We hear the term local tossed around pretty loosely nowadays. While it's popping up on just about everything with a price tag (local business, locally owned, locally operated, locally whatever), there is no place more popular to tout the term local than in food.
And with good reason. The demand for local food has exploded in the past 10 years. Thanks to the perfect combination of buyer’s interest in where their food comes from, awareness of near extinction of small farms and changes in economic climate, buying locally surpassed 'passing trend' to become 'fierce demand.'As a restaurant owner or manager, you are certainly familiar with customer demands for local fare. In fact, studies have shown that up to 50 percent of consumers report availability of local fare as a factor in selection of a restaurant. (Source)
There’s certainly no denying that offering local options and working with local growers and producers is extremely important. But how do you get started? And what really constitutes “local” anyway?Defining parameters for “local” food is no easy task. While the use of terms such as “organic” and “fair trade” are regulated by the government or 3rd party organizations, use of the term "local" is solely at the producers discretion. However, most consumers understand and demand that several qualifications be met before “local” makes it to their plate.
Local means: Food is produced within a 100-mile radius of your location. There really isn’t much wiggle room on this one. Sure, you may be able to eek out another 10 to 20 miles, but if your restaurant is in Maryland and those “local blueberries” are from Michigan, you better prepare yourself for some backlash.
You can identify the producer and are familiar with the farm and/or production facility. Those loyal to the eat local movement know their farmers. Which, if you are offering fare from a specific farm, means you better as well. Take the time to have a relationship with the producer; not only is it authentic, it will get you in good graces which can mean first access to specialty items and the prettiest produce coming off the farm.
Ingredients are seasonal. Fundamental to eating locally is eating with the seasons. Locavores do their best to follow the seasons and will look to you to do so as well. This means even frozen local fare won’t usually find it’s way on to the plate. Instead, stick to dishes that feature what’s in season right now.
If a dish is labeled local, the majority of the dish is just that -- local. In other words, don’t just toss some local parsley on a squash dish in June and call it local. Locavores will be crying uncle and running for the door (or even worse, their local food blog) before the dish leaves the kitchen. Be authentic, be transparent, do the best you can with what you’ve got. It’s just that simple.Still need more help?
Finally, don’t forget to tap resources at home. Groups supporting local eating are exploding and organizations such as Slow Food (http://www.slowfoodusa.org) want to help producers make local choices. Contact them and ask for assistance in finding local fare. They want to help you!
Offering local fare is just another way for you to answer consumers demands for transparency in menu offerings.Consumers are demanding more information as to what they are eating than ever before. Having a full menu nutritional analysis and information is no longer optional, it’s a necessity! If you are ready to embrace this customer demand, we can get started today.
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.