Farm to Table 101 for Restaurants

March 24, 2017 Jackie Prange


The farm to movement has long sewed it seeds in the consumer’s imagination, sprouting a more eco-conscious diner whose values are rooted in supporting their local community and eating fresh food.


Farm to table, table to fork, fork to mouth, mouth to belly – that’s how it used to be. So how did farm to table “grow” from a trend to a cash crop for both consumers and restaurateurs? What’s changed?



How the Farm to Table Movement Took Off

The Move to Healthy, Non-Processed Foods

Say goodbye to the neon cheese spreads, lunchables, and GMO/hormone/pesticide-anything from the days of yore. Today’s consumer wants whole food first and there’s nothing more indicative of this movement than what parents are choosing to feed their children. A study for the Organic Trade Association found that, “Among American mothers and fathers, 52% of those buying organic are millennials, compared to 35% of Generation X parents and 14% of Baby Boomer parents.”


Reducing Environmental Impact

We don’t always think of how food travels to the supplier or grocery store – those pineapples from Costa Rica have covered a lot of ground and eaten up a whole bunch of fuel. While carbon footprint might not be the first point to come to mind when you’re thinking about farm to fork, it is a major benefit of the farm to fork movement. “According to a study conducted by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, food travels 1500 miles on average from farm to customer, while locally sourced food travels an average of 44.6 miles. The same study found that the conventional food distribution system uses 4 to 17 times more fuel and emits 5 to 17 times more CO2 than local and regional systems.”


A Focus On Corporate Social Conscience

The path to business success must be paved with good intentions. Today’s consumers, which are largely made up of Millennials, are more likely to buy from an organization with a social conscience, who give back to the community around them. While at first glance, this movement may seem like a play for big corporations compensating for their financial success, it's an ethos that is making restaurants, and businesses alike spread the wealth in one way or another, showing that there are humans behind the corporate imperative who care about their business’s impacts. According to one Mintel study, 70% of Americans sometimes, often or always consider a company’s ethics when purchasing products, while 56% have stopped buying from a company when they saw behaviour as unethical.


At this point, you’re probably wanting to dive head first into the movement by using only farm to table ingredients. It’s also a-okay to wade in slowly, whether you introduce a select farm to table menu or mix a bit of both until you can make the switch. Whatever path you choose, supporting local farmers, buying fresh produce and reducing your environmental impact is always a good idea. Now let’s dig into the dirt!



How Your Restaurant Can Embrace the Movement

Get to the Market

Farm to table necessitates chefs and restaurateurs to befriend local farmers, allowing them to get the lowdown on their crops, animals and processes. But where can these relationships begin when your shop is in the city and these farms are not? The farmer’s market, of course! Visiting your local farmers market is a great place to make introductions with farmers and become acquainted with their produce, meat and grains. With great relationships come great rewards.


Develop Agile Menus

You’re no longer in control – mother nature is. The philosophy behind farm to table restaurants isn’t buying ingredients based on a menu; it’s using what nature gives you to make the menu. Thus, to have a successful farm to table menu, you must be incredibly agile. You’re not just thinking about the seasonality anymore.


Harsh waters might dock a fisherman, drought may destroy a crop, production might be less than desired, an insect might compromise a yield. You’re working with what the farmer produces, so prepare to maximize your creativity and embrace the vulnerability that comes with using truly fresh ingredients. You’re at the will of mother nature as much as your supplier is.


Know the Ins and Outs

A true farm to table initiative is marked by an awareness of logistics that are lost when buying from traditional third party suppliers. When a restaurant using third party suppliers is asked by a customer, “When was this fish caught?” or “What farming method produced this crop?”, they’ll be met with a big shoulder shrug – with not much fault of their own – as they have no access to this information.  


True farm to table restaurants know the details of their farmers’ operations, like where animals are slaughtered, which fish are within quota, or which crop is coming into season next, so that they can proactively prepare.


Use Technology

While you may have heard of consumer facing apps, like Grubbable and Farm Star Living, which direct diners to farm to table restaurants, a new breed of apps have emerged. These new apps help restaurateurs and chefs locate farmers markets, ad hoc local produce, and family farms.


Take for example. Based out of New York, this app allows farmers to post products for sale, while buyers can search for products based on farm source, farming method, quality, price and availability. Farms2Tables takes care of all the delivery and billing logistics as well. Although relationship building remains an essential part of the farm to table movement, what better way to get introduced to new farmers and maintain the farm to table ethos while in an ingredient bind.

Running a farm to table restaurant isn’t always easy. It requires agility, ingenuity and a heck of a lot of creativity. But it is also recreating our relationship with food beyond the grab and go quick service restaurant or the invisible farmer. More and more, it’s this connection to the food and the farmer that the fork is demanding, and damn, does it taste good.




About the Author

Jackie Prange

Jackie was a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro before moving into business development role. She covered the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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