Local and sustainable are among the most desirable ingredient features at restaurants these days—particularly when it comes to produce and seafood. When combined with reducing food waste—another top interest—restaurants that can meet this challenge appeal to consumers who want to support their local economies, eat sustainable foods, and contribute positively to such global ambitions as feeding the hungry and caring for the environment.
The increasing interest in sustainability seems to be a recent development, growing within just the last couple years or so. And it appeals to restauranteurs/chefs and customers alike, which reflects the growing consumer interest in local foods—or at least simple, limited-ingredient foods that are easy to identify. Consumers are clamoring for foods with an origin story: farm-raised, hormone-free, locally grown, wild caught, and the like.
The quality of a master chef’s cooking no longer tells enough of the story for restaurant patrons. If customers can’t trace (or at least believe) the story of your ingredients, they’ll pick a restaurant that reveals that information and makes them feel good about their decision to dine there.
The well-known varieties of seafood have made fish dishes perhaps less interesting, but have also impacted the supply of mainstream food sources. Choosing to buy and promote excellent quality but lesser-known fish has the dual benefit of supporting sustainable fishing practices (helping fisheries to replenish supplies), but also makes a restaurant stand out as unique with entrees unavailable elsewhere, and great stories to tell for the creative marketer.
Local Produce and Livestock
If you are lucky enough to be located relatively close to farming as a source of your ingredients, your customers will very likely to happily support your locally-sourced menu. Produce is a natural first step for the restaurant just getting into locally-grown ingredients—and it’s an opportunity not only for businesses located within driving distance of traditional farms, but also those close to the growing urban farming movement. Also in demand is locally-sourced meats (especially from small farms with humane practices and that also choose not to use hormones and other chemicals). If you employ staff capable of properly butchering whole animals, then sourcing local meats is very attractive to many local patrons. And for those not necessarily seeking this type of meat, it will still be impressive and appealing, and will add to your restaurant’s narrative, winning over your customers to the same sustainable and local mindset that is exploding across the nation.
Reducing Food Waste
From refrigerators, to grocery stores, to restaurants, the movement to reduce food waste is growing. It’s not just about saving a few dollars by not throwing out leftovers or expired items. It’s about reducing volume in landfills, and—more importantly—being responsible to make the most of food items and ingredients:
- Feeding the hungry through donations of ingredients, meals, and staple foods (like baked goods)
- Finding effective use for edible foods that might otherwise be discarded for not being “beautiful”
- Composting scraps and waste
Your patrons’ sensibilities are increasingly moving toward sustainability. If you align with their interest, your restaurant will benefit in several ways:
- More customers that share the value of sustainability
- Reduced waste
- The humanitarian and tax benefits of charitable giving
- A unique market standing because of your sustainable practices and rare ingredients/dishes
- Alignment with the values of the National Restaurant Association
By embracing these values, your shift in this direction will improve your bottom line, your local economy, the condition of the hungry, and the state of produce and livestock sourcing. And the resulting dishes will not only taste good, but feel good—for you and your customers!
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