In the restaurant industry, there are hundreds of specialist consultants and many generalists who can help with the project for which you may seek a consultant.

Deciding which consultant is right is often a difficult task to accomplish. Well offer you some advice here on how to select the right consultant for the job.

Before contacting any consultant, the client needs to have a clear picture of what is needed and what the consultant is to accomplish.

The budget for this service should be set, if not in stone, certainly in mind. It is best to have a written sheet listing prospective consultants and on that sheet should be some truly selective questions.

These should be aimed at determining what the consultants strengths and weaknesses may be and whether he or she is really the right person for the job.

The following is a list of questions that you may consider asking.

Feel free to customize them to your specific project.

How many years is the consultant in business?
How many people work for or with your firm?
What is your background in this industry?
Why did you become a consultant?
Our goals and objectives are  What experience have you had in these areas?
How many clients would you say youve helped in a similar situation?
What is the average duration of your contracts?
Do you have a minimum period of time for such work?
Could you give me a price range for similar projects youve  already completed for others?
Without giving me a specific quote, could you explain how you charge your clients?
Do you charge for a face to face meeting to evaluate my needs? If so, on what terms?
Are you or your firm tied to any food purveyors or companies  that may try to sell me goods or services?
Do you or your firm receive a commission on sales of goods or services you recommend?
What other services can you provide that may be outside the scope of the project I currently need?

These are the really critical questions to ask.

They may seem a bit odd, but they really work to help you determine the professional consultants from the rank amateurs.

Many times, in our experience, people calling themselves consultants are really just a restaurant manager or chef with minor amounts of experience.

Though they may have great experience, they may also have difficulty getting the job done because your needs may be outside the scope of their background.

This can be much more harmful to you than if you hired a consultant from a more established firm.

Look for a firm with many consultants available.

That should be a clear indication that others have found the firm worth joining. Small firms can only handle small jobs while larger, long-established firms can handle anything your consultation may require.

It is important that a client understand how the consultant works when you meet.

Most clients tend to present their entire wish list to the consultant but really only need a small amount of what they ask to be accomplished.

When the consultant comes back to the client with an astronomical price, the client is often offended. It is really important that you, as a client focus on what your core problem is and ask only for the specific help you need.

You can always seek to expand the scope of a project or extend a contract to accomplish more tasks. It is also most dangerous for both you and the consultant to lay out a grand, all-encompassing scope of work at the very outset.

It may seriously over-burden the consultant and could result in sub-standard results.

Allow the consultant to handle only such tasks as are within the scope of their expertise.

Bring in multiple consultants, whether from the same firm or not to handle different jobs.

That allows you to accomplish more, while making sure each consultant has a greater chance of success.

Target those tasks that are most critical and allow the consultant to complete those within a specified, realistic time frame.

Asking to revise and cost a menu in five days is not going to result in a good, properly costed menu and you will be throwing money away.

Be wary of any consultant who claims he can fix your entire operation in a couple of weeks of intensive work. Thats utterly ridiculous. It is much better to hire someone with realistic timeframes and levels of skill.

A practical mind is much more of an effective tool at fixing your problems than an over-eager consultant whos goal is to get onto the next client. You need the assurance that your consultant is really working with your best interests in mind.

Dont be too concerned with the consultants education either. More often than not, a great consultant came up through the ranks in a good size organization and has handled many different jobs over the years.

Formal education alone cannot help anyone tell if youre line cooks are pilfering steaks out your back door. Nor can it help anyone to objectively look at a menu and see problems with menu management and food costs.

These are skills gained from years of experience and training. If the candidate being interviewed responds to "what is your experience?" with "I went to such and such school, then I worked as a manager", my advice is keep looking.

Any good consultant will be able to show you the products of his labors.

These include reports hes generated for other clients, manuals hes written or revised and he should be able to comfortably discuss the issues and problems you face.

If the consultant seems confident and can justify claims of experience and know-how, then by all means, engage in a contract.

Consulting may seem like the most glamorous thing one can be in the restaurant or foodservice business.

Its not.

The truth is that once the consultant is on the job, the managers, chef and staff that work for you will be upset that a consultant is going to come in and tell them all how to do their jobs.

Thats not really true, its a perception that needs to be addressed as soon as you sign the contract.

The consultant should be able to advise you on how to handle this.

Sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement with your consultant as part of the interview process.

Dont wait until youre ready to put pen to contract. Make sure the consultant fully understands that what you disclose about your business is in complete confidence. In this way, you will prevent the consultant from telling your competitor what your problems are when he interviews with them at some future date.

A truly professional consultant will have no problem with that at all.

The best ones will offer it upon initial contact with you.

Dont be afraid to hire several consultants from different firms or to ask one consultant to serve as a general contractor.

Putting the burden of managing a large scale project on the shoulders of a consultant supported by a group allows you the freedom, time and ability to handle your normal business. You cannot afford the time and luxury of baby-sitting a consultant or a team of them.

Expect reports on a weekly basis and have a brief meeting once a week.

You will find in the long run that having a consultant in business is as necessary as having an accountant or lawyer.

You should begin to see results soon after the consultant has started the project no matter what it may be.

A good consultant will work hard for your business and give you practical, logical help and advice.