Industry experts look at sustainability and sourcing more than a year since COVID-19’s onset.
The Chicago Tribune recently posted its new 2020 Readers’ Choice Takeout Awards, inviting readers to vote on their favorite takeout from local restaurants. The winner of the Best Meal Kit, Daisies, had an interesting back story. When Chicago’s Logan Square farmers’ market was canceled, Daisies offered its space to vendors, many of them the same vendors the restaurant bought from every day. That meant, according to the Trib, that guests had access to all the same ingredients used in Daisies’ kitchen. The logical next step was for the restaurant to assemble the ingredients into meal kits. Very good meal kits, considering the win.
When we look at the restaurant industry, it’s typically through a pre- and present day ‘pandemic lens’, especially when it comes to sustainability and local sourcing.
Before COVID-19 changed everything, including how we do business, many consumers dined out to eat great food in an engaging environment, and the story behind the dishes enriched the experience. Guests interested in sustainability and sourcing wanted to know how the ingredients in their orders were grown or raised, and even how far they traveled before being served.
How things have changed Eating farm-to-fork foods was and still is popular, especially among millennial and Gen Z guests, but things are a bit different today in the way those items are made available. Because of the pandemic, restaurateurs have had to re-engineer menus to accommodate fewer on-premises customers and fill more off-premises needs, reduce food costs, and adjust to smaller crews.
Still, there are customers who want locally sourced products, and the demand is continuing to grow. And restaurants want to offer them—where and when possible—to the guests that crave them. A new survey from digital food purchasing network Buyer’s Edge Platform supports this theory. It found that 41% of consumers said they ordered more food from independent restaurants since the pandemic began, and 35% claimed finding restaurants that offer locally sourced foods is very important to them. Among the 500 respondents, supporting their local, independent restaurants remains essential.
Explaining the popularity of ‘local’“Everyone has a hot button in terms of what they care about,” says Larry Reinstein, president and CEO of LJR Hospitality Ventures. “Consumers generally want to spend their money locally. It gives them a good psychological feeling. They’re helping take care of the local community; that’s No. 1. They also want to know where products are coming from; that’s No. 2. “There’s an association that goes with buying a craft beer and knowing it came from a small local brewer as opposed to some large facility far away. Or it’s something as simple as eating a dessert made from apples that came from the local orchard. Customers relate to the fact that it’s a local business, and, quite honestly, that it’s better for the environment. The product didn’t travel thousands of miles, and a lot of people are interested in creating a smaller carbon footprint.”
Reasons for supportDan Simons, co-owner of Farmers Restaurant Group, which owns and operates the Washington, D.C.-based Founding Farmers restaurants, also thinks the number of diners interested in local sourcing is on the rise—for several reasons.
“Some folks worry about the safety and quality of internationally sourced foods, while others are inclined to buy American to support America,” he says, “and some care about the environment, so there are diverse motivations. When I speak [virtually] on panels, I find there’s a lot of engagement from diners who want to support a more resilient supply chain, and ask how their purchasing decisions could support local jobs.” Neil Russell, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs and Chief Communications Officer for broadline foodservice distributor Sysco says the company expects the trend toward local sourcing will continue, benefitting restaurateurs and their guests.
“Sourcing local products has many advantages, including providing artisan products that result in menu innovation,” he says. “As more people want to know where their food comes from, we’ll continue to evolve our local sourcing programs.” He notes Sysco seeks to reduce environmental impact by partnering with more local producers and suppliers across the country to decrease the number of miles chefs and restaurateurs have to travel to purchase local goods at various farmers’ markets and other businesses.
Supply vs. demand Reinstein says in many cases consumers are willing to pay more for products they can identify as local, that have a smaller carbon footprint, or that support community businesses. It’s also been effective in helping operators deal with pandemic-related shortages, when demand’s been high, but supply short.
“Besides labor, the biggest problem facing the industry is getting product,” he says. “Try going to a restaurant and getting ketchup or pickles. Those and other products are hard to find. Manufacturing plants can’t keep up, neither can the truckers, and international supplies are tough. If you purchase locally, you could actually wind up with a more consistent food supply. The problem is when you’re in places like the Northeast and can’t get local produce year-round. But restaurateurs and their customers prefer to purchase local products, like honey, jams, breads, and produce, when they can get it.”
4 tips on local sourcing Simons, whose company is known for local sourcing and sustainability, says despite the pandemic, he’s doubling down on sustainability. He also offers these four tips on how best to source locally:
The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) is pleased to announce its 2021 class of LRAEF Scholars. Since 2009, the LRAEF has provided financial support for qualified individuals interested in furthering their education in culinary, hospitality or related industries. Since its inception, the LRAEF Scholarship Fund has awarded over $640,000 to more than 180 individuals. This year, in its continuing partnership with Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and resulting from its generous financial contribution, we present the first class of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers LRAEF Scholars and a total value of $45,000 in scholarships to 19 students.
“Congratulations to all of the Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers LRAEF Scholars,” said Alan Guilbeau, 2021 LRAEF Chair. “It’s exciting to witness these individuals choosing the restaurant and hospitality industry, especially given the challenges of the past year. They are vital to future of Louisiana restaurants, and I wish them much success.”
Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers has served as the title sponsor of the Louisiana ProStart Invitational for the last three years. As the 2021 Invitational was canceled due to COVID restrictions, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers chose to enhance their philanthropic impact by directing these dollars to the LRAEF Scholars Program.
The LRAEF’s most prestigious award, the Jim Funk Scholarship, provided this year through a gift from New Orleans Fairgrounds, is named for the former LRA President and CEO who guided the creation of the LRAEF during his 30 years with the organization. This year’s Jim Funk Scholar is Jamie Warrick, a non-traditional college student who began her studies later in life and is a full-time working mother interested in food production and manufacturing. A graduate of Warren Easton Sr. High School, Warrick is currently a junior at the University of Holy Cross College where she is studying food service and is projected to graduate May 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Food Science. Warrick is also the sous chef at Manning's and was a 2020 LRAEF Scholar.
The 2021 Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers LRAEF Scholars are being presented to 17 students who intend to pursue a career in the restaurant, foodservice, tourism or hospitality industry. This year’s LRAEF Scholars are:
The Louisiana Seafood Scholarship was established through a generous long-term gift from the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. This is awarded to qualified applicants who illustrate interest in cultivating, protecting and promoting Louisiana Seafood. This year’s Louisiana Seafood Scholar is:
“During the last year our LRAEF Scholars have demonstrated their tenacity and resilience, adjusting to virtual learning, for example,” explained Stan Harris, President and CEO, Louisiana Restaurant Association. “Their continued commitment to furthering their education and to consider a career in the restaurant and hospitality industry is fantastic. The LRAEF being able to provide financial support at this time in their development is especially meaningful.”
Spring is here, which means a lot for our industry.
While 2020 may have been one of the most challenging for restaurants, new and established alike, it appears the industry is blossoming along with spring’s flowers. Foot traffic in restaurants has increased, as if the April showers, along with vaccinations, have rejuvenated our patrons. Guests are lining up at our doors to experience our amazing and unique cuisine. Restaurants are expanding their teams, reemploying the workforce and engineering innovative menus. It’s a breath of fresh air to speak with owners and operators reporting this positive news.
Spring is a time of innovation, growth and new beginnings, so let’s be sure to take advantage. Now is a great time to show appreciation for our guests who braved the storms last year by ordering to-go meals, purchasing gift cards and visiting our establishments during strict mitigation phases. Let’s continue to welcome them. Appreciation and gratitude are two ingredients that keep this industry alive. Tell your guests “Thank you for choosing my restaurant. Your support has helped me stay open.” Little gestures go a long way in this industry.
We cannot forget those restaurants that had no option but to close their doors. For those properties, I commend you for making an extraordinarily difficult business decision. Please know that your restaurant contributed to the greatest culinary scene in the nation. Whether a hotdog stand in the French Quarter or James Beard nominated restaurant, your contribution is much appreciated and will be remembered.
I’ve said it before and believe it now more than ever - the restaurant industry is perhaps the most resilient in the world.
Cenla Chapter President
Diamond Bar & Grill
With necessity the mother of invention, eateries find creative ways to celebrate May 9.
Mother’s Day is traditionally the most popular holiday for dining out, with more than one-third of adults typically going out to a restaurant for a special meal, according to National Restaurant Association research.
While this year is far from typical, many families still want to celebrate Mom—either by dining out or ordering in restaurant meals.
Looking for ways to capture a slice of that business this Mother’s Day, May 9? Try these 10 ways to make mom feel special.
Public Affairs conference focuses on how bipartisanship in the House and Senate could help business.
A record number of attendees participated in the National Restaurant Association’s 35th annual Public Affairs Conference, held April 20. Usually held live in Washington, D.C., the conference, including visits to Capitol Hill to conduct Congressional meetings, took place virtually this year because of coronavirus. This year’s PAC theme, “Restaurants Act,” summed up the industry’s entrepreneurial spirit and unwavering commitment to employees and guests during the most challenging year the nation has ever experienced.
Association president and CEO Tom Bené delivered opening remarks, followed by keynotes from Josh Earnest, the 29th White House Press Secretary under President Obama, and FOX News co-anchor Dana Perino. Lance Trenary, president and CEO of Golden Corral Corp., served as conference chair.
Presenters Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. VA), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) stressed the importance of bipartisanship in three separate sessions with the same theme: “Seeking Unity: Conversations on How We Can Come Together.” Almost overnight last March, the pandemic forced owners and operators to adjust their business models, reduce capacity or close dining rooms, and adhere to changing local, state, and federal guidelines.
“We are focused on sharing our story with Members of Congress as we continue to advocate on behalf of every restaurant,” Bené said in his opening remarks. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have worked with policy makers to identify and implement solutions that work for every type of restaurant, from our beloved local diners to our favorite national chains, and everything in between.
“We’ve engaged with policy makers at every level of government, from local city council members and mayors to the Capitol, to get restaurants the help they need to reopen, recover, and resume fully serving their communities.”
This year’s agenda focused on three specific areas:
The Small Business Administration is administering the program. For the first 21 days, applications are being prioritized for women-owned, minority, and socially- and economically- disadvantaged businesses.
This year’s conference builds on some of the big wins the Association has secured on behalf of the industry:
Public Affairs conference focuses on how bipartisanship in the House and Senate could help business.
Last week we were plagued by a deluge across Southeast Louisiana. If the old adage is true and April showers bring May flowers, can we assume that the last year and easing of COVID-19 restrictions will return patrons to our restaurants? It may be a stretch, but I’m certainly hopeful.
It’s clear the demand for restaurants is returning, as are visitors to the city. In the past, the summer marked the end of the peak season; however, it seems that pent up demand may have visitors braving the inevitable warmer temps.
The GNO Chapter will host its annual Restaurant Week New Orleans, June 21 through 27, and I encourage you to take advantage of this free promotion available to LRA members. We have again partnered with New Orleans & Company, and this year’s sponsors include Tabasco, Louisiana Seafood and the Louisiana Office of Tourism.
I personally launched three new concepts during the last year – the Bower, Birdy’s Behind the Bower, and reopening of Tujague’s. We are doing the best we can with continued capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements. Further stressing the situation, we are all struggling to find employees to staff our restaurants.
Before I conclude, please encourage those around you to get vaccinated. Now widely available, it is the quickest way to a brighter (and more normal) future.
2021 GNO Chapter President
Latter Hospitality Group
Tujague’s, The Bower, Claret & Birdy’s Behind the Bower
The Small Business Association just released a sample application for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) and a program guide.
The SBA has not announced when they will begin accepting applications – today’s release is a sample application and guide so that restaurants can review and prepare.
We have reviewed early drafts of the application and discussed them with the SBA. The FAQ document
we shared earlier this week via The Snapshot reflects this.
The link to the SBA RRF page is here. The National Restaurant Association is organizing regional and national briefings with state partners and you’ll hear from us soon with additional details.
Warmer weather and additional stimulus payments bolstered consumer spending in restaurants. Restaurant sales registered a robust increase in March, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Eating and drinking places totaled $62.2 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in March – up 13.4% from February’s sales volume of $54.8 billion.
March represented the second healthy increase in the last three months, with total monthly sales rising more than $11 billion above the recent low registered in December 2020.
It wasn’t just restaurants that saw stronger sales in March, as consumers evidently spread the latest round of stimulus checks around their communities. Spending at sporting goods stores (+23.5%), clothing stores (+18.3%), vehicle dealers (15.1%), department stores (+13.0%) and building supply stores (+12.1%) also rose sharply between February and March.
While the trendline is pointing in the right direction, the restaurant industry’s road to recovery remains long, as the boost from the stimulus checks will wane in the coming months. Eating and drinking place sales in March remained more than $3 billion – or 5% – below their pre-pandemic level in February 2020.
In total during the first 13 months of the pandemic crisis in the U.S., total restaurant and foodservice sales were down $280 billion from expected levels, according to Association estimates. This includes the sales shortfall at eating and drinking places, plus a sharp reduction in spending at foodservice operations in sectors such as lodging, arts/entertainment/recreation, education, healthcare and retail.
A catalyst for improving restaurant sales in recent weeks was the growing number of patios that are reopening for customers. Sixty-one percent of fullservice operators say they currently offer on-premises outdoor dining in a space such as a patio, deck or sidewalk, according to a new Association survey. That’s up from just 42% in February, but still below the 74% who reported similarly in September 2020. Fifty-three percent of limited-service operators report offering on-premises outdoor dining, up from 37% in February.
Warmer temperatures will likely add to the number of al fresco dining options available to consumers in the weeks ahead, particularly in jurisdictions that allow for expanded outdoor seating. Consumers are certainly receptive to these options, with more than 8 in 10 adults saying they favor allowing restaurants to continue setting up tables on sidewalks, parking lots or streets on a permanent basis.