Regardless of the segment, food and beverage programs represent the operator's creativity. When thoughtfully curated, the tabletop and beverageware can serve as a canvas that not only showcases that creativity but also help drive profitability.

Jeff Johnson, Zink Foodservice, Territory Manager and Tabletop Specialist, Cleveland, Ohio Of course, assembling a tabletop for a foodservice operation is often easier said than done. The difference between specifying equipment and tabletop is that equipment requires more of a technical approach, while tabletop is design driven. Design is emotional, so the passion and ideology behind the presentation needs to influence that part of the brain.

So I suggest starting with a clean slate. The operator or the chef should schedule an interview with their supply chain partner to discuss the food and beverage program, the dining room and overall decor and more. It's important to know the chef's tendencies because they all function differently.

Be prepared to ask and answer the questions that will lead to tabletop excellence: Why do they want new tabletop? Is it a new operation? Is it a remodel? A new menu? Stiffer competition coming from down the street? Lots of reasons drive new tabletop installations.

After establishing what the operator wants in a new tabletop, decide what the new installation should look like and start assembling options. I like to set up four or five tabletops and let the customer react.

When the operator looks at the tabletop, suppliers should sit back and listen. The operator will invariably gravitate toward one installation or even specific items. Listen to what they like and why. Then set up a second meeting to review updated concepts.

Trends Crossover

Conceptually you have to stay up on trends. There will always be a place for some of the traditional items but you need to understand all concepts and all segments of the industry because today there's lots of crossover. Today we see lots of high-end tabletops in healthcare and even colleges.

In some cases, like a chef-driven tavern, you might have the opportunity to have more fun with some nontraditional items like mini sheet pans. Or you might have an opportunity to use different textures. It all comes down to understanding the operation and its goals.

Glassware can be the table's eye candy. Today it's not uncommon to pay up to $16 for a glass of wine and it's a high-margin item for the operator. The tabletop should include some items like this that can help persuade customers to make a purchase even before they sit down.

The craft beer craze further amplifies this trend. It has become an incredibly profitable part of so many operations. And today customer expectations dictate that glassware be a part of the value equation. So it's important for the operator and their supply chain partners to discuss the full scope of the beverage program and map out the items that will help bring these goals to fruition.

A well-curated tabletop completes the dining experience and can help make the operation more unique and profitable. That's because people eat with their eyes and with the properly set tabletop you whet their appetites for a successful dining experience.