In consulting parlance, “beach” or “bench” refers to the time that an individual consultant spends when not billing his or her hours to a client. In contrast, billable time refers to the hours that a consultant has billed to a client. Obviously, consulting firms would prefer that their consultants are billable the majority of the time; if not 100 percent the time. Individual consultants would prefer that
two too, as yearly bonuses are typically tied to billable time as a percentage of total available time.
A primary, but not absolute, indicator of consultant's competence and ability is the amount of time a consultant has been billable, as opposed to being “on the beach” or “on the bench.” Why? Less qualified or less competent consultants are less likely to be chosen by consulting engagement leaders who are looking to staff a new client engagement.
So where have your new consultants been? When reviewing the resumes of the individuals a consulting firm proposes to send you to staff your project, you should be asking how and where they each spent the last six months.
It won't guarantee that you'll get the best consultants that the firm has to offer, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.