Sourcing Quality Menu Items

No matter how talented your cooking skills are, if you’re not working with quality ingredients, you won’t get the results you want. In addition to enhancing the taste of your final plates and wines, you can also positively impact the environment.

The Importance of Locally Sourced Ingredients

Locally-grown food is not only chock full of flavor, but it’s chock full of benefits for the environment and the local community. Have you ever heard of the 100-mile diet? It’s a movement to source food within your own community and then expand to no more than 100 miles from where you started. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Support local growers
  • Fewer greenhouse gases are emitted due to reduced transportation
  • Promotes accountability on a local level 
  • Reduce mass deforestation for large-scale farms
  • Food ripens “on the vine” instead of while in transit, increasing nutritional value
  • Promotes genetic diversity of food
  • Always have in-season ingredients to inspire your menu

Often, when you purchase local ingredients for your menu, you’re buying produce, meat, or dairy items that have not been treated with pesticides, growth hormones, or other additives. 

How It Helps Your Business

Whether you’re running a restaurant, a bar, or are offering room service in a luxury hotel, quality ingredients can benefit your business.

When you source your menu items from local growers, you establish relationships with them. Over the years of talking shop and getting your produce from the farmer just outside your city, you develop a sense of trust; you know when a recommendation for a particular ingredient is worth considering. If you’re looking for a perfectly cultivated and aged wine, your relationship with your long-time vintner may give you the upper hand you’re looking for. Lake Effect, a bar in Salt Lake City, understands that good wine isn’t just about its price; they share what they know about a fine wine HERE on their blog. They’re known for changing up their drink menu in order to include some of the best offerings from around the world.

Quality ingredients help you find your niche in the industry. Instead of casting a wide net, you can focus on a specific type of cuisine and excel at it by sourcing locally, or from trusted suppliers. With quality ingredients, you’ll have consistency, whether you’re a hotel like Virgin Las Vegas that offers a variety of specialty dining, or you’re a beloved burger joint that always serves up juicy, flavorful patties.

Local Economic Benefits of Buying Quality

To both growers, and to you as the consumer, there can be economic benefits to cutting out the middleman.

  • Create jobs in your community
  • Reduce overhead costs related to harvesting, packaging, and shipping ingredients
  • Keep taxes down

Places to Source Quality Ingredients

If you’re interested in sourcing quality, local ingredients, there are myriad places to turn. Check out this list for creative and sustainable ways to supply your establishment with delicious ingredients, and tips for choosing the best source for you.

Farmers’ Market

You might be surprised to learn that many restaurants have already jumped on the bandwagon of purchasing quality ingredients from local farmers’ markets. What used to be seen as a bit pretentious or unnecessary is now known to be a market of quality and integrity.

When menus offer locally grown food from farmers’ markets, it’s a sign of good things to come. It’s becoming more common for consumers to take an interest in where food is sourced, even when dining out.

Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA)

This is a form of crop sharing that allows farmers to share food with a certain group of consumers (households, restaurants, etc…). When you join a CSA, there is a designated drop spot, and members are expected to pick up their shares at a designated time.

Keep in mind that you don’t always know what you’re getting in a CSA, so it probably shouldn’t be your only source of ingredients. It could, however, help you consistently offer a menu item that highlights a local grower and appeals to customers who want to try something new.

Pick-Your-Own Farms

For a large-scale restaurant, this may not be the most financially feasible option. However, for a local grocer, boutique bakery, or smoothie shop, purchasing goods from a pick-your-own farm could be the way to go. It’s a good way to have access to fresh produce and reduce overhead costs.

Mom and Pop Grocery Stores

Sometimes having a middleman isn’t a bad thing! Maybe your restaurant purchases wholesale from a local “mom and pop” grocery store, 

Grow Your Own

It’s not uncommon for hotels with in-house restaurants to grow some of their own food on their rooftop or surrounding property. Or, a stand-alone restaurant may have its own little farm or garden that supplies fresh produce, eggs, or milk. In Freeport, Maine, Bessie’s Farm Goods is a country store that raises its own animals and grows its own produce in order to offer eggs, goat’s milk, fiber, and fresh ingredients for its menu offerings. Bessie’s is the epitome of shortening the distance between the farm and the table.

Another example of excellent farm-to-table practices is Bear Lake Beef, located on the Utah and Idaho border. Bear Lake Beef specializes in US-raised Wagyu beef without a middle man. They have complete control over how their cattle are raised, and every package is grain-finished, flash-frozen, and vacuum-sealed so it’s as fresh and flavorful as can be when it reaches your door.

These are just a couple of examples of establishments that believed they could do it better themselves, so they did!

Tips for Picking Your Source

Sometimes it does have to be about the bottom line when sourcing your ingredients. How do you know you’re partnering with the right local farmer, or that you’re picking the right product?

  • Familiarize yourself with the growing calendar for your region - know what’s in season and when
  • Sample products from different vendors - don’t be afraid to shop around
  • Look for variety to determine which farmers are best able to meet your needs
  • Ask questions about farming conditions and practices to see if a farmer better aligns with your mission
  • Discuss delivery options - frequency, quantity, etc…

If you’re looking for quality taste and a way to contribute to your community, look no further than locally sourced ingredients for your menu. 

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