August 17, 2022
Need a restaurant consultant to provide some extra support? Check out this list for inspiration.
Running a restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, according to FSR magazine, 60% of restaurants fold in their first year and 80% fold before five years.
What separates the most successful restaurants from the rest? Experience, expertise and planning. Especially in the first few years as a restaurant owner, it can be overwhelming to put together a business plan, secure licenses and permits, raise adequate funding, define your concept, find your audience, build your brand, engineer your menu, streamline your process and nurture long-term relationships with guests.
Working with a restaurant consultant can provide extra support in these areas and increase your chances of success. Whether it’s your first time opening a concept or you’re a seasoned proprietor, consultants are here to help.
Restaurant consulting is a partnership between a restaurant and an external firm that provides research, analysis and strategy work. The consultants act as professional advisors that help you streamline operations, become more profitable and improve your overall restaurant.
The specific services offered can vary by consultant, but some of the most common are:
Developing a concept.
Designing a brand.
Performing a financial analysis.
Walking you through technology resources.
Practicing menu engineering.
Reevaluating management structure.
Completing an operations assessment.
Training staff on leadership.
Sourcing sustainable packaging.
When should you consider working with a restaurant consultant? In general, there are five main reasons.
Before opening a restaurant, a consultant can help you develop concept ideas, support the process of menu development and provide a better understanding of business risks. They can also help write your business plan and bounce around ideas for the launch of both your digital and physical properties.
"Planning and preparation will pay off — even if you don’t launch every channel in unison," says the team at Figure 8, a food delivery consulting firm.
"Design your online and delivery channels with the same attention as your dine-in business. Build your website, claim your listings and set up your digital storefront 90 days in advance if possible."
Read more here: How To Market a New Restaurant Opening
A step-by-step guide to planning, financing, staffing, stocking and marketing a new restaurant for its debut.
Your brand is more than your marketing materials. It extends to your restaurant website, color palette, online voice, kitchen culture, menu, logo, mission statement and more.
Restaurant consultants can be the external eyes and ears you need during brand development. With various exercises and brainstorming sessions, they’ll push you to answer the who, what, why and how of your business model, then use it to inform your branding. Figuring out your positioning, finding your voice and ensuring your customer experience is consistent throughout all touchpoints is vital to solidifying your brand story.
Read more here: 10 Restaurant Marketing Tactics to Try in 2022
According to Jay Bandy, President of consulting firm Goliath Consulting Group, the first step in this process is learning what areas to prioritize.
"Look at your reviews," Bandy suggests. "What do you do right, and what do you do wrong in the eyes of your consumer? Next, talk to your staff."
Good consultants are experienced at research exercises like this, which help restaurants identify the right areas of focus.
Read more here: How To Run a Profitable Restaurant
Regularly evaluating your menu and understanding how it’s performing is imperative. Diner preferences are shifting, supply chain issues are rampant and margins are tighter than ever. If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you need help with your menu, look to restaurant consultants to step in.
A few key tactics restaurants can implement are upsell strategies, intentional menu placement of key dishes and comprehensive pricing analysis. Find a consultant who specializes in menu engineering or recipe cost control to get started.
Read more here: How To Create a Restaurant Menu
Finding the right team members is just one part of the puzzle. Keeping them happy and retaining them is just as important.
The restaurant industry has always had a high turnover rate and the pandemic has only exacerbated it. According to Chris Patterson, Co-Founder of Navigator Consulting, even restaurants that work to improve retention need to prepare for the unavoidable reality of turnover.
"Build your bench," Patterson advises restaurant owners. "Develop a strong, continuous training program to be proactively training the new staff and developing staying staff to be leaders. Understand hiring for motivational fit and invest the time in making good hires, so that they are leaving a good impression for your business even if they don’t stay long.”
Read more here: How to Hire Restaurant Staff With Limited Resources
This report analyzes restaurant employment statistics and wages in the 50 largest U.S. metro areas. Use the data to help you make sense of the current hiring landscape and develop a workforce strategy.
After you’ve decided to work with a restaurant consultant, picking the right fit is the next order of business. How do you select a firm that will be a good partner?
There are many factors to consider such as the experience of the consulting agency, testimonials from past clients, a portfolio of customer examples and the consultant’s specific fit for the type of concept you’re creating.
Read on to learn more about each of those areas.
Experience can be divided into two categories:  Number of years in the hospitality industry, and  specialty areas of focus. A long time in the industry is valuable, but years of experience need to be balanced against the strengths of a firm.
For example, let's say you're opening a new fine-dining concept. One agency has 10 years of experience, but it's largely focused on helping fast casual concepts scale to multiple locations. Another agency has five years of experience, but it's largely focused on launching chef-driven, independent restaurants. The second agency has less total experience, but it likely has more relevant experience for your needs.
It’s always nice to see what other people think — it’s why review websites are so popular. Getting a vote of confidence from others in the industry is helpful when selecting a restaurant consultant.
Pay attention to specific shout-outs or mentions in the testimonials to see if it aligns with the support you need. For example, if you’re looking for a long-term relationship with a firm, see if testimonials mention the length of time of the partnership or reference several projects.
Most restaurant consultants will have a portfolio of case studies showcasing their great work for past clients. Scan through these and ask yourself, “Is this the type of work I’m looking for?” and “Does this match my vision of what I’m expecting?”
Approaching a portfolio review with this mindset can help you narrow down your top list of prospects before you begin outreach to potential consultants.
Lastly, sometimes there’s just a gut feeling that tells you when something — or someone — is the right choice. Take into account a restaurant consultant’s experience, testimonials and portfolio, but don’t forget to check in with yourself on whether or not it feels like a good match.
Do you feel comfortable with this person? Have they worked with other restaurants that have a similar concept? Is the knowledge you’re looking for available through their firm? These types of questions can get you closer to making your final decision.
Now that you know what to look for in a restaurant consultant, here’s a list of 14 reputable firms to consider. We've included a link to each consultant's website, an overview of what they offer and a list of their specialties.
A2Z Restaurant Consulting is a New York City-based firm with a focus on kosher venues in the fine dining, casual dining and fast casual spaces. Their fore core services include branding and marketing, profit improvement, restaurant turnaround and restaurant startup.
Specialities: Licensing, location scouting, vendor negotiations, pop up promotions, Health Department compliance, video production, labor cost improvement
Blue Orbit Hospitality Consulting works coast-to-coast supporting clients across a variety of industries including fast casual, food trucks, food halls, bars & lounges, hotels and full-service restaurants. Their experience is in executing new concepts, revitalizing underperforming businesses and unifying culture.
Specialities: Concept Development, Menu Development, Rescue & Positioning
Culinary Culture is a group of research chefs (also known as product development or food innovation chefs) who provide consulting to the F&B industry. With a focus on trend research and innovative ideation, they approach projects both as chefs and scientists.
Specialities: Kitchen efficiency & execution, menu development, food photography & videography, food trend information, culinary ideation, focus groups, nutritional analysis
Figure 8 is a group of engineers, strategists, creatives and logistics experts who focus on food delivery system design and implementation. They optimize around three main elements: humans (owners, vendors, employees, guests); hardware (kitchen spaces, ovens, refrigerators, delivery vehicles); and software (website, POS, online ordering, digital marketing, customer feedback).
Specialites: Packaging, operations, technology, marketing & launch, communications, menu development
Full Heart Hospitality is run by two former Executive Chefs each with over 15 years of experience. They bring expertise in creative development and operations management and have worked with independent restaurant operations, multi-unit QSR and 5-star luxury resorts.
Specialities: Recipe development, concept creation, menu design, product sourcing, kitchen and bar design/layout, equipment selection, vendor management, cogs strategy, leadership training, SWOT analysis, web & social media
Gilkey Restaurant Consulting is run by 30-year industry veteran Scott Gilkey who has worked in roles from a Sous Chef to a Director of Operations. He and his team help both new restaurants and existing restaurants that need help with everything from brand development to maximizing profits.
Specialities: Business plans, feasibility studies, financial assessments, bar consulting, labor management, lease negotiations, management recruitment, technology consulting, sustainability consulting
Goliath Consulting Group is led by Jay Bandy who has over 30 years of restaurant industry experience and serves as a board member of the Georgia Restaurant Association. His team brings a diverse mix of knowledge in creative direction, operations, digital marketing, legal consulting and culinary expertise.
Specialites: Strategic planning, restaurant development, restaurant assessments, franchising, operating systems, equipment, supply chain, manuals, evaluations, project management, outsourcing, technology
The duo behind Navigator Consulting have over 50 years of combined experience and focus on brand, communication, people and money. They offer solutions for staffing, profitability, sales and strategy. They also have personalized classes that teach your service team techniques to maximize their sales potential and crash course for managers on the basics of dealing with people.
Specialties: Sales team training, business math, leadership training, HR best practices, strategic thinking, team dynamics & enhancement, conflict resolution
On the House Consulting offers support to restaurants and bars, free of charge, to those looking to test the consultant waters.. More in-depth work comes with paid services. The team is made up of many grads from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration plus young professional kitchen workers.
Specialities: Market research, financial modeling, menu analysis, branding, logo design
Open Hand Hospitality is led by Bob Mazer, an accomplished Manager and Beverage Director with experience at many of San Francisco’s top restaurants. Services include building out operational service systems, reevaluating existing setups and systems, creating strategies for problem resolution and providing hiring advice.
Specialties: POS system setup, training documentation, beverage program formatting & budgeting, guest issues, staff conflict, hiring
Ovation Restaurant Consulting is known for creating award-winning, profit-generating restaurants and hospitality spaces. Their three core focus areas are innovation, profitability and sustainability.
Specialities: Business plans & investor summaries, lease negotiation, facility design & construction supervision, green design, finance modeling, sustainable practices, general human resources system set up, repositioning & rebranding
Playground Hospitality works with new and established hospitality concepts including hotels, restaurants and entertainment groups to rediscover the soul of their business. Founder Doug Roth is a third-generation restaurateur and specializes in concept design, facilities, operations and business strategy.
Specialities: Concept clarity + design, competitive analysis, demographic profile development, delivery optimization, hiring solutions, P&L analysis, trend-opportunity identification, operations refinement, guest experience evaluation
Synergy Restaurant Consultants serves independent operators, restaurant chains, food service outlets (casinos, hotels, food halls) and entrepreneurs. Their framework is to implement practical solutions that are on-trend and profit-oriented from menu to operations to financial performance.
Specialities: Take-out packaging recommendations, LTO strategy, labor optimization, contract management services, new revenue stream concepting, customer service & upsell training, design theme and décor creation, merchandising, loyalty programs
The Restaurant Group supports independent operators and multi-unit operators for both new concepts and existing restaurants. For new concepts, they provide support on business plans, kitchen design and branding. For established concepts, they help counsel on equipment selection, food safety and HACCP Plans.
Specialties: SOPs, employee policy manuals, job descriptions, break-even analysis, forms & posters, budget & forecasting, cost-effective scheduling, loss prevention, reservation policy, licensing & permitting, uniform selection
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