Restaurants Guide to Using Local Foods

Tips for Using Local Foods at Your Restaurant

One of the hottest menu trends is local foods. It has dominated the National Restaurant Association's annual Culinary Forecast for several years in a row. Local foods, slow food, farm to table, farm to fork - there are many names and trends associated with buying from local farms and growers which can be confusing for consumers. For restaurants, there are definite benefits as well as challenges to incorporating local foods into their regular menu.

 

Benefits of Local Foods

Offering local foods on your restaurant menu offers many benefits, from helping to pump up the local economy to boosting flavor and nutritional value of the food you serve. Consumers are far more savvy about where their food comes from, and local foods have a great appeal for many. Over the past several years local foods have become one of the hottest menu trends for restaurants. While serving local foods can pose some challenges for restaurants, especially those who live in colder climates, it is possible to offer local foods all year long, through established relationships with local farmers.

Understand the Difference Between Local, Sustainable and Organic Foods

Local – Local foods are, well, local. They are grown or produced locally, usually on a small scale. Local foods have made a big comeback in menu trends for restaurants, not offering only superior taste over their commercial counterparts, but also a marketing tool.

Local foods go beyond fruits and vegetables. They can include beef, chicken, seafood, dairy products, even beer.  

Sustainable – According to small farming expert, Lauren Ware, sustainable foods have three components: sustainable agriculture have three components; They are:

  • ecologically sound
  • it is economically viable
  • socially and economically equitable

Lauren also gives some good advice to small farmers looking to sell their food to a local restaurant.

Organic – In 1990, the FDA passed the Organic Foods Production Act, which helped identify food that is certified organically grown, versus food that wears an organic label just for marketing purposes. As part of this act, a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List) was established, outlining practices, materials, and ingredients that that may be used in organic farming and production operations. The List also highlights non-synthetic substances, materials, and ingredients that cannot be used. For a food to be sanctioned as officially organic, it must be labeled with a USDA Organic Seal. It’s important to remember that organic foods do not equate locally grown (nor do locally grown foods mean they are organic). Speak with your local farmers about the feed and pesticides they use on their farms. Many small farmers practice organic farming practices, but are not certified.

Menu Trends and Local Foods

The What’s Hot Chef’s Survey, released each year by the National Restaurant Association, rates local foods as THE trend of 2013. Local foods, coupled with terms like artisan, handmade, home brewed, heirloom are the new menu marketing tools.

Find out more about popular menu trends that focus on local foods.

Challenges of Using Local Foods at Your Restaurant

The two biggest challenges of using local foods are cost and availability. There is no question about it, local foods cost more money than those grown by huge corporate farms. However, restaurants still have the advantage of buying in bulk. Speak with your local farmers about what crops they grow, and how much they can supply. Ordering a large amount of a local ingredient can help reduce the price. Marketing your menu with local foods can help consumers be okay with paying more for foods.

Because most places don’t have access to local foods all year round, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, restaurants that use local foods have to be nimble and flexible when it comes to their menu.

You can offer local foods all year long by freezing fresh produce, like berries or herbs, and incorporating them into recipes later on. Ditto for beef, poultry and other local game.