In addition to projecting slow but real growth for the foodservice industry in 2018, The NPD Group outlined a handful of attributes that will affect the way consumers use foodservice. Specifically, NPD predicts consumers will remain strapped for time, embrace digital ordering even more and strive to develop a closer relationship with their couches.

For anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the factors shaping today's foodservice industry, none of these consumer attributes should come as a surprise. Low unemployment on a national level means consumers will remain active, and that, in turn, makes them hunger for the convenience that foodservice operators from all segments can provide. What will turn a first-time visitor into a repeat customer? Excellent customer service.

Foodservice operators and their supply chain partners continue to come to grips with this new value equation in their collaborative efforts to serve customers. For example, foodservice operators may not add a lot of new locations this year but renovating existing locations will remain a priority. That's because renovated or re-imaged foodservice operations invite customers to look at these businesses with fresh eyes and hopefully introduce new operational efficiencies. With the competition stiffer than ever and foot traffic hard to come by, operators need to do everything they can to give customers a reason to patronize their establishments.

Where the industry continues to come up short, though, is understanding that these same attributes apply to supply chain relationships. Like consumers, operators remain strapped for time. Business customers crave the convenience of a resourceful partner that solves their operational challenges by proactively providing solutions.

Trust serves as the foundation for these types of relationships, and open and honest communication that includes sharing both the good and the bad serves as the gateway to establishing that trust. Of course, trust remains a two-way street, meaning operators need to be forthcoming with information that will help their supply chain partners meet that expectation for excellent customer service.

One of the simplest and most overlooked ways of establishing trust lies in the proper installation and startup of foodservice equipment. Nothing frustrates an operator more than having a piece of new equipment break down during a peak period. While there's no way to guarantee a piece of equipment, most service agents agree that roughly 50 percent of first-year warranty claims stem from improper installation and startup.

Success in today's foodservice industry comes down to one thing: providing an excellent experience time and again. Be it in their personal or professional lives, today's customers expect quality products at competitive prices. What keeps them coming back and from going to the competition are excellent experiences.