How to Incorporate Locally Sourced Food Into Your Menu

How to Incorporate Locally Sourced Food Into Your Menu

More and more diners care about a restaurant’s sustainability practices. According to the 2020 National Restaurant Association Industry Report, 76% of adults said they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally sourced food. If your restaurant doesn’t tap into the locally sourced food movement, you may be missing out on potential customers.

Continue reading to discover ways to integrate locally sourced ingredients into your restaurant’s menu.

What are locally sourced goods?

Locally sourced goods typically refer to food, ingredients or other consumable products that are sourced, purchased or procured within a specific radius distance from where they will be used. This definition varies depending on what people consider local, but to consumers, the label “locally sourced” means that the ingredients are healthier and fresher than other products purchased from farther away.

The push for local food and farm-to-table restaurants has grown in recent years due in part to the desire to support local growers and farmers. Buying from those in your community boosts the economy, creates more jobs and helps support produce growers.

Where can you get locally sourced ingredients?

Buying locally sourced food and ingredients can seem daunting at first, but there are many resources available to help connect you to local farmers and suppliers. Visit your local farmers market to meet farmers or network with farm-to-table restaurants in your area to learn which local suppliers they’ve had success with in the past.

Once you’ve found local farmers and suppliers to work with, focus on establishing a meaningful relationship with them. 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 these relationships, the greater chance you’ll have to receive the ingredients you need. You may even enjoy some unexpected benefits such as the first pick of produce or discounts for your continued loyalty.

Even with close relationships built with farmers, there may still be some difficulties you have to overcome when purchasing locally.

How inflation affects local food prices

When inflation rises, so do food prices. Because it costs more to farm during times of high inflation, farmers must raise their produce prices to balance their return on investment. That means that food inflation may affect whether or not your restaurant can afford to purchase locally.

Even with the topic of food inflation being prevalent, it’s still possible to include locally sourced food in your entrées.

Tips for incorporating locally sourced food into your menu

You don’t have to replace every single item on your menu with locally sourced items or break the bank to include local goods. Here are some ideas for adding ingredients that will boost your local economy:

Start slow and set realistic goals

Sourcing local ingredients can be higher-cost due to working with small suppliers, which means switching your menu overnight to feature these ingredients can be costly. Help ease your restaurant’s transition by setting reachable goals, such as purchasing a small amount of locally sourced ingredients or only buying locally sourced food that is close in cost to your traditional ingredients.

It might also make sense for you to test run incorporating locally sourced ingredients into your menu. Consider featuring a special on your menu or even hosting a weekly local foods night that offers a special entrée made entirely from local ingredients.

Offering locally sourced food for sale as a retail model in your restaurant is also a great way to introduce the concept to your customer base. When indoor dining was shut down in New York during the height of the pandemic, The Council Cafe transformed its storefront restaurant into a local market featuring locally produced bread from Naira Bread in New York.

The Council Cafe’s market supported other local businesses and made locally sourced food accessible to their customer base.

Use locally-sourced food to fuel your seasonal menu items

Sticker shock is often enough to keep many restaurant owners from incorporating locally sourced ingredients into their menus, but it doesn’t have to be costly. By purchasing in-season produce, you can include local ingredients that are both more affordable and of higher quality.

Lighthouse, a farm-to-table restaurant in New York City, has found success in leveraging locally sourced ingredients in its seasonal dishes. The staff even put organic food waste to work by using vegetable and fruit scraps to make compost for their herb garden, which is used to create in-house spice mixes.

While buying locally sourced food can seem expensive at first, being strategic with your menu and using in-season ingredients can help reduce the cost of locally sourced food.

Seek out sustainable seafood from local fishermen

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, fishing is one of the largest contributors to the decrease in ocean wildlife populations. While the actual act of fishing is not terrible for the environment, overfishing — which is when fish are removed from the water faster than the species can replenish — is detrimental to our oceans.

Taking the extra step to seek out sustainable seafood options from local fishmongers is not only the right move for the environment but can also help your restaurant reach new diners. According to the Marine Stewardship Council, 70% of North American shoppers would like to hear more from restaurants about the sustainability of their fish and seafood products.

Fish, a sustainable seafood restaurant based in Sausalito, California, has become a success by creating inventive dishes that feature seasonally caught fish. By purchasing directly from local fishers, Fish can confidently communicate to their customers the exact path the seafood took from the water to their plate.

Attract more customers with a locally sourced menu

Tapping into the local food movement is a great way to grow your customer base and positively impact the environment. You may also be surprised by the health benefits that your customers experience from higher-quality food. According to Virtua Health, fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutrients within 24 hours of being picked, so the fresher your restaurant’s food is, the better it will be for those enjoying it.

Using locally sourced ingredients does not need to be an expensive or time-consuming task for your restaurant. Start by developing relationships with local farmers and fishers, creating seasonal dishes and setting realistic sustainability goals for your restaurant model.

Are you interested in learning more restaurant sustainability tips? Check out 10 restaurant sustainability tips that can help you reduce food waste and improve your restaurant’s profit margins.

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