In the past foodservice consumers understood they might need to trade food quality for speed of service when visiting certain types of restaurants. Thanks to the still burgeoning fast-casual segment, though, today's consumers no longer have to choose between what they perceive as quality and speed of service. They can now have both in a comfortable and flexible environment.

Today's value equation requires operators to strike a thoughtful balance between food quality, speed of service and convenience in a comfortable environment. If any of these factors gets out of balance, a foodservice operation's value equation can fall apart quickly.

As a result, some operators find themselves coming to terms with what it means to enhance speed of service without compromising quality. Other operators continue to look for ways to up the quality of their food and enhance their in-store experiences without compromising speed of service. It's a complicated issue.

Some operators try to resolve this by updating their equipment packages or implementing customer-facing technologies such as ordering kiosks or even updating the concept's menu and back-of-the-house design. So which approach is the right one? The answer is all of the above.

Meeting customer demands in today's complex and competitive environment requires a thoughtful and pragmatic approach. That's because despite how the industry still chooses to function, operations can no longer successfully meet complex customer expectations by working in silos. It requires an integrated approach that leverages the strengths of the operating team and its supply chain. Contributing editor Tom O'Brien does a wonderful job of outlining the complexities associated with addressing these challenges in this month's article, "The Need for Speed" on page 22.

Another area that requires thoughtful and creative collaboration is assembling a tabletop installation. Today's tabletops draw inspiration from the menus, the service style, retail trends and much more. Each foodservice operation wants to provide unique customer experiences that allow their culinary creations to shine, and the role of the tabletop in this process continues to grow in importance. So savvy operators are allowing their supply chain partners to serve as their eyes and ears in the tabletop segment and working with them collaboratively to develop impactful tabletops, as contributing editor Amelia Levin skillfully points out on page 30.

Occasionally, a company can skillfully manage the details while having a positive impact that can be felt well beyond their walls, as Keith Richards of Taziki's Mediterranean Café points out in this month's Parting Shot article on page 92.

It's no secret most companies in today's foodservice industry operate on razor-thin margins. So no matter where you sit, the difference between winning and losing means managing the margins, which requires getting a handle on the little details that go into creating memorable customer experiences.