Farm fresh! Fresh-to-fork! Eat local!
Recognize any of these phrases? They’re the popular slogans of the growing campaign for restaurants to create a farm-to-table menu using locally-sourced food.
Consumers are eating up the fresh-ingredient craze and demanding restaurants keep pace.
Apps such as Grubbable have sprung into consumers’ app stores to meet the demand, allowing them to find the nearest eatery serving food sourced from their areas.
And there’s no denying the benefits of serving locally sourced food in your restaurant…
- It supports nearby farms and businesses, contributing to the local economy.
- It’s been lauded as a sustainable solution that will keep the ecosystem between fresh food suppliers and restaurants at an even keel.
- The health benefits are undeniable. Eating local keeps your body in sync with your environment.
What’s a restaurant to do?
As the “eat local” movement has exploded, the onus for making it happen has fallen hard on the backs of restaurants.
It can be a daunting task to incorporate locally sourced food into your menu.
From finding the best farmers and suppliers and getting everything delivered, to making sure you have consistent ingredients all year long, to working seasonal items into your menu, going local can be tough.
There are workarounds to these obstacles that allow you to meet the needs of your restaurant, support local farms, and be sustainable.
You can now add “farm-fresh” to your menu and mean it.
Combat availability issues by purchasing a variety of ingredients
One of a restaurant manager’s largest qualms about locally-sourced food is consistency.
It can be hard for local farmers or suppliers to predict what items will be available when and for how long they’ll last before they’re out of stock.
When you think of locally sourced food, though, you probably think of seasonal items… most likely produce. Fruit and veg tend to be the top items restaurants and consumers alike associate with fresh-to-table food.
There are definitely farmer’s markets and small suppliers catering to produce specifically. For example, in Atlanta, the Turnip Truck visits local farms picking up fruits, veggies and dairy items to take to local restaurants.
But don’t forget there are plenty of other items that can be sourced locally. Restaurants tend to use just as much dairy and protein – depending what concept you are – as produce.
There are many local farmers who offer a variety of items from different categories you can use to support your menu and make it more farm-fresh.
In fact, local proteins like Georgia’s Springer Mountain Chicken, Tennessee’s Benton’s Smoky Mountain Hams or North Carolina’s Brasstown Beef can be ordered through a distributor, allowing you to feature proteins from a local or regional farm.
Proteins aren’t seasonal like produce, so they can remain a staple on your menu.
Plus, many local specialty farms and suppliers now deliver their products right to your back door directly or through a carrier.
As a busy owner or operator, you don’t have time to go to the farmer’s market to pick up fresh proteins, produce, dairy or other items.
Many small local suppliers understand this and allow you to order online, and they’ll deliver your order fresh.
Buy in Bulk
Maybe you’re not sure how to work seasonal, locally-sourced items into your menu. We’ve all been there at some point, holding an item up and wondering, “How the heck is this going to work?”
Enter the farmer. This is the person who planted the seed, watched it grow, watered it constantly, and harvested that oddly-shaped vegetable sitting on your counter.
He or she will be able to give you tips about the best ways to use it… how to cut it, how to season it, what other ingredients complement it and more.
You can also check with your existing suppliers to see if they deliver locally-sourced food. If they do or they can, sign up for that service.
When ordering proteins, check for suppliers in your area who cater to local farm products like pork and chicken.
If you’re worried buying in bulk will leave you with too much of a unique seasonal item, use it as an opportunity to challenge your staff and be creative with your menu.
For example, hold a contest with your chefs to see who can create unique specials from the ingredient and sell out of theirs the fastest.
Find out what items there’s a surplus of and literally buy out the farm.
If a farmer is at the end of the season for an ingredient and needs to get it off his or her hands, you can cut a deal.
You save money, the chefs get to have fun trying something new, and your customers get a tasty change of pace.
Start Small to Keep Costs Down
One of the most significant hurdles restaurants operators have to jump when it comes to locally-sourced food is working the higher prices into their budgets.
Farmers usually have to charge more because of smaller orders, delivery fees, and other manual tasks.
The first way you can address this issue is by starting small.
Choose one item or one category to order locally. Place orders once a month, then more often as you identify how it affects your budget and how much profits increase because of it.
For example, one California restaurant just orders fresh tomatoes from a local farm to support one of its well known dishes.
You can always opt for seconds, too.
We all know that oddly shaped or colored fruits and veggies don’t taste different or worse, but could be utilized in several dishes. Chop them up, slice them up, or blend them into a dish and your guests will love the flavor.
When it comes to proteins, ask for the cheaper cuts of meat. These are still fresh, tasty and useable.
Finally, make sure your spend on locally-sourced food doesn’t exceed your budget by closely watching your food spend. Compare it to your food sales on a weekly basis to ensure you’re staying within your budget.
Also evaluate your food spend compared to your sales on a monthly basis to make sure your profits are trending up overall.
As you start small with buying locally, you’ll learn which farmers are best to source specific items from. At the same time, you’ll be supporting the relationship with your traditional suppliers by ordering the rest of your ingredients from them.
Hello, Farm-Fresh Menu
Many owners, operators and chefs are using these strategies to source local food because they know it will draw in customers and that it’s a sustainable solution.
Be creative. Guests love when restaurants and chefs come up with unique ways to use those unusual or less popular items. A great way to find new recipes for farm-fresh items is by copying popular dishes from other chefs using free apps.
They understand it sets them apart in the market. Consumers are flocking to restaurants who can claim to be farm-fresh, and restaurants are using that to up the ante with competitors.
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