This year, Local Food Week is being celebrated from June 6-12th. As an independent food distributor who works with hundreds of local vendors and food producers, we’re proud to recognize the importance of local food as well as the incredible independent restaurants that bring these ingredients to life.
The past two years have been hard on restaurants and food producers, and we believe that local food is truly part of the solution and recovery plan. Let’s talk about community, collaboration and why local food brings out the best in every menu. Happy Local Food Week!
Turning challenges into triumphs
Being a restaurant owner has never been more challenging—and while we’re seeing many restaurants recover from their losses, others are struggling to thrive. Not only have foodservice operators had to deal with ever-changing restrictions due to the pandemic, they’re facing related issues such as supply chain delays and rising inflation. The cost of ingredients has gone up along with the cost of gas, supplies and more. This impacts individual restaurants and their teams, but also entire communities and economic regions.
Restaurant owners need to save money, but cheaping out on ingredients is never the solution. Quality matters and if you cut corners, your customers will notice. Knowing this, restaurant owners and operators are faced with finding ways to spend less while continuing to deliver exceptional meals.
Take advantage of summer in Ontario
Here’s where local food comes in to save the day. When you cook with the seasons, you can get high quality food that costs less and tastes incredible. We’re just heading into summertime in Ontario—one of the best times to enjoy delicious fruit, vegetables and specialty products from your own backyard. Every menu should be designed with local food in mind, not only to facilitate a farm-to-table approach but simply to save money without compromising quality.
When your customers are making decisions about where to go out for dinner, they choose you for a reason. It may be the service and ambiance, the value, the variety of choice or of course, the food. It’s probably a combination of these factors. It’s also because people are creatures of habit and once they know what they like, they stick with it. If you’re trying to get someone to break that habit—for example, to try your restaurant instead of the one they normally go to—you need to offer something compelling enough to warrant a leap of faith.
For some customers, change is exciting—but for many, it’s less welcome. When a person tries something new, they’re giving up three things: their time, money and knowledge of what’s to come. When they visit an unfamiliar restaurant, they have to trust (or at least hope) that they’ll enjoy the experience (worth their time), appreciate the value offered (worth their money) and like the food (gaining new knowledge that yes, this is a place we’d like to go again). They have to be compelled to make that change. An individual unconsciously considers all of these elements when choosing a restaurant. It sounds complex, but it can happen in a matter of minutes!
To attract new customers and retain existing ones, offer the best possible service and ambiance but start with your menu. Promote delicious, house-made items they’ll crave when they’re at home. This typically involves fresh, high quality foods or unique preparations they wouldn’t make for themselves. It might involve local beef or pastured chicken, or it could be a fresh salad made with roasted beets, fresh greens, roasted seeds or nuts and a vinaigrette made from herbs your restaurant grows out on the patio. It could be those incredible summer desserts made with Ontario peaches, strawberries and rhubarb. Show off whatever your menu has to offer and draw people in—once they’ve experienced the flavours, colours and textures of your locally-grown dishes, we bet they’ll be back again.
The power of independent restaurants
Chain restaurants are known for their consistency—if you like a dish, you can get it anywhere that chain exists—but they don’t have the same flexibility as independent restaurants. They can’t change their menu based on an abundance of fresh produce at a local farm, or cook with the seasons with exciting new features every week. This is where your independent restaurant has a distinct advantage—so, use it.
Customers want to make choices that have a positive impact not only for their family (enjoying a delicious meal) but also for their community (giving back). People enjoy supporting local restaurants and when you advertise your connection to local food producers, you’re creating a reciprocal relationship between farmer, restaurateur and patron. Help close that loop and keep the economic circles turning within your region, allowing everyone involved to reap the benefits. It’s a great thing, and Local Food Week is a wonderful time to promote this offering and encourage that cycle.
Show off your local connections
It’s easy to say you love local food but to really win customers over, show them that you mean it. We know that choosing to visit a new restaurant (or return to a favourite spot) is a decision rooted in emotion and desire—the appeal of the ingredients, the dishes, the connection to local farms and the knowledge that you’re supporting your community with your purchasing decisions. Your customers won’t know about these connections unless they see them in action, so make it clear and celebrate your relationship with local food producers. There truly is no downside, so go ahead and paint a picture they can’t ignore—social media is great for this, and word of mouth always helps.
At the end of the day, you want your customers to see you as a community partner with clear connections to the land, farmers and artisans all around us. There is an agricultural infrastructure in our backyards that should be at the forefront of what we do and how we connect with people who live, work and play in each region. Chain restaurants cannot compete with this connection or the exceptional food it allows independent restaurants to put on their tables. In celebration of Local Food Week, let’s nurture these connections and show off the best Ontario has to offer. The Morton Food Service team can help guide you—please contact us for personalized advice.