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We hear the term local tossed around pretty loosely now a days.  While it’s popping up on just about everything with a price tag (local business, locally owned, locally operated, locally whatever), there isno 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 wheretheir food comes from, awareness of near extinction of small farms andchanges in economic climate; buying locally has surpassed passing trendto become a 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% of consumers report availability of local fare as a factor inselection 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 use of terms like “organic” and “fair trade” are regulated by the government or 3rd party organizations, use of the term local is solely at theproducers discretion.  However, most consumers understand and demandthat several qualifications be met before “local” makes it to theirplate.

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 another10 to 20 miles, but if your restaurant is in Maryland and those “localblueberries” are from Michigan, you better prepare yourself for somebacklash.

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.  Takethe time to have a relationship with the producer, not only is itauthentic, it will get you in good graces which can mean first access tospecialty 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 theplate, 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 forthe door (or even worse, their local food blog) before the dish leavesthe kitchen.  Be authentic, be transparent, do the best you can withwhat you’ve got.  It’s just that simple.

Still need more help?  

 

Both these resources will help you get started:

http://www.localharvest.org/
Find a farm or producers to supply your restaurant.
Be sure to list your restaurant as offering local fare.

http://www.eatwellguide.org/
Find a farm.
List your restaurant as offering local fare.

 

Finally, don’t forget to tap resources at home.  Groups supporting local eating are exploding,  organizations such as Slow Food (www.slowfoodusa.org) want to help producers to make local choices.Contact them and ask for assistance in finding local fare.  They want tohelp 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 afull menu nutritional analysis and information is no longer optional,it’s a necessity!  If you are ready to embrace this customer demand, wecan get started today.  Call us at 1.888.767.MENU (6368).

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