Local Sourcing Can Ease Restaurant Supply Chain Challenges

(Image credit: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash)

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Shortages and shipping issues caused by the pandemic are making it difficult for restaurants to stock their kitchens and supply cupboards. Some operators have found that partnering with local and regional suppliers and distributors can help them avoid some of the weak links in the restaurant supply chain.

For many restaurants that rely on large suppliers with large inventories, current supply chain issues are reducing supplies of everything from chicken wings to take-out containers and paper products.

“There’s no doubt that supply chain disruptions are impacting restaurant businesses,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association. A survey conducted by the association in November 2021 found that 96% of operators reported supply delays or shortages of key food or beverages, and “the impact was felt across all segments of the industry. industry,” Riehle said. “In addition, another 8 out of 10 operators said they experienced supply delays or shortages of equipment or service items,” he said.

Dan Simons, co-owner of Founding Farmers Restaurants in Washington, DC, told the association that “the items we expect to run out of will catch up, but then we’ll be surprised by the next shortage that we didn’t anticipate.” .”

“My only advice at the moment is to stay nimble and accept that making daily adjustments will remain the nature of the game – at least for the first quarter of the year,” Simons said.

The South Carolina Restaurant Association told the WHNS news channel that supply uncertainty has forced many restaurants to wait until the last minute to finalize their menus for the state’s restaurant week, which kicked off on January 13.

For many chefs, the need to stay nimble and create smaller, more flexible menus based on what’s available at any given time is something they see persisting for the long term.

Smaller menus were one of the top dining trends for 2022 cited by chefs surveyed by Food & Wine.

“With supply chain challenges, staff crisis and higher cost of goods, I anticipate independent restaurants will adopt a streamlined prefix menu that emphasizes local ingredients while minimizing costs,” said RJ Cooper, owner and chef of Saint Stephen in Nashville, Tenn. .

A local approach can alleviate supply chain challenges

In addition to changing the way they create menus to better accommodate the erratic availability of ingredients, many chefs are considering changing how they source ingredients to begin with.

“2022 restaurant menus will see a simplified, localized approach that stays in line with what is locally fresh and readily available, forcing chefs to innovate their menus with ingredients and products already available due to the current state of industry hurdles,” Cooper said. Food & Wine.

For chefs and restaurants already connected to their local network of producers and suppliers, the practice is paying off.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY, sources all ingredients that it does not grow locally from local suppliers. As a result, the restaurant has not encountered any supply chain issues, chef Dan Barber told Restaurant Hospitality late last year.

“I think we as consumers are going to have to start thinking more regionally and more locally when it comes to our sourcing, whether it’s food, fashion or whatever. The international supply chain shows its weakness, especially in times of…stress and disruption,” Barber said.

Most restaurants don’t have the land or the luxury to grow most of their own food like Blue Hill does, but the farm-to-table ethic can help restaurants of all sizes.

Benny’s Bistro in Helena, Montana sources its ingredients directly from farmers and ranchers in the state. “We are part of the Montana, Western Montana Growers Co-op of Missoula and we are able to work with all kinds of small farms and suppliers and are able to get products made in Montana on tables here at Benny’s without much. problem,” server Katie Hill told news station KTVH.

Building a more sustainable food system

For many restaurants that already source a significant portion of their ingredients from local suppliers, the practice is about sustainability — in more ways than one. Buying food nearby means she doesn’t have to travel as far. These shorter trips leave less room for delays along the way and require less energy spent on transportation, which is better for the planet.

For chef Rob Rubba, sourcing local “isn’t just an act toward our climate, it’s also about building sustainable food systems,” said the chef/partner of Washington, DC, restaurant Oyster Oyster in an email interview. “We have some amazing growers and growers here in the mid-Atlantic who are underutilized as a supplier in our region.”

“At the start of the pandemic, it was devastating to see ‘local’ grocery store shelves sterile because they came from all over the world and virtually nothing from our own backyards,” he said. “Speaking with the farmers we work so closely with on a daily basis and hearing how they were looking for ways to pivot, when so many restaurants have gone dark and big box grocers are not working with the local farm economy, has definitely anchored our philosophy that we started with.”

Oyster Oyster builds its forward-thinking menus around oysters from the nearby Chesapeake Bay and locally picked mushrooms, updating its offerings several times a year to accommodate seasonal availability. This type of collaboration between restaurants and suppliers can help both parties prepare for the future.

“As the climate crisis deepens, we as chefs and consumers will have to rely on [on] and support our local agriculture on a much larger scale,” Rubba said. “Therefore, by beginning this support today, our growers will be able to continue to scale for the inevitable.”


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