This blog posting discusses food service consultants, what to expect from a good one and how to sort them out when, as a food service manager, you need one.

Just as in the case of teachers and attorneys, people joke about consultants. These jokes reveal a misunderstanding of what consultants do. Consultants, the jokes suggest, charge too much money, take too much time, spend much of it working on their computers and produce a great deal of confusing paperwork. Everyone, however, needs an extra set of ears and eyes to look at their operation and offer advice. This is the consultant’s job.

It is natural for food service operators to want a definitive answer to a problem or concern. Much of a consultant’s work is researching the client’s needs; this is where time and money become issues and seem excessive. One food service operator hired me to ‘make them (health inspectors) go away!’. He was highly upset when I explained it wasn’t what I did. To some extent, consultants should act as an intermediary with sanitarians to research and clarify a problem so all parties understand the desired solution. The long term solution, however, may be complicated, requiring active work by management and employees to make that solution effective and prevent the reappearance of previous problems.

This is an important point: while there are many ‘consultants’ who will provide generic, ‘cookie-cutter’ paperwork and promise rapid approvals by health agencies, these companies may not analyze the specific needs of the food service or be available on a long term basis to assist with follow up needs such as sanitary audits, questions from inspectors, revisions to existing food safety plans or training to implement those plans. While these documents appear impressive, the food service operator must apply the plan both to make food safe as well as demonstrating to the inspector that minimum sanitation standards are satisfied. The required changes might be sudden and require on-site help from the consultant.

The latter services, while more expensive in terms of time and finances, are essential to provide long term effective operations. A food service consultant who promises quick, easy and inexpensive solutions might not be looking at the client’s specialized and long term needs.

Inspectors are a type of food service consultant; the two professions share a number of functions and should not be working as adversaries. The inspector’s work is linked to legal food safety rules and requirements but, aside from that predominant function, they should also spend time analyzing, discussing, training and listening, all of which are important consultant functions. Consultants, while primarily involved with assisting their clients’ interests, will also be advancing food safety issues as part of their job.

Foodservice Consultants Society International ( defines a food service consultant in this manner:
Generally speaking, a foodservice consultant is an independent professional advisor who, for a defined scope of work and related fee, works as an advocate for their client in achieving their goals through the design and implementation of foodservice facilities and/or operations/management systems. Consultants provide expertise, knowledge and experience to provide assistance that does not exist in-house, or by providing resources not available at the time. As independent professionals their primary focus is the welfare of the client organization that they serve.

So, what factors are important to look for in a good food service consultant?

1) Knowledge: A food service consultant must be knowledgeable about their industry, including existing regulations and scientific foundations behind those rules; technology to address construction requirements; and developing trends which might require future changes;

2) Resources: Consultants must have directories of resources and personnel to consult when problems are complicated;

3) Computer Technology: Consultants must be well versed in computer use for sanitary audits, government paperwork requirements and research;

4) Analytical Skills: Consultants should have experience analyzing food safety problems, conducting on site sanitary audits and producing legible, easily understood reports;

5) Communication and Training: Consultants must have experience in communication, education and training, understanding the needs and concerns of their clients. They must provide objective, nonbiased advice for restaurant management, working as an intermediary between health agencies and clients, explaining food safety requirements while advancing their client’s needs. Consultants also will recommend approaches to problems not directly related to food safety: alcohol safety, recycling, energy conservation, zoning requirements are only a few examples.

6) Consultant-Client Partnership: Consultants will always insist on the proactive work of their client in the food safety process. This is an important aspect. No investment, be it a new car, home, or food safety plan, ends without the need for further maintenance and involvement The car’s oil must be changed, the home must be maintained. Consultants will expect clients to actively participate in the food safety plan.

Perhaps, most important, however, is the ability to communicate and understand the needs of clients. It is never easy to explain the intricate parts of a HACCP- or food safety plan, the reasons for their importance and how to best implement them. The picture attached here shows the President of Early Warning Food Service Solutions, Christine Testa, in a meeting discussing food safety concerns. This ‘hands-on’ holistic approach is something not gained through the Internet; it requires time and experience.