Value engineering: The right thing for your kitchen?

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Elements of the kitchen design are always going to be sacrificed for front-of-house changes if it comes down to a budget argument — especially if the decision is being made by a main contractor — but this can prove to be detrimental to an operator’s long-term ability to service their customers. FEJ investigates the complex world of value engineering from the perspective of those trying to help operators create the perfect kitchen.

The true definition of ‘value engineering’ might be improvements to costs or efficiencies — and subsequently the act of choosing an alternative option — but in the catering equipment world it has become a bit of a dirty phrase. Consultants and kitchen designers find it a particularly emotive subject since they are typically the ones that strive to create the perfect kitchen only to then see elements of it stripped out or ‘substituted’ for cheaper alternatives.

Such frustration isn’t always recognised or understood on the user side of the market, especially if the main contractor is calling the shots and the user is not privvy to the motivating factors behind the decision.

Traditionally, fabrication has been viewed as one of the easiest ways to reduce the cost of the specification, but the truth is that it’s not really going to save enough money to deliver a substantial benefit. That, kitchen designers fear, is why key pieces of equipment are most at risk of being replaced, even if they were originally selected because they were ideally suited for that client.

Value engineering is a factor of project management and it would be extremely arrogant for me to say that our designs were perfect in every aspect and didn’t require revisiting”

“With a lot of equipment we are putting in today, we are promising better labour efficiency,” says Carla McKenzie, managing director of MYA Consulting. “We are now moving into a market where we have to pay quite substantial living wages where traditionally the foodservice industry hasn’t. So the choice of equipment is often for the long haul and for the operational or cost benefits. And if the builder or main contractor is making the decision, very often they won’t be advising on those matters that have an onward impact on the client’s operating business.”

Tyron Stephens-Smith, designer at TAG Catering Equipment, says that a prime example is something like a potwash machine — which could take away a member of staff for the next 10 years. “But contractors may say, ‘that machine’s costing a substantial amount of money, let’s take it out’, and not realise that it’s actually then made the client have to pay for someone to wash up pans for the remainder of that kitchen’s life.”

Whether suppliers see value engineering as a necessary evil or entirely unnecessary is a matter for debate. “Value engineering is a factor of project management and it would be extremely arrogant for me to say that our designs were perfect in every aspect and didn’t require revisiting,” acknowledges McKenzie.

“Often in value engineering workshops we do throughout the project, we have increased the cost rather than decreased the cost, once we’ve had more fully-rounded conversations about the onward operational impact. I think what value engineering does is it forces project teams to come together and to work innovatively on behalf of the client to try and find the right solutions for the project. I think our job is to be transparent and to complete detailed risk registers so that clients have a full understanding of what they are signing up to.”

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Iain Munro, managing director of ScoMac Catering Equipment, thinks that with projects that are consultant-led, going through a builder can bring difficulties. “If it was a client-nominated situation, you wouldn’t have half of the issues. The end-user would end up having a more efficient kitchen that ultimately meets the expectations that were set at the beginning.”

McKenzie agrees there can be challenges with the main contractor situation and for architectural design and build scenarios as well. “We are a fast moving industry and we are constantly bringing new innovation and products to the market. Our non-expert colleagues working in the project team may not be aware fully of all of those options and may be making the decisions very quickly without any of us at the table.”

Of course, there are times when operators genuinely do face budget constraints and need to address areas of the kitchen design in order to reduce the capital outlay or accommodate more equipment. While the design consultant and distributor should ideally be working together to address this, it ultimately comes back to the operator as they are the ones making the savings.

“We sometimes see consultants’ specifications that use a cut and paste fabrication specification, which might be ideal for an MOD site or a five-star hotel operation, but I see the same specification in a business and industry environment,” says Munro.

If it was a client-nominated situation, you wouldn’t have half of the issues. The end-user would end up having a more efficient kitchen that ultimately meets the expectations that were set at the beginning”

“That’s where the argument might be around quality of stainless steel. A lot of the steel manufacturers these days are saying that the ferritic stainless steels, that’s the 430 grading, is equally as hygienic as some as the higher grades, the 304 or 316, but we would come across some specifications where the consultant had specified 304 as the preferred for frames and work surfaces. It makes no sense if the 430 grade is still hygienic and there’s a cost benefit. But I’ve had situations where because that is the written specification, that’s what they want. So it’s about us all coming together and understanding about where the opportunities are, and meeting budget constraints together.”

Increasingly, value engineering on appliances that have much smaller proportions than in a traditional kitchen of 20 years ago, means the industry has got to look for other solutions, suggests McKenzie.

“The consultant has an important role in perhaps influencing food offers, service styles and approaches. Kitchen houses and distributors will have better deals with certain manufacturers than with others. They will be able to bring the power of their purchasing to bear on the value engineering, but it is important that it isn’t substitution for a less-enabled piece of equipment or one that isn’t going to have the lifespan the project requires. A truly independent look at that has to add value to the client’s position.”

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