Would You Recognize Innovation in Foodservice if You Saw It?

So what is really innovation in foodservice?

Merriam-Webster defines innovation as a new idea, device, or method; the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods. So, by pure definition, if you have not seen the idea before, then it is innovative to you.

Right? Or could an innovation be an idea that was not successful before but now works and achieves its desired outcome?

An old adage that I am sure you are familiar with is the definition of insanity as trying the same thing again and expecting to get a different result. Well I beg to differ with this saying, especially in our ever-changing foodservice world, where the needs of the guests and the employees continue to change. Such change can easily help an old idea become reality in the marketplace, categorizing it as innovation.

Very often clients will say they tried something once before and it did not work. Perhaps the new idea was applied by itself, without considering all the other operational and investment parameters that are necessary to make it work.

So, if you take a technology or equipment platform that has been tried before and apply it in a different way that now works for the concept, is this innovation? But of course, I would say!

Perhaps some may think that for a product or service to be truly innovative, it has to be not only brand new but also revolutionary. In my opinion, evolutionary innovation may be better since it can deliver a more immediate and ongoing impact than a more revolutionary idea that may not end up working due to requiring too much new change and shifting in people’s paradigms for it to work. Additionally, the audience receiving the suggestion may be more opt to accept it, helping it become a new innovation.

Let’s take automation, as an example. The idea of automating certain aspects of a foodservice operation is not new. But if you take previous attempts at automation that may have failed, and mix them with the advances in technology to develop a solution to rising labor costs, does this constitute innovation? Certainly. That’s because you have addressed an issue in an effective and efficient manner, bringing to bear an application in the marketplace that was not there before. This, in essence, facilitates innovation.

How about my favorite topic, the application of Industrial Engineering in foodservice? If you have not applied such principles to improve a foodservice concept, doing so would also constitute innovation. That’s because this approach should result in new or enhanced ways of doing things that benefit the business and help improve profits and customer hospitality.

Innovation is real and is all around you. It just takes on different forms, so it is up to us to recognize it when we see it. A long time ago, when the patent system was suggested as a way to incentivize, reward and protect inventions, someone suggested that this was a waste of effort, since all the new ideas have already been created. Well, considering more than 8 million patents have been issued, I guess this statement was not quite right. Many moons ago, I even got a patent on a drive-thru system, which at that time was certainly innovative (patent # 5,168,354).

As we head into The NAFEM Show, Feb. 19-21 in Anaheim, Calif., perhaps you can make it a point to look for innovation there. Perhaps your point of reference should be from one that looks specifically at foodservice-oriented technology as the innovation – looking for ways to apply it to help satisfy as many operating parameters as possible and to drive an innovative application. As you are doing this, don’t forget to include the capabilities of the employee and how the innovation can help make their life easier. I guarantee you that such an approach will offer you many more aspects of innovation that may have yet to cross your mind.

When you are done with this exercise, send me a few ideas that I may be able to share to the readers of Foodservice Equipment & Supplies in a subsequent article. I am sure they would love to hear about them.

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