One of the most popular menu trends at the moment is a focus on fresh, local foods—whether they are fruits and vegetables, meats, seafood, even beer. This trend, which has proved to have staying power, is part of a bigger movement, often referred to as Farm to Table.
More and more restaurants are embracing local farms as business partners, incorporating fresh local foods into their menu. There is a growing awareness among consumers about not only where their food is from, but how it is raised and processed. All of this has helped to bring the farm to table concept not just to homes, but to schools, restaurants and other institutions.
What Farm to Table Means
Farm to Table is a national movement that encourages consumers and businesses to minimize the distance food travels before being eaten. For example, most fresh fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1500 miles before reaching their final destination. If you take a look at the fruit at your local grocer, you will see labels from all over the world—peaches from Ecuador, Strawberries from Chile, and Mangos from Mexico.
Most people’s food is better traveled than they are. Farm to Table encourages people to consider where the food comes from, and buy as close to home as possible.
How It Benefit Restaurants
There are many benefits to embracing Farm to Table at your restaurant. The food tastes better and is healthier. It’s a good marketing tool and can help spruce up your regular menu, just to name a few. And buying local doesn’t always mean you have to pay more. Consider, wholesale food distributors offer steep discounts, but when produce is in season, local farm prices aren’t always that much higher.
And, when you take into consideration the higher quality of the produce, you are really getting more bang for your restaurant food cost buck. Some areas offer Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSAs) which are similar to a CSA (community supported agriculture) offering buying discounts and other tangible benefits for restaurants.
Visit the Local Farmers' Markets
To help you get started, go visit your local farmers' market. Introduce yourself to the farmers and find out more about the types of food they grow, how much they grow in a season and what they can offer you as a restaurant food supplier. It can be a mutually beneficial relationship – you need fresh foods, and the farmer needs someone to buy his or her product. Many small farms are willing to deliver right to your back door.
Think Beyond Fruits and Vegetables
Long after the growing season is finished, you can still find plenty of local foods to add to your restaurant menu. Poultry, beef, and pork are available year-round, as are honey and dairy products. Even baked goods, like bread and desserts, can be showcased as local foods.
Have a Flexible Menu
The key to offering local foods is flexibility. You (or your chef) must be willing to change up the menu on a regular basis. You can do this easily by offering rotating local foods specials, to supplement your regular menu.
The Farm to Table movement is really just bringing us back a hundred years before refrigerated railcars and interstates made transporting food long distances easy and efficient. Prior to WWII, most foods didn’t travel more than 50 miles to get to urban markets. People in rural areas grew much of their own food.