Go to local farmers' markets and get to know the farmers.
By purchasing what's fresh and in season, you will not only give your customers a fresher product, but you will also often save money since you are eliminating the middleman and expensive transportation. As a restaurateur, you will be buying in larger quantities than the average customer, so you may be able to negotiate a better price. There are many famous farmers' markets, such as Union Square Green Market in Manhattan, Pikes Place in Seattle, Ferry Plaza in San Francisco and St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. Your community will most likely have several smaller and seasonal markets. Get in touch with local boards of trade to find out which is most convenient for you.
Celebrate your products by identifying the producer and origins of the product.
Knowing the story behind the food we eat can enhance the dining experience. Let your customers know about the local farmer who brings his apples to market and the varieties that he grows. Make that all-important connection from the farm to the fork. Chances are that a small local producer will have products that are unique since he is not producing for the mass market. Offering an uncommon variety of apple in your signature apple pie can help set you apart. Search out the best local grower of whatever product your area is famous for, and beat the drum long and loud about your commitment to supporting local businesses and to providing to your customers with top-quality products.
Leverage the advertising and marketing of local products.
Many producers are mounting campaigns to educate the consumer about their products. Pork producers are promoting the use of heritage breeds, such as Berkshire. Cattlemen are singing the praises of Angus and Wagyu beef, and local lamb and poultry are making strong headway into the mainstream. Find a local supplier of these boutique meats and then call them out on your menu or in your promotional materials. Some associations even have marketing dollars set aside to assist you in spreading the word.
Search out small local food producers and establish a relationship with them.
In most communities there are many artisan bakers and butchers who likely already have a stellar reputation within the neighborhood. Leverage their good reputation and product for your business. Being able to tell your customers that your breads are baked at “Nino's” bakery or that your meats come from “Ben's” butcher shop is a powerful marketing tool. It speaks to your commitment to quality and reinforces your support of the local economy. Many small artisans are looking for ways to grow their business. Supplying restaurants gives them a new revenue stream and gives you an edge on the competition.
Feature local fish and seafood when available.
There are many high-quality seafood products available from all over the globe. While packaging and transportation can get them to you in near pristine condition, there is nothing better than offering super-fresh local seafood. Even if you are far from the nearest ocean, you can access fresh fish from lakes and aquaculture farms in most parts of North America. Whether it is farm-raised or wild-caught, your customers will be glad to know your seafood offerings are from a local source.
Add character to your menu with local beers and wines.
Take advantage of local boutique breweries or, if you're really lucky, local wineries. They will be more than pleased to help you promote their products and increase your sales as well as theirs. By adding these beverages to your menu, you bring in local character while reinforcing your commitment to the economic well-being of your community.
Let everyone know you're serving local.
Promoting local products in your restaurant is not only good for the economy and the community, but it's also good for your business. Mentioning your locally sourced food on the menu is just the beginning. Create a festival around the bounty of local produce. A harvest festival in fall or a berry festival in summer will attract interest from local media and can increase guest counts. Complement that promotion with posters, radio and newspaper ads, contests and giveaways. The producers and marketing agencies may even offer to help support and participate in your program.