Call the Consultant: Knowing When You Don’t Know It All

In the restaurant industry we often have to wear many hats and are expected to provide expertise in a variety of areas.  Specifically in the area of supply chain management, we are responsible for negotiating contracts for products and services, managing distribution, sourcing, food safety and traceability, risk management, tracking and forecasting commodities, and controlling costs. Depending on how long you have been in supply chain positions for the restaurant industry, you likely have some experience in all of these areas, but you couldn’t say you are an expert at everything. That’s where third-party consultants come into play.

Do the things that made you successful, but realize that you can’t do it all. 

There is a time and a place for using a consultant, or some other third-party option to maximize the opportunities for success. In the area of supply chain for restaurants, there are numerous options for third-party resources. These range from negotiations of distribution agreements, contract management, price auditing, produce management, risk management, food safety and traceability, added value services, inventory management, food cost control, sourcing, and special project consulting.  Many of these organizations are paid on performance, meaning they don’t make money unless they save you money.

Many supply chain executives are hesitant to use third-party services out of fear of looking incompetent. Maybe it’s because we are too proud, too detail oriented, or just too stubborn (I have been accused of all three). But in reality, these partnerships work in the best interest of everyone involved. There is no shame in admitting when it’s time to bring in someone with more experience and resources to get the job done right. Show me one CEO who hasn’t used a consultant at some point in their career.

The first time I had to establish contracts on electricity and gas, I knew I needed help.  The markets are heavily influenced by many factors, and the formula used to determine prices is somewhat complicated. To this day, I know this is a category that makes sense to use an expert in order to get the best outcome for contracting energy. In a former position, there were days that went by that I know I left money on the table because I didn’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to get something done that could have saved my organization money, or minimize risk. Don’t be naïve or too willful to think you can do it all, and do it all right. 

For example, an organization I once worked for used a third party to negotiate our trash hauling contracts in all national markets.  The third party was paid on a percentage of the savings identified over the length of the new contract. It ended up being a nice savings; therefore, it was a substantial fee for the consultant.  I felt embarrassed that I didn’t negotiate those contracts myself, and save the added cost of paying the consultant. I said to myself, “I could have done that.” If that were true, why didn’t I?!  The truth is, I didn’t have the time, experience or resources in this particular area that would have provided the same results, and I knew it. 

We work in an industry we love, but it’s a hectic one where day-to-day firefighting prevents us from accomplishing bigger projects and opportunities that can make a huge impact to the bottom line.  Do the things that made you successful, but realize that you can’t do it all. Sometimes the best characteristic of an expert is knowing when you aren’t an expert at everything.