Be as flexible as possible.
Buying locally is much easier for those restaurants whose menus change but regardless, requires adaptability. Have alternatives in mind if acts of nature or logistical snafus mean that what you ordered doesn’t come in and/or if something is unexpectedly available.
Receive and handle local products appropriately.
“Reducing the time from farmer to table means that produce is more fresh and nutritious – flavors are at their peak,” explains Dawn Voss, chief administrative officer overseeing culinary and supply, Noodles & Co. So it doesn’t make sense to keep produce in the cooler, serve it days later, or prep way ahead of time, she cautions. “Take care to prepare, cook, and serve to order, if possible.”
Work around seasonality issues.
Some restaurants only source core local ingredients that are available all year, such as dairy and meat; some source local products at peak season only. Others create special farm-to-table menus depending on what’s available, offer sporadic items as specials, or put them in salad bars. Still others, like L’Etoile, Madison, WI, have strategies for preserving local crops at the height at their season – vacuum sealing then freezing tomato sauce and strawberries, as well as canning, pickling, and de-hydrating products – to be used throughout the year.
Define what local means to you.
White Dog Cafe defines “local” as having products grown/produced by an identifiable source (i.e., it is possible to trace the product back to a particular farm/farmer), and coming from within a 200-mile radius or your state. It’s important to come up with your own definition and to then make sure all the people with whom you work – including your distributors – understand that definition. That said, it’s not always possible to operate within defined parameters. “We try to look at it from an inside/out perspective,” says Joe Gordon, vp, supply chain, Noodles & Co. “When some items are out of season, we look regionally. The goal is to have our produce safely come from suppliers as close as possible to the product.”
Put a face on the food.
“It’s all about food with a story that remains intact,” says Deborah Kane, vp, Food & Farms, Ecotrust. It’s ideal if products come with their farm or company name so you can merchandise them accurately and effectively. “But even if you’ve had to default to products from outside your region, if you know something about them, you still have an opportunity,” she says. “Better a story about farmers in another state than none at all!”