Did you know that 57 percent of adults claim they look for ‘restaurants that serve locally sourced food’? And that another 45 percent note that the availability of organic or environmentally friendly food is ‘an important factor’ to them?
This means there’s a huge focus on restaurants placing higher importance on sourcing such foods.
There are many benefits to using locally sourced ingredients, too.
It will improve your restaurant’s reputation as one that places high importance on the health and quality of your ingredients. It also allows you to support local agriculture and allows you to provide your guests with wholesome, healthy, and fresh ingredients.
Your dishes will be even more delicious than usual!
Not sure what exactly locally sourced means? Read on to learn all and how you can incorporate such ingredients into your restaurant’s menu.
Locally sourced is a term used by restaurateurs, supermarkets, and customers to describe or label food products that are produced within the area. But, there is no definite agreed use on the word local.
While some may consider food produced 100 within 100 miles to fit the description, others may argue that it only includes foods produced within 10 miles. The term is subjective.
Yet, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry’s Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, “the term ‘locally or regionally produced agricultural food product’ means [food] raised, produced, and distributed in the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product.”
For restaurants who want to start using locally sourced food on their menus, it’s best to begin sourcing slowly at first.
A good start is to visit local farmer’s markets and to speak to small growers or producers to see what’s available. With some luck, if the suppliers don’t have the ingredients you’re seeking, they’ll tell you who else does in the area.
You can also search online for suppliers and farmers within your region and arrange a phone call or meet up.
Speaking to farmers and suppliers during the offseason is a good strategy. This is because chefs can negotiate the types of crops they need ahead of time.
Another easy strategy to start off the process is to begin by mixing a blend of global and local suppliers. This way there is less pressure to focus only on sourcing local ingredients. Chefs can choose in-season local produce while also sourcing produce needed from other regions.
It’s important to consider the operational adjustments kitchens will need to make when dealing with local suppliers.
For example, smaller suppliers may sell limited quantities of product. Or, they may be more likely to experience delays in production or transportation than larger companies. As such, restaurants must be flexible and creative with the menu and service in such situations.
Waiting staff must know how to manage customer exceptions, as they may request certain ingredients that are out of season. Staff must know exactly what to say in response to such a complaint and how to manage it.
The best way to respond to disappointed customers? Emphasize the restaurant’s commitment to seasonality and freshness. It’s also a good idea to suggest an alternative dish.
Chefs may also need to plan ahead early in the season when ordering local ingredients. Farmers and suppliers may need a season’s notice to grow and harvest specialized products for a restaurant in the quantities that they request.
The best way to manage this is to build positive relationships with local farmers and suppliers. That way you have complete transparency with one another. Let suppliers know far in advance if you need anything custom-grown.
Restaurants can also plan with suppliers on what sort of produce they’re willing to accept. Suppliers sometimes sell off unattractive produce at a cheaper price. For example, lumpy or odd-looking vegetables.
Restaurants can use such produce in sauces or stocks where it doesn’t need to look pleasing to the customer. Such collaboration can benefit both chefs and farmers in planning ahead.
Another factor to consider is the fact that smaller suppliers may not have strict industrialized food safety systems in place as larger brands would have. So, restaurants should vet every supplier, especially if they are purchasing large amounts of product.
Once you’ve started incorporating local produce into the menu, the next step is to promote it!
When local produce is used on the menu, it makes sense to highlight it and show that you’re proud of your local produce. It may even make sense to build a marketing campaign around local ingredients. After all, customers love to eat from restaurants that focus on local produce, so will want to hear about it.
Your restaurant could focus one night shaped around a specific farm’s products. This can create a buzz among customers and will also give the farm massive exposure within the community. This keeps a happy supplier for you!
Restaurants will find that purchasing locally sourced produce will result in boosting their food quality, customer satisfaction, and brand. It also benefits local suppliers and farmers in the area.
If you’re worried about an increase in production costs, you don’t need to panic. As customers are placing higher importance on consuming high-quality, local, and healthy ingredients, you’ll find that most the time they are happy to spend more on local food.
So, as consumers are willing to pay the price of local and seasonal ingredients, restaurants can alter prices to reflect higher food costs.
If you’re seeking local produce companies in Southern California, we’re here to help. We work with growers and packers to supply delicious plant-based foods that help create stunning dishes in restaurant kitchens. Learn about our roots and what we’re all about here.