Tips for Selling to Restaurants

By Marisa Alcorta, Rex Dufour and Tammy Hinman, NCAT

Restaurants are businesses that provide full meals and drinks, and try to offer a unique atmosphere and menu for customers. Some restaurants, especially locally owned ones, now want to feature dishes using local produce. This presents a good marketing opportunity for farmers to sell to them directly.

NCAT Marketing Tipsheet Series

For this market you can expect:

  • Low-to-medium volume of product
  • Higher prices per unit

Advantages

  • Chefs value fresh, high-quality products.

    a box of fresh lettuce

    Photo: Tammy Hinman, NCAT

Considerations

  • Expect small order size and frequent delivery.
  • Chefs value top quality produce.
  • It’s important to provide the buyer with a weekly availability list.
  • Chefs may require a consistent supply of particular items.

Tips

Be consistent. Chefs expect a product will be delivered if they put it on the menu.

  • Build a relationship with the entire staff. Chefs move frequently.
  • Chefs are on a tight schedule and generally require deliveries when they’re not busy, such as before 10 a.m. or between 2 and 5 p.m.
  • Introduce new products by dropping off free samples with your regular deliveries.
  • Fax or email a list of available products for the chef to order from.
  • Use the chefs as your best source of market information. They may know what the next big thing is before you do.
  • Know how the chef is using your product and be prepared to talk about other ways to use it.
  • In the autumn, ask the chefs what products they want you to grow next season.
  • Ask about each restaurant’s needs, including pack, size, variety, post-harvest preferences, new items, and how they would like to place orders (by fax, phone text message, or email).

Key Questions to Ask Yourself

How far in advance do the chefs need to see an accurate schedule of product availability in order to allow them to plan their menus?

  • What restaurants are the best fit for my product profile? Ethnic restaurants, specialty bakeries, high-end gourmet restaurants?
  • What production, handling, storage, and delivery methods will I use to ensure the freshest and highest quality products to high-end chefs? Highlight these in outreach to chefs.
  • How frequently and quickly am I able to deliver to restaurants? What are the chef’s expectations about this?
  • How do the restaurants want to communicate with me? Cell phone, email, text message, fax?

Resources for Selling to Restaurants

a chef checking out a farmer's box of produce in a semi trailer

Photo: Markristo Farm

Chefs Collaborative
Works with chefs and the greater food community, including farmers, to celebrate local foods and foster a more sustainable food supply.

Selling Directly to Restaurants and Grocery Stores
Washington State Department of Agriculture. 2010.

Tips for Selling to Restaurants
© 2012 National Center for Appropriate Technology—NCAT
By Marisa Alcorta, Rex Dufour and Tammy Hinman, NCAT
IP425

This publication is produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. This publication was also made possible in part by funding from USDA/NIFA/OASDFR. ATTRA.NCAT.ORG.