6 Ways for Market Farmers to Get Chefs’ Attention

Selling to restaurants provides steady income and also lets you tell people where your products are served. Here are skills and practices to get chefs' attention.

by Jesse Frost
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Establishing consistent sales at popular restaurants helps market farmers develop reliable income, and it also provides a certain set of bragging rights they can promote: Those are MY tomatoes and cucumbers being served by the best chefs in town.

What’s more, food-loving farmers love to see their products go to people who know how to use and treat them well. That said, just loving food and growing it might not be enough to get chefs to take a chance on you. Restaurants want the best ingredients, and they often love to support local growers, but when all’s said and done they are businesses and need specific kinds of products to use in specific ways.

Here are a few things you need to master in order to get good, consistent restaurant sales from the best chefs in your area. Some of these are essential, and you really should work them out before approaching chefs, but if you do all of them without a doubt your farm will stand out above the rest.

1. Be Consistent

If you offer a chef a certain type of radish or green or tomato or even sausage, it is important to give them the same product every time or let them know if it changes. Chefs can have strong opinions about varieties, shapes, sizes and so on. If the product is inconsistent, they might look elsewhere. Also, consistency is important in how you operate—contact them at the same time every week, bill them the same way and deliver at the same time. These are all important to chefs so they can structure their own weeks and ordering schedule.

2. Be on Time

When a chef asks for a specific item by a specific day, offer it only if you can meet the deadline. Chefs are much happier if you say “I don’t think I can do it” rather than failing to deliver an order. If they have to scramble at the last minute to find something already added to the menu, they will remember that.

3. Give Notice

Keep in mind that chefs are generally reasonable people, and they understand that severe weather, disease or pests can strike quickly. Power can go out and your meat can spoil. But if such a thing should happen, let the restaurant know as soon as possible that you cannot deliver their order. Similarly, if your harvest is a pound short, they will understand but will be much more appreciative if they find out before you deliver and not after. Send a text, call them, whatever you can do to let them know.

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4. Learn to Forecast Well

One skill to develop in order to be a chef favorite is to know how much of a product you will have in the coming weeks. So if you offer arugula, for instance, can you estimate with relative certainty how much you will have week after week? That is a huge benefit to seasonal chefs who want a few reliable items for several weeks in a row.

5. Specialize

One way to really get chefs’ attention is grow one or a small number of crops really well. This is especially true if those items are unusual or hard to find. Everyone grows tomatoes, but how many people grow tomatillos? What about celery? How about offering guinea fowl or quail? Or, if you grow lettuce, can you grow it in a way that it tastes, looks and lasts the same week after week? If you can, chefs will take notice.

6. Presentation

Chefs are generally keen on quality, but they also like the products they receive to reflect the products they themselves create. Chefs will tell you they don’t care, but they notice when you make extra effort. Don’t just wash your produce, but bunch it nicely or place a nice label on it. A nicely packaged product demonstrates your care and appreciation for what you do and also what they do.

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