In the foodservice industry, developing sustainable operations is an ongoing endeavor.
January is unofficially "Sustainability Month" here at FE&S. It starts with Amelia Levin's article "Sustainability: The Role of Equipment and Supplies in Creating Greener Foodservice Operations," and continues into an in-depth discussion on Energy Star. And we even introduced our new Green Tip of the Month department in which a pair of service agents explain how proper cleaning and maintenance of foodservice equipment can lead to more efficient operations. So there's plenty of ways foodservice can become better pals with the environment.

As our team has researched and written these articles, I learned a couple of valuable lessons about sustainability. First, when it comes to foodservice, sustainability is a direction and not a destination. Truly sustainable foodservice operations are constantly looking for opportunities to improve customer service while driving more profit to the bottom line. To accomplish this it is important to both increase revenues and drive efficiencies into the business by lowering operating costs.

Sustainability has to become more than a goal or objective. It needs to be a state of mind, a prevailing way of thinking that drives the decision making process. For foodservice operators, that means when it comes to developing a more sustainable business you look beyond where the produce comes from and start asking your supply chain partners on the equipment and supplies side to help you introduce real cost savings into your business. And, before you ask, the answer is no. This conversation is not about price. Everyone's beaten each other up on price enough already.

Simply put: it's about getting better and a continuous drive toward improvement.

The second lesson I learned about sustainability is that it is all about the business and deriving the best return for all of the stakeholders — including the owners, employees, customers, supply chain partners and even the environment. Sustainability really forces foodservice professionals to focus on the intricacies of their business, those factors that impact both the top and the bottom lines. It's too easy to become infatuated with top line growth. To have a positive impact on your business, top line growth has to translate into similar results on the bottom line and, more importantly, it needs to be repeatable, meaning it has to create results you expect to achieve on an ongoing basis.

So as the calendar rolls over to a New Year, it seems to me that sustainability is a good metaphor for the foodservice industry. The recession is, for the most part, a thing of the past but the economic environment is not quite as healthy as most foodservice professionals would like. As I write this, unemployment levels are close to 10 percent and as a result consumer confidence is pretty shaky.

Despite this, there are signs of life in the foodservice industry. According to the NRA's Restaurant Performance Index, foodservice operator outlook continues to improve and the advent of The NAFEM Show seems to have put a bounce in the step of many manufacturers, the likes of which I have not seen in quite some time. So, all in all, things would appear to be good. Or are they?

The burning questions in my mind are: Is the positive outlook among operators sustainable? Can the manufacturers sustain that bounce beyond The NAFEM Show or will it be another two years before they are optimistic again? It seems almost cliché to say that only time will tell but that's the truth of the matter, at least for now.

As plans for the New Year unfold with the requisite enthusiasm that accompanies them, ask yourself: Will this make my business more sustainable?