E&S Extra

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

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Real growth continues to be hard to come by for the foodservice industry. In fact, overall customer traffic was flat through the first quarter of 2016, according to The NPD Group, a market research firm covering the foodservice industry. Revenues and customer traffic may be inching along, but one area growing at breakneck speed is labor costs.

Unfortunately, while the quantity of information seems to be at an all-time high, the same can’t be said for the quality of information.

Ask healthcare foodservice professionals about some of the challenges that keep them up at night and they will try to tell you their businesses are much like other industry segments. And, in a sense, they are right.

The foodservice industry seems stuck in a rut. 

It’s hard to write a story about Ace Mart, FE&S’ 2016 Dealer of the Year without referencing its founder Norman “Gus” Gustafson. And that’s with good reason.

As I write this, my beloved Chicago Cubs are enjoying an unprecedented renaissance under groovy manager Joe Maddon. As a lifelong Cubs fan, decades of shattered hopes remind me to enjoy the moment and not worry about what comes next. But what amazes me about this team is not so much that they are winning but how they are winning. And it strikes me that their success this summer contains a few lessons applicable to the foodservice industry.

Of course, in order to specify the correct piece of equipment or supply item, foodservice operators and their supply chain partners need to understand which questions they should ask.

It’s August and that means most companies are about to begin formulating their plans for the coming fiscal year, if they have not done so already. Corporate planning exercises can quickly become introverted experiences, meaning it is easy to focus only on the company when trying to move forward.

From now until Memorial Day, hardly a week will go by without a foodservice-related association hosting a conference for its members. Undoubtedly, these events will include some conversation about recruiting and retaining younger employees and, in the case of events hosted by members of the foodservice equipment and supplies community, there will be plenty of banter about what ails the supply chain.

It is tempting to make the recipe for success more complicated than it needs to be. When that happens, businesses from all segments of the foodservice industry can lose focus on what truly drives success: creating great customer experiences.

When it comes to socializing, people love to discuss the latest restaurant they have tried. Just last week I was scrolling through one of my social media accounts and saw that a friend had posted the picture of a beer she was having with dinner that night. Being a hops and barley enthusiast myself, I stopped to take a quick look at what my friend was drinking, but it was where the consumption was taking place that really caught my attention. She was at a local supermarket — one with a pretty well established presence in the Chicago area.

Celebrity chefs and celebrity chef wannabes have carved out a place for themselves in today’s pop culture scene. Yet one group of culinarians consistently overlooked are those individuals serving in the healthcare foodservice community, which has become one of the most sophisticated operator segments there is.

One of the most fundamental elements of the customer experience in our industry is often the most overlooked when it comes to investing in our restaurants: the tabletop budget. Let me set the stage with one example. At Kendall College, our School of Culinary Arts runs an open-to-the-public fine-dining restaurant to provide our students with real-life experience.

For years now, if you were to ask most any member of the foodservice supply chain about some of their biggest challenges, they would include attracting and retaining top young talent and coming to terms with price pressures brought on by their arch nemesis, the internet.

For good reason, Chipotle has long been one of the standard bearers for fast-casual restaurants.

While the recipe for value continues to evolve, in today's foodservice industry two ingredients remain constant: being knowledgeable and flexible, writes FE&S' Editorial Director Joe Carbonara.

Chain restaurants will continue to push for better user interfaces that help maximize use of labor and ensure consistent production of menu items.

Nothing brings out the best in the foodservice equipment and supplies industry quite like The NAFEM Show. For three days it seems everyone is in the best possible mood while hobnobbing beneath NAFEM’s biennial big top. The burdens of business challenges seem to fade to the background as various new applications of stainless steel, melamine and even china have everyone forgetting the past, even for a moment — because, to paraphrase one-hit wonder Timbuk3: their future’s so bright they’ve gotta wear shades.