In this month's issue of FE&S we unveil the results from our 2011 Best in Class study, the magazine's most highly anticipated and scrutinized piece of research. In this study our subscribing operators, dealers and consultants prioritize those attributes that are most important when making a purchasing decision and then rank the factories accordingly. The composite results ultimately identify the Best in Class winners.

To me the most interesting aspect of this study is not so much the results but the responses it generates both as we collect the data and report on it. In a very mature and competitive market everyone has their own perspective as to which company really epitomizes the best. In some cases that answer can vary by state or region.

In fact, regional differences still define how consumers use foodservice. For example, in the Chicago market I call home, convenience stores are not considered very prevalent foodservice operators. While they continue to enhance their foodservice offerings, the fact remains what's available in my backyard pales in comparison to what c-stores are doing in other parts of country, where operators continue to enhance the quality and diversity of the menu items they make available. In fact, where many c-stores used to mostly compete in the breakfast and lunch dayparts, many are starting to extend their influence into the dinner, snack and even catering segments (for full coverage click here).

That's because foodservice markets are a lot like snowflakes: no two are really the same. But those subtleties and nuances are what make this industry great, as Kelly Kavanaugh, an up and coming foodservice professional, points out in her Parting Shot article.

Further, the data presented in our Best in Class report represents the industry's opinion at a specific point in time. That perspective can vary from year to year as customers' needs evolve. This should serve as a reminder to us all that what makes a company successful today may not apply tomorrow.

Case in point, take a look at this month's cover story. Not content to rest on its laurels, multi-concept icon Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises took its cornerstone French concept Brasserie Jo in Chicago and all but started over by developing Paris Club. In this latest example of restaurant reincarnation, they remodeled the facility, the menu and more to create a hipper, more relevant location with a strong tie to its culinary roots. As a result, this location bustles with energy and, more importantly, customers.

Of course, it is not always just about the product a company produces that allows it to persevere. How that organization manages customers' service expectations remains important, too. For a practical example look no further than emerging tabletop trends. Savvy operators leverage the expertise of their supply chain partners to produce fashionable yet durable packages that support the style of service and menu alike.

So what are the takeaways? Two simple lessons: any business is only as good as its last customer interaction and to remain relevant for generations to come we must continue to evolve.