I recently received an email from a business student who wanted to know how most restaurant consultants get into the industry. What sort of a background do restaurant consultants typically have, he wanted to know. I may not know official statistics on restaurant consulting, but I do know my story. Here is my perspective on the business of restaurant consulting.
How do restaurant consultants get into the industry?
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 started managing restaurants in my 30′s. The more I thrived in my job, the more I discovered that my work in restaurants fulfilled me in a way that writing in solitude never could. Helping a team through a busy service or talking with a guest about a great new wine we were serving gave me an opportunity to connect to people and make an immediate impact on their lives. It was at this time that I began to see that restaurant work was an honorable profession and one that I enjoyed doing.
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. 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.
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 have any questions about my consulting work or want more information about building a career in consulting, please feel free to email me at Brooke [at] Foodwoolf.com.