Five Ways Active Listening Creates Better Kitchen Designs

Five Ways Active Listening Creates Better Kitchen Designs


Chances are good a chef opening a new restaurant has dreamed about it for years. Concept. Menu. Staff. Décor. Equipment. Every detail considered, over and over again.

So when an equipment consultant is brought into the mix during the construction phase, it's not so much about educating, convincing or even selling the chef as it is about finding innovative, cost-effective ways to bring that unique vision to life.

This means listening. Lots and lots of listening. Here are five ways savvy equipment consultants listen better to deliver better results.

1. Great design begins with hearing what a client believes.

A great kitchen design reflects not just what a chef needs on a technical level, but what a chef believes about the equipment on a core values level. That's what fuels the chef's passion and makes a great restaurant great. “How they feel about the technology is every bit as important as what specific pieces of equipment they need to make their menu happen,” says Kevin LaMere, Horizon Contract Design Specialist. Core values are often communicated indirectly through tonal inflection, body language and facial expressions—subtle clues that active listening can discern.

2. Shutting off preconceived bias lets the chef's unique vision come to life.

In a rush to prove expertise, many equipment consultants will listen for ways to connect what a chef is doing to some past project or experience, often in a way that denigrates the uniqueness of the vision. “Oh, yeah, they tried that over at so-and-so's. I've done a project just like this before,” the consultant says to a proposed menu item or cooking technique. “Chef's don't want to hear that someone else tried it, or its already been done,” says Ryan Smith, Horizon Consulting and Design Specialist. “They want you to listen to their unique vision and concept and bring it to life with original, effective equipment solutions.”

3. Listening for the whole problem, rather than mentally building a case for a partial solution.

Nothing is worse for a chef than having a business challenge pooh-poohed by a salesperson driving them towards a partial, ineffective solution. The message this sends is clear: Your problems and issues are trivial, and my agenda is important. “When you get married to a certain cooking solution or brand line, it can tempt you to steer the client in the wrong direction,” says LaMere. “Listening to what they really need helps you avoid that amateurish trap.”

4. Active listening includes being on the alert for costly pitfalls.

When making the sale becomes everything, salespeople often turn off their leadership switch when they know the hard news is not what the client wants—but needs—to hear. This only causes a problem later that strains the relationship. “We're always respectful about what a client wants, and are dedicated to making it happen, but if we know from experience a particular equipment choice will seriously hamstring their operation later, we step in,” says Bryce Van Klein, Horizon Project Manager. “We have been in business for 30 years because we put the client's best interests first.”

5. Listening for what is not said opens doors to unexpected solutions.

When a salesperson rushes to fill every lull in the conversation, it can often come at the expense of hearing what is not said. Waiting just a few seconds after the client is done talking allows them to elaborate on their thought. It also provides key insights into potential information gaps in their understanding. “If you're talking all the time, you have no idea what the client knows about certain issues,” LaMere says. “You become far more effective when you leave those open spots in the conversation, so you can hear what isn't being said. That helps you understand where you can add real value to the relationship.”