Go the Distance: The Most Important Three Feet in the House

Many foodservice professionals often refer to the tabletop as the most important three feet in the house. That's because the tabletop represents the aspect of the foodservice operation that diners interact with most. So it would seem logical, then, that most restaurant and foodservice operators would put in plenty of thought, minding every detail, when developing their tabletops (page 18). Unfortunately, the opposite is often true.

That's because tabletop tends to be one of the last things a foodservice operation will consider when developing a new location or point of service, menu item or more. Operators will invest heavily in equipment, layout and even design but then start cutting corners when they get to the tabletop. Frankly, it's a practice that continues to baffle me.

If an operation spends so much time and thought developing a concept or menu item, why not see it all the way through? Yes, an appealing design and well-thought-out menu will help draw customers to the front door, but the key to retaining them is not stopping short on any aspect of the experience and that includes the tabletop — now more than ever.

When dining out today, many people like to take pictures of their food and share the images with their friends, family and followers via social media. For most consumers the concept of simply breaking bread with someone now includes showcasing the experience with others who could not be there.

As a result, one chef told me, every dish that comes out of the kitchen has to be perfect. They look at every single plate of food before it leaves the kitchen and will never let their guard down. While chefs will admit taking such a step can be more costly, it's essential today because, quite frankly, everyone that enters a restaurant is a critic and has the ability to influence tens if not hundreds or thousands of potential customers.

For some, food presentation always has been and remains a critical part of the customer experience they try to create. These operators understand the importance of plate selection and everything that accompanies it. And with a growing emphasis on fresher, locally sourced ingredients more operators see the tabletop as a way of letting their menu items really shine.

It's highly unlikely that any culinary professional got into the business due to a love of china or unique serving vessels. So culinary professionals should remain open and honest with their supply chain partners about the experience they wish to create and trust their vendors' experience and expertise. Suppliers should continue to actively listen and think outside the box, becoming their customers' eyes and ears to the restaurant industry, sharing trendy new ideas, best practices and more. Working collaboratively, operators and suppliers can help convert customers into loyal patrons of a given concept, which will benefit us all.