E&S Extra

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



Fewer words in the English language can be more intoxicating than the word “potential.” That’s because when talking about the potential of something, the only limits on its success seem to be the limits of one’s imagination.

Joe Carbonara editor hsTake, for example, sports. As a Chicago Bears fan, I know all too well about the potential of quarterbacks. Whether trading for a well-established quarterback or drafting a rookie, the best conversations about quarterbacks here in Chicago focus almost exclusively on their potential. At first, the sky is the limit; this player is the one that will lead the Bears to professional football’s promised land. When these players hit the field and their flaws become evident or it becomes apparent the supporting cast around them is not that great, the tone of the conversation can turn sharply.

The foodservice industry finds itself in a similar situation with technological developments such as artificial intelligence, various forms of automation and more.

Let’s face facts: Foodservice is a mature and labor-intensive industry. How labor intensive? Well, it takes on average 12.1 employees to generate $1 million in sales at a foodservice operation, per data from the National Restaurant Association. In contrast, it takes only 3.7 employees to generate the same amount of revenue in clothing and general merchandise stores. And it takes the equivalent of 2.7 workers to reach $1 million in sales in a hardware store. That means recruiting and retaining talent will be the key to operators’ ability to grow their sales.

Projections call for the restaurant and foodservice industry to add 200,000 jobs in 2024, bringing total industry employment to 15.7 million people, per the NRA. Between 2024 and 2032, NRA projections call for the industry to add 150,000 jobs per year on average with total staffing levels reaching 16.9 million by 2032. Despite this anticipated expansion, 45% of operators say their restaurant doesn’t have enough employees to support existing customer demand, per the NRA.

Data points like these explain why the industry remains hungry for innovation and brings us back to the potential of technology. Operators looking to grow sales while not necessarily being able to grow their staff will continue to turn to technology. In fact, 47% of operators say the use of technology and automation to help with the current labor shortage will become more common, per the NRA.

This year operators will look to invest in technology that enhances the customer experience (60%), make the service area more efficient (55%) and enhance kitchen productivity (52%), per the NRA.

For operators’ efforts to begin realizing their potential, though, these business leaders will need to understand what issues they want to resolve and identify the areas where new or improved technology can have the greatest impact in helping achieve their objectives. Further, any technology an organization adopts must mesh well with the team’s existing skill set. If the solution does not empower the staff to do more and better serve customers, it is most likely a waste of time and money

Sure, concepts like AI and robotics, or any other new forms of technology, for that matter, seem to ooze all sorts of potential. At the end of the day, though, they are just another tool in your toolbox. And for them to remain relevant, they have to help you help your customers.