Innovation is truly in the eye of the beholder. That simple notion has never been more clear in my mind, particularly while looking back at some of the many foodservice equipment-related innovations that have hit the market this year.

Take, for example, ventless equipment. This technology continues to draw the attention of foodservice operators and designers alike, and with good reason. In the case of cooking equipment, ventless technology allows operators to bring customers closer to the action, which dovetails nicely with consumers’ desire for greater transparency. Plus, bringing customers closer to the action helps underscore the notion their food items are as fresh as possible and made to order.

Ventless technology also gives operators future flexibility in this era of ever-changing menus. In the event an operator’s menu or service style should shift, it’s easier to move or replace a piece of equipment that can function without a vent.

Ventless equipment can also help operators make more effective and efficient use of the space they allocate for the hood and the equipment that resides below it. And in the case of ventless warewashers, this technology could potentially eliminate the need for a separate hood in another part of the back of the house.

All of these factors continue to grow in importance, particularly as the back of the house continues to shrink for many operators.

Of course, as the old cliché goes, there’s two sides to every coin. And that axiom applies to ventless technology.

While ventless technology may lessen the load for the hood, it may have the opposite impact in other areas. That’s because ventless equipment typically does not combat any heat gain the item introduces to a space. When thinking of this scenario, ventless combi ovens or griddles might be the first pieces of equipment that come to mind, given their size and the heat they can generate while cooking food. Over the years, though, I’ve heard some operators comment their high-speed ovens make more than the food hot.

As a result, this can make the air conditioning system work harder to keep spaces at comfortable temperatures. Any potential energy savings that a piece of ventless equipment might provide could be offset due to higher costs associated with keeping the space cool.

Certainly, there are other factors that may dissuade an operator from using ventless technology, but you get the idea.

That leads me back to my original statement: Innovation in today’s foodservice industry is in the eye of the beholder.

There’s lots of new and intriguing technologies that continue to hit the market today but that does not mean they are the right fit for every operation. Developing the proper equipment specification requires careful thought and planning on the part of not only the operator but also the supply chain supporting that business. And the more voices and more perspectives that can be part of this process the greater the likelihood operators will make an informed decision which increases the likelihood they find the right solution for their businesses.