Ultimate Guide to Food Sourcing for Restaurants

21st Apr 2013

NB: This is an article written By : Shail Barot the Director of Vie Hospitality

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast, despite a continued challenging operating environment, the restaurant industry remains a strong driver in the nation’s economy, where the limited-service segment will be up by 5% from the previous year, whereas full-service restaurant sales will increase by almost 3%.

However, an interesting find in a survey done by NRA was that more than 7 out of 10 consumers said they would be more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced menu items, and more than 6 out of 10 said locally sourced menus are a key attribute for choosing a restaurant. My objective for this article is to inform and educate our readers and restaurant owners, on how local sourcing can be adapted for restaurants.

5 steps to Local Sourcing for Restaurants

Sourcing food locally is becoming one of the hottest trends in the food service industry. Restaurateurs that have taken the time to cut out middleman suppliers and go directly to the sources available in their local communities realize benefits on several levels.  Benefits are higher quality ingredients that are cost effective and are also a great technique to connect with customers looking for restaurants who focus on sustainability.

  1. Needs and parameters: When trying to buy local products, realize your limitations. Figure out what sorts of local products can be used in your restaurant and how much of it you need. There’s no set method for sourcing ingredients locally.
  2. Develop Relationships: A farmers market is a good place to start and get in touch with farmers, where you want to reach a point where you can commission the farmers to grow the produce that you want. But also keep in mind that you also need to commit to buying it.
  3. Involve Staff: Educate and inform the staff working in your Restaurant, including cooks, managers and servers and take them to the farms where you’re sourcing your ingredients so that they understand what you’re using and why.
  4. Promote: Let customers know what you’re doing in a way that’s not obnoxious, especially since you might have to charge more for your local products. A very good idea would be to consider shooting videos at farms that are good suppliers and posting them on your web site.
  5. Befriend distributors: If you have three or fewer restaurants and are a loyal customer, farmers might bring their product to you. If not, you’ll need help from distributors. Work with them to coordinate how they might send empty trucks returning from long-distance hauls to swing by farms to pick up your produce.

Advantages of Local Sourcing

The Restaurant industry is slowly realizing that sourcing ingredients locally is not just a “feel good fad” but instead a long-term trend with inherent advantages over today’s food sourcing model. Here are a few advantages of sourcing food locally:

  1. More Cost Effective: On an average, suppliers have to source materials almost 100-200 km for it to reach the Restaurants kitchen. There are costs such as packaging, travel, overhead and weather conditions that are added. These costs can be curtailed if buying supplies locally.
  2. Improve the environment: Because food from other states and countries has to be shipped to your restaurant there is a massive amount of gas and pollution associated with non-local items. With item sourced from nearby farms, the food is often driven from the farm to the market or even from the farm to your restaurant.
  3. Customer Focused: Locally sourced ingredients are fresher, which means they are more nutritious and have a better taste. This resonates with consumers.
  4. Competitive in Business: The people that drive demand for supplier purchases have identified local sourcing as a key element of their overall kitchen-management strategies. Given the potential cost savings and consumer benefits it’s clear that food-service businesses that don’t add it to their strategy will be at a disadvantage.
  5. Seasonality forces menu rotation: By depending on the seasons to dictate what products are available, it can pose both a tricky and creative challenge for your restaurants kitchen.  If your business loves to change things up from time to time, buying local can provide the perfect opportunity. While it may upset some customer that your famous dessert featuring strawberries won’t be available in January, many more will appreciate the new options and know that the ingredients that make it are as fresh as possible.

Much needed Municipal Support

As cities and suburbs have grown bigger they have covered more and more farmland, and as consumers demand locally sourced, organically grown produce, a conflict has arisen between antiquated zoning laws and the realities of the modern landscape.  The result is a growing need for more progressive municipal laws that allow both citizens and local businesses to maximize land use in their communities.  Such progressive thinking not only addresses the growing desire for locally sourced foods but also improves the municipal scenery and helps the local economy.

Concerns over water use, toxins and pollutants in urban soil, and the taxation of sold produce are all things that can be readily addressed by revised zoning laws.  It’s merely a matter of pushing those changes through the bureaucracy of local government.

Reducing Food Wastage

Many of these are extremely simple and restaurants just need to get into the habit of using them. One of the solutions is to promote and encourage use of ‘doggy bags’. A few others are:

  • Reuse food that would otherwise be thrown out e.g. orange skins made into marmalade
  • Make old bread and untouched toast into crumbs and croutons
  • Take care with food ordering an portion size
  • Give excess bar snacks out for free to customers at the end of the night
  • Observe food patterns carefully e.g. when customers were consistently not eating the tomato relish it was no longer provided free as a condiment
  • Order fish and meat cuts to specification
  • Leftovers can be turned into some great meals for your staff, which raises morale and improves retention.