GETTING TO KNOW C4EC: Eric Norman interviews Stephanie Ward

Eric Norman FCSI speaks to associate member Stephanie Ward about her career as a foodservice consultant

For FCSI to continue to grow and prosper as the vibrant Society we all know today, we must look to our newer and younger members to carry the torch into the future. A large part of the sustainability of FCSI is our Committee for Emerging Consultants (C4EC). We look to C4EC to encourage members to pursue professional membership as well as take part in volunteer opportunities and prepare for future leadership roles in FCSI. I had the pleasure of speaking with one of our C4EC members to learn more about her life and career as a foodservice consultant.

Stephanie Ward works for Foodservice Consultants Studio based in Henrico, VA. She graduated with a BA in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College in California and then went on to participate in one year of graduate school for Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. She left school in 2009 to get married and help her husband start a historic renovation business.

Like many of us in FCSI, Stephanie was not necessarily looking to get in to foodservice consulting as a career. As it happened, she had never even heard of consulting as a career path and happened upon the job listing at Foodservice Consultants Studio on Craigslist. With her background in AutoCAD and Revit, Stephanie gave it a shot and sent in a resume and cover letter to the firm. As they say, the rest is history.

She first got a taste of kitchen design five years before exploring it as a potential career. The summer after college graduation, the kitchen manager at her alma mater found out Stephanie knew the AutoCAD design software. The manager was interested in reorganizing a cook line and adding some equipment pieces to the kitchen, and asked Stephanie if she would be interested in drawing up the plans and elevations for the contractors. She laboriously drew each item from scratch based on the cut sheet data in order to put the drawing together for construction. Stephanie said about this experience, “Destiny was knocking, but it was going to take me another five years to answer the door.”

Now, after having spent some time in the industry, Stephanie has a great outlook on career, life, and FCSI.

What do you find most rewarding about your career in foodservice consulting?
I take great satisfaction in knowing that a correctly designed kitchen will be a joy to work in for years to come. Efficient, pleasant, environmentally friendly work spaces have a ripple effect in society and beyond. Kitchens are no exception.

How has membership in FCSI benefited you and your firm and what do you think is the greatest value of being a member?
My coworkers helped me set up my FCSI associate membership my first week on the new job. It didn’t take me long to learn why: I’ve benefited from every FCSI educational event that I’ve attended. Later I enjoyed giving back as a co-presenter at a FCSI Symposium, where five of us shared our experience taking our company into the cloud.

The greatest value of FCSI membership belongs to Professional members. Our clients have peace of mind knowing they are hiring the most highly qualified individuals in the industry.

How did FCSI implement the “self-management” company culture? What are some of the pros and cons of this style of office management?
Several years ago, our whole company read Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed Organization by Doug Kirkpatrick. We collectively made the decision to evolve into a company where no one was ‘boss’. That doesn’t mean we are disorganized, simply that our organization is ‘flat’ rather than ‘top down’. The pros of self-management are innovation, high company morale, flexibility, and a cross-skilled team. The cons of self-management come into play when there is not full buy-in for the concept. Self-management is for motivated, responsible professionals. The skill set can be learned, but it takes enthusiasm, commitment, and a shared vision to make it work.

What advice would you have for anyone contemplating a career in foodservice consulting?
The best place to learn is on the job. If you are new to this profession, do everything in your power to land a job with a seasoned company. Join FCSI. Get to know other FCSI consultants. Learning AutoCAD and Revit never hurts. And never stop asking questions!

What are your thoughts on the demographics of our industry and society?  At our Symposium at NAFEM the speaker that talked about demographics mentioned that we are definitely an older and mostly male and white dominated group. What are your thoughts on this?
It is our duty both as individuals and a community to promote respect and equal opportunity for all persons. Personally, I have been privileged to be part of a woman-owned business, and I have had support and mentorship from an amazing mixed-gender team. Foodservice somewhat lacks the excitement and glamor that typically draws a younger, more diverse crowd. I’m thinking the arts, media, and medicine, for example. I suspect the recent industry compensation survey results will have compelling data to attract new talent. FCSI needs to keep getting the word out to motivated job seekers of every background about this satisfying, dynamic, and gainful career path.

What are some of your future career goals both within your firm and as a member of FCSI?
We don’t have titles here at Foodservice Consultants Studio. My goal is to continue to expand my skill set and responsibilities until the day I am ready to ‘run point’ on projects. In due course, I look forward to earning my Professional FCSI designation. Beyond that are years of interesting work across the whole spectrum of foodservice design.


Foodservice Consultants Studio is a Woman Owned/Small/Micro Certified (SWaM #661777) company based out of central Virginia. The team is comprised of Amy Hegarty, Stephanie Gatewood, Doug Huber, Renee Huber and Stephanie Ward. FCS is very proud of their highly credentialed and experienced designers and dedicated to passing on all that hard-won knowledge to the next generation of consultants. Stephanie is the ‘Gen-Y’ member of the firm and has enjoyed learning the ropes of the profession while at the same time becoming a new mom, made possible by their remote offices and flexible work environment. FCS’s ‘Self-Management’ company culture has ensured each colleague maintains a fantastic work/life balance while consistently meeting and exceeding their customer’s needs and expectations. All this, along with their combination of differing personalities, varied experience, and knowledge of existing, new, and emerging technologies, has made the team a powerhouse.


Pictured: Stephanie Ward of Foodservice Consultants Studio and Eric Norman FCSI of Clevenger Associates

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