When the foodservice industry looks for inspiration to spur innovation, it often turns to the restaurant chains. At first, it was the quick-serve restaurants to capture everyone's attention but in recent years fast-casual operators are the ones really blazing the trail for others to follow. For a long time, this practice made lots of sense because it was the chains that lived on the industry's leading edge, having invested lots in time and money to research and cultivate new concepts, menus and more.

But if you really want to know where the foodservice industry will be in the coming years then pay close attention to what's happening in the college and university segment. No collection of operators has done a better job of addressing the combination of emerging menu trends, speed of service and sustainable practices. From vegan to halal to food allergies today's college and university foodservice operators address most any dietary preference or need. What's more, they do so while continuing to look for ways to lessen their impact on the environment without compromising their operational efficiencies. Indeed, speed of service remains a critical component to the success of any foodservice operator, colleges included.

The success of today's college and university foodservice operators transcends their menus, though. In some respects, these operators now act as an extension of the institution's curriculum by providing information about healthy dining options and even educating students and faculty alike about how to prepare their favorite meals through cooking classes and other dynamic programming options.

College and university foodservice operations have long served as a meeting place for students, where they can gather with their peers during meal periods and the like.

Taking this role to the next step, today's operators continue to offer a variety of seating options. Whether students want to sit alone at a counter or share a large communal style dining table or even cozy up in a big comfy chair, today's college foodservice operators offer all of these options and more.

The net result is an authentic dining experience that resonates with a very diverse and often outspoken customer base. And as students graduate and presumably enter the workforce they will expect the foodservice operators they patronize as adults to be able to address their dining needs and preferences, including those in the sustainability realm. Whereas for some of us the notion of a restaurant offering vegan options or incorporating sustainable practices into their business may seem like an emerging trend, for the adult consumers of tomorrow it will be all they have ever known.

It's not unlike the notion of curbside recycling at home. I remember when our town dropped a blue recycling bin at the end of my family's driveway, but for members of the Millennial generation separating your recyclables from waste items has been a part of their world since day one.

And speaking of waste, be sure to read Andrew Shakman's article "Food Waste Blind Spots," on page 18. In this piece Andrew closely examines common sources of waste among foodservice operations and suggests ways to eliminate them. Doing so saves foodservice operators money and benefits the planet, which should be a source of inspiration to us all.