It's challenging to generalize the process of selecting the right tabletop items. Some foodservice operators start with aesthetics; others focus on the exact price point they want to hit. For others, durability is a top priority.
Rarely can someone address all three of these attributes. You have to play each of these factors against each other.
Budget vs. Aesthetics
It's important to remain open to continuously reinvent the tabletop throughout the process.
I was recently looking at glassware with a celebrity chef and the related operations group for a new concept. We found very elegant, somewhat unique glassware that was very fitting for the concept — the aim is James Beard Foundation and Michelin recognition. The glassware fit the fixtures, the furniture, all of it.
As the decision-making process continued, however, the client moved away from that original specification. Once we started to hone in on pricing, lead times and durability, it became clear that something more readily available, with a lower cost and greater durability, would be a better option.
The same thing happened with plateware. After looking at revenue projections and cover counts, it became clear that the initially chosen 8-inch share plate was not the right choice. This was a share plate that would go through multiple uses per table. The price point was up to $19 per piece. Ultimately that was replaced with a $5 piece, which was still very cool, aesthetically fitting, and durable.
Expensive to Buy vs. Expensive to Own
It's easy to assume that if there's a $4 plate and a $20 plate and both are aesthetically fitting, choosing the $4 plate to drop dollars to the bottom line makes sense. However, by taking the time to ask more questions, review the application and the overall operation, that $20 plate might make more sense.
To find out, examine the factors that influence the resupply cost after the pre-opening is over and the business moves into operation. Key factors in the lifespan of tabletop supplies include resistance of the product to breakage, chipping and metal-marking; loss of product due to theft or accidentally ending up in the garbage; availability; lead time; and how the item fares in the handling process from dining room staff to warewashing staff and ultimately through warewashing equipment.
I load those numbers into a cost analysis for review with the operating team. We may find the $20 plate may represent a much higher upfront investment and the overall cost of monthly/annual replenishment orders is significantly less — ultimately making the more expensive plate a more profitable choice. Conversely, sometimes that cost analysis proves that the $4 item is the better choice.
Looking at the bigger picture of partnerships in equipment and supply distribution, the reality is that we distributors are constantly challenged to remain relevant. Operators face a similar challenge in choosing who — or what — is the best purchasing channel. The goal is for operators to answer with a resounding 'Yes' when they ask themselves, "Do I run a more profitable business because of my E&S supplier?"