Thanks to the Food Network and many other television shows, the foodservice industry has become more accessible to the general public than ever before. And because celebrity chefs have done such a good job of translating their complex dishes into something a simple home cook, like myself, can execute, everyone has suddenly become an expert on all things foodservice. And restaurant-related reality programs give the public front row seats to all of the action on the cooking line.

The good news about the Food Network phenomenon is that it has given birth to a very engaged customer, one that is eager to experiment and willing to try new dishes like never before. And the foodservice industry continues to become a more appealing career choice for people of all generations. As a result, culinary schools continue to sprout up all over the place, keeping countless foodservice design consultants busier than they had expected.

The downside of the Food Network phenomenon is that it continues to spawn people with little or no foodservice experience who have become self-proclaimed foodservice experts. Like callers into sports talk radio shows, these experts look to share their perspectives with anyone who will listen via one of the many restaurant-related blogs that litter the Internet. That places increased pressure on foodservice pros to deliver the highest quality guest experience on a transaction by transaction basis.

Bottom line: while the foodservice industry continues to enjoy the benefits of being very fashionable in the public eye, there is tremendous responsibility that comes with it. So because of the increased visibility the industry is enjoying, it must continue to do things better and faster than other businesses. That's because consumers have a very close relationship with their food and the people that provide it. And it is a relationship that's growing closer by the day.

This is not lost on the government, which is why the groundbreaking healthcare legislation passed last year has provisions that require foodservice operators to provide nutritional information via menu boards, receipts and other means.

The tight economy has more consumers turning to dining out to help escape their day-to-day grind. Even on-site foodservice providers, like colleges and hospitals, use foodservice to improve the quality of life for their patrons. As a result, savvy operators are turning to their tabletops to help set customers' expectations and create memorable experiences.

Many people refer to the tabletop as the most important three feet in the house and in many ways they are right. Foodservice operators that fail to manage customers' expectations on the front end face an uphill climb in all points of service. In this issue FE&S celebrates some of the industry's brightest and most innovative installations with our 2011 Tabletop Performance Awards.

But fashion and responsibility extend well beyond the watchful eyes of today's customers. It has to extend to the way foodservice operators specify and buy their equipment and supplies. By its nature, foodservice operations are large consumers of energy and various natural resources. So it is only appropriate that the industry lead the way when it comes to conservation and being more efficient. That means it is time to stop buying solely on price and start looking at the bigger picture in the form of return on investment. Warewashers (page 61), because of all they consume and the relative importance to any foodservice operation, are a great place to start.

Foodservice has a chance to avoid becoming a slave to fashion by maintaining its leadership position in such areas as healthy eating, energy efficiency and innovative presentation.