One of the most frequently debated questions in the foodservice industry is what do operators value most when purchasing equipment? Is it price? Brand? Service? Quality? Appearance? Energy efficiency? Functionality? Sales reps? It's a question that we at FE&S ask our readers through various original research platforms, including the magazine's annual Best in Class and Forecast studies.

Answers tend to vary from operator to operator. Certainly, price is a concern because, as design consultant Scott Reitano always reminds me, we live in a world with walls and budgets and the supply chain has to continue to operate within those parameters. But within those parameters a number of variables come into play that will dramatically impact what foodservice operators value when purchasing equipment.

For example, as we assembled this issue I was able to visit Dinkel's Bakery to learn more about its new café and sandwich menu. Those of you who follow me on Twitter @FES_Editor know that I felt like Charlie Buckets visiting Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. That's because, as my waistline will attest, I have long been a fan of this iconic Chicago bakery. But what struck me about my visit was not the array of sweet treats available but the bakery's equipment package.

Dinkel's equipment package consists of a variety of decades-old items that the company has meticulously maintained. That's not to say the company does not occasionally invest in new equipment. For example, the bakery purchased a new retarder/proofer to help make better use of its labor without compromising product quality. But Dinkel's also clings to an older model donut fryer because the unit includes features that general manager Luke Karl describes as hard to find on the newer versions. And these features play into product quality and employee productivity.

Across all of our surveys, though, issues pertaining to service and support always rank among the top two or three attributes foodservice operators value when purchasing equipment — and with good reason. Dinkel's would not have been able to foster such long and productive service lives from its equipment without a commitment to properly maintaining its ovens, floor mixers, tilting kettles and more.

Service can't be an afterthought. Having access to a local authorized service agent and parts needs to be an upfront consideration as we explore in Foodservice Equipment Maintenance Fundamentals. Of course, developing and sticking to a maintenance plan can be easier said than done. But cutting back on service, even during the most challenging business environments, is penny wise and dollar foolish. That's because proper care and maintenance minimizes equipment downtime and maximizes an operation's ability to make bread.