not many, if any such services in Cape Town (where I live), South Africa. I believe I can take this gap in the market by storm.

    My current challenge is training manuals / material. Any tips and advice will be greatly appreciated!
    I look forward to hearing from you, kindly reply to my email address provided.

    Kind Regards
    Natasja

  5. Pietro Fanzo

    Loved the “Consulting” article. I have just started researching what would be involved to be a restaurant Consultant. I am a retired Chef, and had my own successful Italian Trattoria which is still around after 24 Years. I organised and enjoyed 5 very successful Food, Wine and Culture Tours to Sicily, Italy and France during that time, and have helped many friends and acquaintances to ‘Fix’ problems at Food establishments. I am 52 and would love to do this professionally in Ontario, Canada where I live, but feel Professional Training is Required. I have been out of the Restaurant now for 4 Years, and am fairly comfortable financially but miss the Restaurant environment and feel I can Help new Operators. I would be interested in any course materail or information Please and keep up the Great Articles Thanks

  6. anna

    this dude is to ethereal, get to the point, its all about hard work and a concept.
    then the management kicks in

  7. Pingback: How Do I Become a Restaurant Consultant? | Food Woolf

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