E&S Extra

Editorial Director Joe Carbonara provides insights and commentary on the state of the foodservice equipment and supplies marketplace.


The term innovation gets tossed around the foodservice industry.

Prognosticating during a pandemic can be like spitting into the wind in that it’s simultaneously messy and unpredictable.

Ever since meeting Rosie the Robot on The Jetsons back in the fall of 1962, Americans have been wondering when robots will become a dominant feature in restaurants. Perhaps that time has finally come.

Like certain relatives at the end of a holiday party, you know the ones, there’s a trio of foundation-shaking business challenges the foodservice industry faces that don’t show any signs of leaving anytime soon. It does not matter what role a company plays in the foodservice industry; everyone faces the same three challenges as the industry enters 2022: cost, supply chain and labor.

It’s been four years since the last NAFEM Show and a lot has changed in the foodservice industry.

The idea of automating foodservice operations by using robots is nothing new. Most everyone in the foodservice industry likes to reminisce about seeing burger or pancake flipping robots at various times at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Yet outside of a salad-making robot that came of age at the NRA Show a few years ago, the fact remains widespread automation has been slow to catch on in the foodservice industry.

Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss.

A certain entrepreneurial spirit has long shaped the food and foodservice industries. But it’s one thing to have a vision for a restaurant or a food-related business and another to have the infrastructure to make one’s hopes and dreams a reality.

If we learned anything the past few years, it’s that seminal events like a global pandemic will not uniformly impact a business segment. Instead, the results will often be uneven and vary by geography, business type and various other factors. And nowhere is this more evident than within the foodservice industry.

As the year drags on two main issues continue to dominate the conversation throughout the foodservice industry: supply chain and labor.

It was early fall in 2002 and a friend had taken a job in Singapore.

Over the past year or so, two terms have dominated the foodservice industry’s lexicon: pivot and flexibility. Unless you’ve been living on a desert island, I don’t think this requires any further explanation.

While driving my daughter to one of her early-morning swim practices we went past a fast-casual restaurant chain our family used to regularly visit. When I mentioned to Annie that it had been a while since we had been there, she laughed and said, “That was the only place we could go where we all could find something we liked.”

In the movie “The Godfather III,” there’s an iconic scene where Michael Corleone, after years of trying to make his family business legitimate, bellows in exasperation, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” I am sure that sentiment was shared by many throughout the foodservice industry in early August when, after months of progress, a surge in COVID-19 cases courtesy of the delta variant threatened to set back the industry.

After more than two years where chaos was the norm, everyone in the foodservice industry seems ready to go back to a more stable approach to serving consumers, concept development and yes, even the terms and timing that pertain to the buying and selling of equipment and supply items.

In mid-July #CovidIsNotOver was regularly trending across social media platforms. It referred to an uptick in cases across various parts of the country as mostly nonvaccinated folks danced with this disease. But this could have just as easily applied to the foodservice industry, which continues to grapple with the fallout from the pandemic.

Here is some simple advice for complicated times.

Just about every operator segment had to abruptly change direction due to the pandemic. Take for example, college foodservice.

In many respects, the foodservice industry is a lot like Martin Scorsese’s hit movie “Goodfellas,” given how relationship-based it truly is. As Ray Liotta’s character Henry Hill said, “You know, we always called each other good fellas. Like you’d say to, uh, somebody, ‘You’re gonna like this guy. He’s all right. He’s a good fella. He’s one of us.’ You understand? We were good fellas.”

Just last month, many businesses started calling their teams back to the office.