This is what you might call a pet project for Joe, so when I got the call that he was going to allow me to stand in for him this year I knew instantly that this year’s variety of flu was the real deal.

In typical Joe-like fashion, however, he had set the table for me, so to speak, with an amazing group of top industry professionals who braved the arctic cold in the Chicago area to come together for a marathon session of tabletop judging. Our all-star committee was made up of three amazing restaurant operators (multi-unit, multi-concept and an independent operator), an educator from a leading college and a topnotch consultant who has been good enough to anchor our committee of judges for many years now. Truth be told, it was a very enjoyable day of debate and exchange over a slew of extremely well-constructed tabletop installations. We are grateful to all who took the time to share their hard work and creativity for this competition.

The whole process was a trip down memory lane for me as it reminded me of my own career in foodservice as a country club food and beverage director and then as a distributor sales rep, selling equipment and supplies, including tabletop items. This experience taught me that creating a great tabletop that fits the budget, brand image and feel that an operator wants to convey is a challenging task. I truly appreciate the level of thought, research and ingenuity that went into this year’s Performance in Tabletop Award entries. And, I see now why Joe was hesitant to let me do it. It might be hard to keep me away next year.

A special thank you goes out to this year’s judges: Marco Conte, chef and partner for Café Amano; Dave Hoemann, chief operating officer for Giordano’s; Steve LaHaie, senior vice president of Lettuce Entertain You EnterprisesShaw’s Crab House Division; Joe Monastero Jr., director, strategy and global development for Kendall College and Dennis Semro, a retired foodservice professional who most recently served as a principal at Page & Semro Marketing. You can read their bios here.

Last, but not least, please visit us at The NAFEM Show at booth #6527 where we will have a special photo opportunity for everyone who visits our booth.