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Viewpoint: You can’t put a price on knowledge

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Viewpoint: You can’t put a price on knowledge

Industry know-how and a bulging contacts book can take away the pain of decision-making on large catering projects, says FCSI’s Julian Edwards

Tender specifications and methodologies continuously change in catering. New technologies, innovations, regulatory standards, greater demand for environmental targets and the desire for fine-level cuisine in both the profit and cost sectors are a constant challenge to catering contractors.

The profession, however, has come under much criticism from contractors and suppliers who have had dealings with those consultancies that don’t operate within a code of conduct.

Catering businesses regale their poor experiences of consultants based on a number of factors. The predominant, and ill at ease comment, is the method of payment employed by some. These are the “no-win, no-fee” brigade, where essentially fees for the consultant are paid for by the successful contractor and can occasionally work out at 150-200% more than the average cost of a consultant support fee.

Another common complaint is the consultant’s rapid turnaround process with little or no consultation – it’s purely a procurement process with no consideration for ethics, standards, cuisine and customer excellence. This work has a detrimental effect on catering delivery standards and reeks of the old Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) that was abolished in 1999. This method, based on the cheapest wins, introduced the nil-cost contract and caused a huge dip in standards in healthcare, education and the general cost sector industry. The industry has only recently recovered thanks to the efforts of strong, quality-focused clients and consultants for who cost is not the only factor.

Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) members work hard to persuade clients that operating to a quality, highly ethical, imaginative and innovative style will be best for their projects. Nominating supplier and installation organisations based on merits and integrity for each project is the right thing to do for clients.

Clients who have had a poor experience with consultants tend to tar the whole profession with the same brush. This is unfair as it creates a long-lasting impression of the market and potentially steers clients away from considering best practice consultants in the future. That said, given that there are more consultants than catering businesses, it is no surprise that some poor standards slip through.

But professional consultants bring a wealth of knowledge and can achieve a greater outcome to a project. The feedback we receive regularly features clients’ gratitude that we can make decisions, take away the pressure, make the whole process an enjoyable experience and add value that they would not have otherwise considered.

These are commonplace discussions between colleagues within FCSI and it’s obvious that these are the real motivators for those of us who have ventured out and created some superb consultative service organisations.

By combining this passion and drive with technical know-how, up-to-date industry knowledge and ethical practices, the appointment of a reputable consultant should be unquestionable.

Julian Edwards is chair of the Foodservice Consultants Society International (UK&Ireland)

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