So, you walk into a Whole Foods supermarket, and around every turn are signs shouting “local” this, “local” that, “organic” these, and “organic” those. For many of us, we’ll look at the prices attached to those products and think, “Whew, that’s expensive,” and go for the conventional, familiar, as-seen-on-TV brand.
As chefs, our lives are easier if we seek out the “compliant” product attached to our preferred procurement plan, without maximizing the leverage we have to both influence the decision-makers at the procurement organization, or by reconsidering our obsession with margins (I’d rather have dollars any day).
I’d like to present a case for reconsideration of our tendency to go for the lowest priced item. The vibrancy of local food culture, and to a large degree guest (and our) health, depends on our support of local farmers, markets and suppliers. As hotel F&B professionals, we have an opportunity to be very influential in the food procurement arena, but are often hampered by group procurement plans that favor the big-boys of food processing.
Consideration No. 1: Local purveyors and producers simply have more soul.
It’s getting hot in Georgia right now, and it gets progressively hotter by the half-day. Steve knows Georgia. He knows what I sell (and I didn’t have to tell him). He brings strawberries today (red to the center)—sweet, floral, real strawberries. The guests go wild.
“Why don’t I get these at all the hotels I visit?” says the guest.
“Because these are South Georgia strawberries, sir. Steve, my local guy, won’t even let me order them. He’ll bring ‘em here when they’re ready, and if I need them, I’ll buy them. They are amazing, and we’re proud to offer them,” says the chef.
“Wow. I can’t wait to see what Steve brings next,” says the guest.
Differentiation. Surprise. Delight. Success. Soul. Brand consistency, with regard to F&B, should come in the form of service and product quality, but not product. Allow guests to experience the glory of your locale. In this case, our guest receives a true taste of Georgia.
Consideration No. 2: Have you ever had a artisan-produced local product recalled?
Chances are, no. Within the last months, I have received recall notices from a number of major foodservice brand leaders. It’s scary to receive a notice that a particular lot of food is contaminated.
As chefs, our primary goal is to showcase our passion for memorable tastes and sensations. That we are in a day and age where food safety is compromised by the prioritization of profit over principle distracts us from focusing on the creation of beautiful food experiences. One does not need to be an organic, raw, natural, local foods fanatic to understand that the more a product is handled and processed, the greater the chance that product has for contamination.
Steve brought me strawberries from a local farm. I know exactly how many times that product changed hands. Steve says, “Make sure you wash ‘em well.” I wash. I taste. I serve. I’m proud.
Consideration #3: Successful small business districts result in successful hotel restaurants.
Name 10 highly successful small food businesses in your community. If it took you a while to do so, your hotel is likely not very busy on the weekends. You belong to the unfortunate group of hotels limited in business by the nine-to-five Monday through Friday business world. The volume of business at your restaurant is likely limited by the occupancy of the hotel, and the number of banquet covers scheduled for the day.
Hotels in the vicinity of a vibrant restaurant community have an opportunity to take the lead in supporting local food culture. Why not create community? Hotels have large spaces, a respectable level of human capital, and the financial resources necessary to host SlowFood functions, American Culinary Federation meetings, farmer’s markets, and food shows. What hotel wouldn’t want to be cited as a leader in their local food movement?
While we may work for international brands, being local matters, both for the integrity of our food community and the unique value we bring to our stakeholders.