Over the past 30 years since Alice Walker opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, restaurants have slowly begun to embrace the local food movement. This movement has gained tremendous momentum over the past decade, as reflected in menu trends from all over the country. Today, restaurants are going beyond just buying fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms; now they are purchasing local beef, seafood, and even beer and wine.
Locally Grown Produce
Vegetables and fruits are the original “local foods.” Not only does buying local produce help your local economy, the food usually tastes and looks better than those grown in larger corporate farms. Using local produce allows you to add variety to your restaurant menu, changing it with the seasons.
Today, more consumers want to know where their food is coming from. They are also more aware than ever of how livestock is being raised, including its living conditions and what it is being fed since both these factors influence nutrition as well as taste. Locally sourced seafood is also a growing trend, though buying local can present a problem for landlocked states. If your restaurant is not able to easily obtain local beef, seafood, or poultry, you can buy food that has been raised with sustainable farming methods.
A newer trend among restaurants is hyper-local foods, which refers to food grown in-house, such as restaurant gardens. This trend isn’t for everyone. After all, you need the space and time to tend to a garden, even a small one. However, if you do have the urge to save money and offer delicious ingredients right from your back door, you could try a small herb garden in a window box or even a recycled plastic bucket from your weekly food order.
Another growing trend in restaurants is offering locally made spirits. There are hundreds of small vineyards and micro-breweries throughout the country that offer unique flavors, often using local ingredients, setting them apart from national distributors. These beverages offer a good marketing tool for restaurant menus.
Artisan is the new buzzword for menus, replacing gourmet. Big restaurant chains have begun featuring entire lines of “artisan foods”, including Subway offering artisan sandwiches and Dominos offering artisan pizza. Like all local foods, artisan foods can be used on restaurant menus as a savvy marketing tool. However, if you want to truly stand apart from the competition, keep in mind what artisan food really means. Technically the term artisan implies that foods are hand-crafted, typically in smaller batches and made with high-quality ingredients. Popular artisan menu items include ice cream, cheese, and bacon.
Which would you prefer: a slice of homemade apple pie or a slice of apple pie from a box? The ultimate local food, while maybe not grown on a local farm, is dessert. Upsell dessert with mouthwatering descriptions of desserts made in-house. If you don’t have a baker on staff, consider purchasing pie and other desserts from a local bakery or farm. Many farmer's markets carry wide selections of baked goods, featuring local ingredients.