A busy restaurant uses a lot of food in a day, so it would seem logical that a local farmer would want to provide at least some of that food, whether it’s produce, meat, honey, grain or something else. The payoff can be big. However, restaurants require a slightly different marketing and distribution strategy than other sales outlets, which is good to know before you get into it.
Restaurants have a lot of competition, plus they’re under a lot of pressure to perform and be consistent. Chefs, the ones you normally communicate with in restaurant sales, are extremely busy people. So with those things in mind I’ve compiled a list of questions farmers should ask themselves before diving into restaurant sales. These points aren’t deal breakers, of course, as every restaurant is different. But all restaurants will appreciate you thinking about them before approaching the chef.
Can You Be Consistent?
Almost more than great product, chefs want consistent product. They want to know that what they order will be roughly the same every week and that they can get it for an extended period of time. Chefs, of course, understand seasonality, but they have businesses to run. They need to know that if they buy from you, you can be consistent, and that they can count on this week after week. Moreover, if you have a crop failure, they need to know as soon as possible so they can find another source. If you are new to growing, start small. Give them a few products you know you can produce, then slowly ramp that up the next year. But don’t try to do too much and become unreliable. Inconsistency is a great way to lose clients.
Can You Forecast?
Chefs really love when a farmer can tell them not only what’s new that week but for how long it will be around. For example, if you offer beets in the spring on your fresh sheet (the list of what you have available and the prices), you should also tell the chef roughly how many pounds you can have each week and for how many weeks. Maybe you can do three weeks of the same variety, then a week off, then another three weeks. That is valuable information for a chef who might want to add a beet dish to the menu. If you can give the chef a rough schedule for the whole year, even better.
Do You Have the Time?
When working with restaurants it’s easy to underestimate the amount of time spent just communicating with them. You must compile your fresh sheet every week. Then you must send that out and maybe follow up on it. You also have to deliver, of course, but also complete invoices (though apps are appearing that will help you do that). You might need to spend some time talking with the chefs about how you can better serve them. If your days are already full, selling to restaurants might require adding an employee dedicated solely to resultant sales.
Selling to chefs is no small investment, but the payoff can be big, and the more you do it, the easier it will become.