Demand for locally-sourced ingredients has never been hotter. According to a report from Technomic, 57 percent of consumers seek out farm-to-table restaurants offering locally-sourced products, while more than a third would pay an additional 5 percent for a menu item sourced within 100 miles.
In an effort to give consumers what they want, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $35 million in new funding in 2015 for local and regional food systems. The grants will also provide increased support for farmers markets, which have grown by 75 percent between 2009 and 2015.
As purchases of locally-sourced ingredients and funding for local farmers continue to skyrocket, now is the time for restaurant owners to take advantage of this popular trend. Here are three tips for incorporating locally-sourced ingredients into your menu without breaking the bank.
Considering the traditionally high costs associated with local ingredients due to placing orders with small suppliers, quickly creating a menu that exclusively features fresh meats and vegetables from nearby farmers can be quite costly. Help ease your restaurant’s transition by setting goals that are within reach, such as only purchasing a small amount of local ingredients or only purchasing those that are close in cost to your traditional ingredients. Also consider a test run incorporating local ingredients into your menu, including hosting a weekly local foods night and offering a special entrée made entirely from local ingredients. These strategies will satisfy diners and give you the opportunity to see if the benefits of buying local outweigh the costs.
If locally-sourced ingredients prove to be a success, you can expand to other areas of your menu, including beverages and dessert.
Sticker shock is often enough to keep many restaurant owners from considering incorporating locally-sourced ingredients into their menus. By purchasing in-season produce, you can incorporate local ingredients that are both more affordable and higher quality quality. Rotate dishes by season in order to ensure you buy ingredients at their lowest price. For example, the peak season for asparagus is spring, so offer dishes incorporating asparagus at this time when prices are most affordable.
In addition to saving you money, this approach will also provide your customers with an ever-changing lineup of new menu items to try every time they order.
One of the benefits of buying local is that there’s no mystery surrounding where your ingredients come from. If any problems come up, you know exactly who to contact. Focus on establishing meaningful relationships with nearby growers so you always receive quality ingredients on time. Small gestures, such as thanking your suppliers and keeping them updated on any changes within your restaurant, can go a long way toward showing suppliers that you value them as a business partner.
The more time you invest in building those relationships, the greater chance you’ll have to receive the ingredients you need. You may even enjoy some unexpected benefits such as first pick of produce or discounts for your continued loyalty.