What was the norm, went out of fashion, ‘tis now in again!
Farm-to-Table existed long before cars, grocery stores, industrial canning, refrigeration, and semi-trucks that hauled food across the country. Only no one knew to call it such. Restaurants across America have given the Farm-to-Table movement life. Chefs love the fresh flavors, and customers enjoy that their dinner plate tells a story. It sounds idyllic, so why not jump on the bandwagon.
Whether a new restaurant or a menu-overhaul, the question has to be asked if it is the right move. Chefs and owners create restaurants around an idea. Farm-to-Table fits the bill, addresses the niche in the market that the restaurant fills, then the move can be a good direction in which to go. If not, maybe there is a way to blend the existing menu with some new items. Some restaurants establish relationships with a single farm, create menus around the seasonal availability that the farm offers, and can adapt their menus to the fluctuation of ingredients. Others have on-going relationships with a handful of farms, thus offering a variety based on what several producers bring. Some add a smattering of ingredients or highlight a special when something is available. And other restaurants rely on consistency of ingredients from a purveyor or supplier.
Is it all or nothing?
To be true to Farm-to-Table, a chef must be flexible and possibly rely on the menu being printed that day (chalkboards are perfect for this). If a menu is not in this vein, perhaps a special either relayed by the waitstaff to the customer, or an addition that is clipped to the menu can highlight the special dish.
How does one find a farm to work with?
In cities, farmer’s markets are the first place to go to find local farms, farmers and growers. Farmer’s markets are everywhere nowadays. Simply google where to find them in the state where the restaurant is located, and pay a visit. Look, taste, talk, just as one would with any new purveyor. Ask questions about availability, quantity, pick-up or delivery. The greatest difference between the purveyor and the farmer is that the farmer knows the journey that the vegetable, fruit, meat, or herb took to get to the market or the restaurant. It is this story that connects the customer to the food in front of them.
Using the ingredient’s story.
Using Farm-to-Table as a constructive marketing tool is an added element of going this route. Talk with the farmer or supplier, research their business to understand what their core values are and if they align with the restaurant’s. Create the story in several key points that can easily be conveyed to the customers. This engages the eater and gives a sense of emotional connection to the food on the plate. After all, eating out is about the emotional experience and connection to the restaurant…and it is what turns them into repeat customers.