Tips for sustainable food sourcing, food handling and menu engineering

Keeping things going

Sustainability is a bit of a big word that means a lot of things to a lot of people. When you get down to basics, one definition of the word sustainable means being able to “keep going.”
Businesses that make money “keep going.” Businesses that lose their guests do not “keep going” and end up on the Darwinian junk heap of history. There is nothing sustainable about bad food. There is also no “green agenda” when it comes to basic food quality.

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Secure food sourcing

One way to become extinct in the restaurant business, and take other restaurants with you, is to be penny-wise and dollar foolish to the point of hurting someone. There are some things that can stop your ability to “keep going” almost immediately including e-coli in produce or ground meats, pathogens in fish and shellfish, and salmonella in chicken.

Where you choose to get your food supply matters; not just to you but to the whole restaurant industry. If you make a big enough mistake, you could actually kill someone, and that is an unacceptable risk to the sustainability of everyone in the restaurant business.

Basic food handling

Extinction can also start with ignoring basic food handling procedures. Keeping good foods fresh and safe is just as important as where food comes from in the first place. A few things I have personally seen in restaurants that give me the shivers include:

  • Thawed hamburger patties with a big red spot in the middle,
  • Ground lamb delivered in unrefrigerated white plastic buckets, and
  • Raw chicken stored over top of raw produce in a cooler

Dirty kitchens, poor hygiene, rotten garbage – these are always cause for concern. In most speeches I do, I ask the audience: “Who has been in a restaurant in the past month with a dirty washroom?” I always get at least 70 per cent of the hands going up. Dirty washroom says “dirty everything” to a guest. Even an informal survey such as this suggests that some operators need to do better if we truly want to be sustainable.

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Sustainable menu engineering

There is the “death by a thousand cuts” method to going out of business on food. Guests reward good restaurant operators with their loyalty and they punish those who are poor operators by going elsewhere. There is a long list of restaurant operators who are “dead and gone” from:

  • Forgetting how to serve good food to their guests, stripping the goodness out of their supply chain and their menu;
  • Giving guests food that should have gone in the garbage an hour ago; and
  • Being a “cigarette” of the business: serving too many foods that are blatantly “bad for you.”

Food sourcing, menu engineering and food handling practices are three places a good chain operator can excel and have a real advantage if they choose to take it. When you have resources, and you put them to work on delivering good food to your guests, it pays.

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Independents can really set themselves apart as well, despite not having the extensive resources chains have at their disposal. A few ways include:

  • Choose good suppliers and shout out your superior sourcing and food freshness;
  • Set the bar high for your own food standards and make sure all your employees know it; and
  • Use restaurant associations, your city and business improvement groups to your advantage.

Make your restaurant “sustain-able” by buying quality ingredients from trustworthy suppliers and handle them well. If you do not, you just might find yourself unable to “keep going.”

Interested in learning more about food handling procedures? Check out our post on proper food safety.
Don’t forget to check out our spring seasonal vegetables post as well!

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