3 Ways to Transition into Being a Farm-to-Table Restaurant

Farm to table menu! Fresh-to-fork! Eat local!

Recognize any of these phrases? They’re the popular slogans of the growing campaign for restaurants to create a menu that’s from farm to table, using locally-sourced food.

Consumers are eating up the fresh-ingredient craze and demanding restaurants keep pace.

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 for your farm to table menu.

From finding the best farmers and suppliers and getting everything delivered, adjusting your menu to work 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. Here’s how.

1.Think beyond produce.

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 a farm to table menu, though, you probably think of seasonal items… most likely produce. Fruit and vegetables 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. Here in Cincinnati, many neighborhoods have their own produce market.

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. 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.

2. Develop relationships.

Maybe you’re not sure how to work seasonal, locally-sourced items into your farm to table 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.

You can also work with farmers to find out what items are in demand, and what items might go to waste if they aren’t purchased soon. 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 s.omething new, and your customers get a tasty change of pace.

3. Start small

One of the most significant hurdles restaurants operators have to jump when it comes to a farm to table menu, 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. 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.

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. By adopting these techniques, you’ll be on your way to a more sustainable restaurant that your guests, your bottom line, and the world will benefit from.