From the 2015 Performance in Tabletop Awards to the feature on cook-chill to the facility design project of the month (64 Degrees at the University of California San Diego) and countless other articles, examples of collaboration are plentiful in this issue.

Later this month, as a precursor to the biennial NAFEM Show, I will moderate a panel discussion as part of a symposium hosted by the Foodservice Consultants’ Society International’s (FCSI) Americas Division. The topic of the panel presentation? Collaboration. Three well-regarded FCSI professional members — Char Norton, Tim Stafford and Ray Soucie — will discuss how despite being hundreds if not thousands of miles apart, they worked collaboratively on a hospital foodservice project that led to inspiring results. Researching this process and their working dynamic has been nothing short of fascinating.

While few will deny the power of collaboration, it never ceases to astound me when I learn what lengths companies will go to as they try to stifle collaborative efforts. From operators trying to control their supply chain partners to dealers trying to switch a well-thought-out spec behind a designer’s back to earn a few extra buying group points to consultants leery of working with one another, the foodservice industry is loaded with plenty of everyday practices that suppress collaboration.

A manufacturer once told me a dealer asked his company to join a meeting with an operator to help solve a problem the restaurant chain was experiencing. But when the folks from the factory sat down at the table the dealer prohibited them from exchanging business cards with the operators. That approach does little to promote the partnerships everyone in the industry always claims are so important. Instead, it fosters a lack of trust.

The foodservice industry isn’t simply about selling a product for a price. It takes a lot to get food from the dock to the dining room. Operators need to challenge their suppliers to work together more collaboratively to bring them the most appropriate, leading-edge solutions possible. And operators need to go into conversations with their suppliers with a more open mind.

That’s what happened with the project that Norton, Stafford and Soucie worked on together. This healthcare foodservice operator had been successful in the past running a room service operation but had even loftier goals for the future. Using a similar layout, equipment and processes would not allow this operator to reach its fullest potential. So this trio of FCSI members came together to solve some challenges that they might not have been able to address on their own and did so on a fast-track project.

Representatives from all corners of the foodservice industry continue to bemoan the commoditization of their products and services. Perhaps if they stopped trying to control things beyond their control and started concentrating on adding value through collaboration, this race to the bottom would become a climb to the top.