There is increasing awareness and concern among consumers about how and where their food is grown and produced. “Our customers are becoming very in tune to what is on their plates,” says Major White, owner, Savannah’s, Wrightsville Beach, NC. “The most frequent questions we get are about seafood – customers want to know when, where, and how it was caught. To respond, we teach our staff specifics about the food we serve – from the origin of the fish to what our chickens are fed and the humane conditions in which they are raised. This way the staff can accurately answer customers’ questions.”
“It’s not enough for us to serve great tasting food. We want to understand how the animals are raised, the vegetables grown, and where the spices come from.” – Chris Arnold, public relations director, Chipotle
Steve LaHaie, vp, Shaw’s Crab House, Chicago and Schaumburg, IL, has found that working closely with seafood conservancies is an effective way to keep up with all the information he needs to know and wants to share with staff. “You used to be able to just order salmon; now it’s important to know if it is wild or farmed, where it comes from, what it has been fed, and how it was raised,” Steve says. “A couple of times a month, I’m on conference calls talking about sustainability issues and fishing regulations – there’s so much to know.” Steve says Seafood Choices Alliances (seafoodchoices.com) provides a list of seafood that is “environmentally sustainable” (those not being over-fished) as well as a sourcing guide. Other resources include the Marine Stewardship Council (msc.org), which has begun to certify fisheries around the world and provides a list on its Web site; the Sustainable Seafood Forum (aquariumofpacific.org); and Chicago’s Shed Aquarium. (Steve adds that most aquariums have sustainable seafood programs.)
For Chris Arnold, public relations director, Chipotle, “There’s no better way to learn than from the source. We are constantly visiting growers and producers around the country to ensure that the food we buy is grown under healthy, environmentally sound, and humane conditions – supporting our mission to serve ‘Food With Integrity.’”
Restaurants are also communicating their level of commitment more clearly. The Web site of Acme Chophouse, San Francisco, CA, has an entire section devoted to “Paths to Sustainability” that includes articles, resources, and information about food safety. On its Web site, Chipotle has a timeline showing what the company has been doing to become more sustainable and a frequently updated chart showing state-by-state where naturally grown pork, chicken, and beef is available in the restaurants. And on premise, names of some of the producers appear on the menu board, and stories about farmers are on drink cups. Savannah’s menu also lists some of their producers. “It’s a way to let customers know we’ve done our homework and that we’re proud enough of our relationship with that farm or producer to put it on our menu,” explains Major.