Financial PostThe Independent:
Ex-restaurateurs find niche in consulting
By Susan Noaks
Special Reports Writer The Financial Post
Dozens of independent experts have set themselves up in the food-services management field in the past few years, finding a niche in such areas as kitchen design, menu or recipe creation, nutrition counselling or real estate.
The independent consultants are more likely to appeal to the single restaurant owner who needs advice to get out of trouble or manage a big change.
It’s a hot consulting area where they are competing with the biggest six management consulting firms and small boutique firms.
The Canadian chapter of the Food Services Consultants Society has about 30 members. That number is not representative of the number of consultants in the food-service field, says Canadian chairman Stephen Tyler, an associate with Nelson Hofer in Mississauga, Ont.
Many food-service management consultants do not join. The society itself started out as an industry group for kitchen designers, he says.
Food-service chains continually have to refresh their concepts to keep up with a rapidly changing market, he says. Dining habits and expectations are changing, and even large successful firms need to revamp to keep up with changing tastes, he says.
And food service in the public sector — such as hospitals and universities — is in the midst of a revolution. Some institutions need to cut costs, some want to privatize and some want to turn food service from a money-loser to a money-spinner.
Legal back-up is a growing area of food-service consulting, especially with the growth of franchise systems. If you have 30 franchisees, it’s rare not to have one or two that aren’t happy, says Doug Fisher, president of FHG International Inc., a boutique firm that specializes in food-service management.
As the number of franchise deals rises, the amount of litigation also rises, he says. But not all legal work is in the franchise field.
Fisher did a study for SkyDome of the cost of food in its private boxes compared with the cost of food at other stadiums. The study was used as evidence in court last fall in a case that ended Bitove Corp.’s hold on catering for the SkyBoxes.
Fisher says many of his clients are small and mid-sized firms looking for growth. They may be considering franchising or just expanding their chain and need the management tools and controls to do it.
“The individual restaurateur is too entrepreneurial to adopt those controls,” he says. But an owner-operator with three or four profitable operations often reaches a limit to what can be done without a proper management systems.
Fisher is also keen on helping existing franchisors expand. With North American markets saturated with high-quality restaurants, he urges franchisors to move into South America where newly affluent consumers are eager for North American-style franchising.