Is Farm to Table Right for Your Restaurant?

April 22, 2016 by Matt Thompson


The restaurant industry goes through trends throughout the decades. Some stick and some don’t, but staying ahead of the trends and betting on what will work can make your restaurant a leader in certain dishes and markets. One of the popular trends that more restaurants are slowly adapting to is farm to table. To celebrate Earth Day on Friday, we decided to put together a guide on farm to table and offer advice on whether this food sourcing method is a good path for your restaurant.

What is farm to table?

The term “farm to table” references reducing the steps it takes to get food from the dirt in a farm to the table in a prepared dish. The traditional methods of sourcing food comes from corporations, meaning there are many different steps and deliveries until food arrives at your restaurant. This usually requires more preservatives and a loss of flavor.

With the farm to table method, the goal is to make these transition steps minimal. Restaurants will source ingredients from local farms, reducing the delivery steps and providing the freshest food possible with the least impact on the environment since growth hormones, packaging, and gas used for transit are not being utilized.

Why is it popular?

The reduced environmental impact is a big deal for many restaurants, especially in urban areas where environmental consciousness is a cause that is part of the culture. Another big reason why people are starting to flock to farm to table restaurants is the taste quality. Since the food is so fresh, the flavor is outstanding. This gives restaurants a lot of room to play with dishes and really bring out that local flavor. Lastly, people love to support local business and choosing restaurants with farm to table methods means they are supporting local farms.

How does my restaurant benefit?

There are many benefits to your restaurant when you choose farm to table. The first is an increase in repeat customers. With fresh ingredients, people will taste the difference and continue to choose your restaurant for a bite to eat. Others will go to your restaurant just because you are labeled as farm to table.

Second is the investment in your food quality and dish creativity. With fresh ingredients, you will see a longer shelf life on all your products than you would ordering them from a corporate food source. You will also be able to get more creative with your dishes to really highlight that fresh flavor which in turn influences the first benefit.

Third, your restaurant gets to create a local partnership with area farms. While it can be more expensive to source food from local farms because of the quality and freshness, it is also more beneficial in the long run. Your partnership can grow the farm while growing your restaurant business and extend both of your marketing efforts.

Are there any differences between farm to table and organic?

Not every farm to table item your restaurant receives will be organic and vice versa. There are many corporate food companies that provide organic products and just because you know the dirt where your locally sourced food came from doesn’t make it organic. According to the USDA, food can only be labeled as organic if:

  • Natural resources and biodiversity are preserved
  • Animal welfare is supported from treatment to lifestyle
  • No pesticides or other artificial materials are used to maintain crops
  • No genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are used
  • On-site inspections are performed annually
  • Food that meets all these requirements is separated from non-organic food

So, just because the food is produced locally does not make it organic. It is important not to clarify your farm to table methods as organic unless the farmer showcases that his or her food products follow USDA guidelines.

What are the drawbacks to adapting farm to table?

Some restaurants in metropolitan areas, such as New York, have a harder time finding nearby farms to accomplish their farm to table goals. Likewise, it can be difficult for any restaurant to order off-season produce from local farms. The biggest challenge, however, is finding farm to table meat in enough supply to meet the demands of your restaurant. There are strict guidelines from the US Department of Agriculture for smaller farms on how much and what types of animals they can have on-site.

If you have a local farm you can work with and if your budget can afford it, adopting a farm to table method for your restaurant can be a huge selling point to your restaurant. Farm to table practices can add value and character to your establishment. While there are challenges to overcome, there are many profitable benefits to implementing farm to table practices.

Matt Thompson

Matt has let his lifelong passion of food and people lead him to 15 amazing years as a restaurant manager and another 9 years working as a Director with a major food service distributor. He has channeled this passion to help create and run ShiftNote. When he's not dominating the food service industry, he's spending time with his 4 children and cheering on the Tigers as a Mizzou Alumni.