The Challenges of Sourcing Ingredients for Farm-to-Table Restaurants

Farm-to-table restaurants have become increasingly popular in recent years, as consumers become more aware of the nutritional and taste benefits of food produced close to home. However, sourcing ingredients for these restaurants can be a challenge. Many restaurateurs lack experience with the USDA, and the chaos of the supply chain can cause problems. Tom Bivins, former chef and owner of Cleveland's Crop Bistro, points out that customers may not be willing to pay a higher price for local food when the restaurant acts as an intermediary.

Operators have responded to these challenges with creativity. For example, a limited menu of high-quality dishes, an exclusive salad and some desserts, all using local, regional and organic ingredients, is a possible route to a moderately priced farm-to-table restaurant. Keeping track of product availability can be difficult, but a good start is to check with a local Chefs Collaborative or Farm to School affiliate, or with the local university extension service to see the availability tables by season. Garcia has realized that local farmers are adapting to the situation by offering restaurants contracts for a specific quantity of a product for a certain number of weeks.

This helps restaurants plan ahead and allows farmers to adjust what and how much they grow. By saving money on invoice management, restaurants can improve their cash flow and cover the cost of buying more expensive ingredients from local farm-to-table suppliers. The “farm-to-table” trend has been great for reconnecting the farmer with the consumer, but it also presents some challenges. Restaurants must be prepared to face Mother Nature's challenges as well as rising costs stemming from supply problems. As cargo ships piled up off the California coast, restaurant deliveries became unpredictable, food prices rose, and some ingredients, such as chicken wings and steak, were hard to come by.