Locally grown food is the next profitable restaurant trend

Oct 10, 2010

How has green found its way into restaurants? Just a few weeks ago, we wrote a post highlighting Forage in Los Angeles, a unique new concept based entirely on cooking and serving foods grown from local farmers and amateur green thumbs. This movement is better known as “growing local” and is beginning to become a popular choice for restaurants interested in promoting healthy eating, green environments and sustainable foods.

“Growing local” in the truest sense of the term is growing your own produce, and that’s exactly what many restaurants are doing today. In fact, in a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, one-third of the 2,000 chefs surveyed named restaurant gardening as the top trend. So what are the benefits?

In-house gardening benefits for restaurant owners:

–    Money-saving: it costs less to grown your own produce rather than buying and having it shipped.

–    Quality and freshness: gardens allow restaurants to control quality, plus it virtually eliminates the need for pesticides.

–    Cater to your clientele: you can have the ability to offer foods that people are looking for and also grow foods that are in season.

The Blue Water Grill in Grand Rapids, Michigan now boasts a 3,000 square foot garden that grows tomatoes, strawberries, squash, herbs, squash, sweet coarn and 12 fruit trees. Ken Vos, general manager, commented, “We just thought it was a great opportunity that supported doing what we wanted to do and that was to be a local restaurant.”

And the best benefit of all? Research has shown that restaurant customers are actually willing to pay more for local food – meals made with local ingredients. In fact this recent study “shows that restaurant patrons prefer meals made with local ingredients when they are priced slightly higher than meals made with non-local ingredients, said Amit Sharma, assistant professor, School of Hospitality Management, Penn State.” Interestingly, the higher prices given to locally grown menu items conveyed a sense of higher value. The study showed there was a limit, however, to how much restaurant diners were willing to pay, which showed 18 percent markup was acceptable but a 36 markup deemed too much. The full experiment detailed report will be printed in the fall/winter issue of the International Journal of Revenue Management.

Perhaps this project sounds like quite a lot to take on at once. If you want to start thinking green and taking advantage of the benefits of locally grown food, you can definitely start small with baby steps and begin growing from there. Think about the most commonly used herbs on your restaurant menu (basil, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, mint etc)– get input from your chefs as well. How about just growing a few these herbs outside your restaurant that would be strategically placed in view of your restaurant guests? Your guests will certainly appreciate the view as it depicts an atmosphere of freshness and healthiness. If you want to go all out but just don’t have the space, consider researching local public gardens that allot you your own space to grow produce. Follow this link to search for the closest garden in your area.

The bottom line is restaurant gardening is smart and environmentally friendly. Start small and slowly grow your vision and soon your restaurant will be reaping the rewards of the growing local movement.