How to Start a Farm-to-Table Business: Your Guide to Success

January 10, 2023
One2 Guide

The farm-to-table restaurant movement has become more popular than ever. But what does the locally sourced and farm-to-table concept mean? How does your food business benefit from it? And how can you start farm-to-table restaurants? Here is all the information you need to know in this instance.

What is the farm-to-table term?

Image: ecoideaz

A farm-to-table restaurant (also called farm-to-fork) is an eatery that sources its foods (e.g., vegetables, proteins, and dairy products) locally, typically through direct relationships with local farmers, breweries, and other food producers that are within a predetermined radius around the restaurant, often 50 to 200 miles. 

1971 saw Chef Alice Waters start the 1st farm-to-table food establishment in California. Her eatery, Chez Panisse, had fresh, organic ingredients as part of its seasonal meals. The driving forces behind this movement are

- Food security

- Proximity

- Self-reliance

- Sustainability

A farm-to-table restaurant offers menus comprised of the freshest ingredients that are readily accessible from suppliers. This is what sets it apart from restaurants that depend on a few mainline suppliers.

How farm-to-table benefits restaurants

Image: Belcampo/Facebook

Image: Belcampo

- The food is healthier and more delicious.

- An immersive experience created to attract diners

- Over 65% of consumers are interested in purchasing locally-produced food.

- Farm to table is a good marketing tool.

- It can help spruce up your restaurant’s regular dishes, 

- With in-season produce, local farm prices are not always high compared to wholesale food distributors.

- Get more value for your money when considering the higher quality of the produce.

- Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA) provides tangible benefits for eateries such as buying discounts.

Famous restaurants that embraces the farm-to-table concept

Image: Odd Duck

- Odd Duck (Texas). Its meals are fully locally sourced.

- Malibu Farm (California). It sources seafood, meat, and produce from local farms, fisheries, and markets. 

- Blue Hill At Stone Barns (New York). It has a rotating chef who can cook unique menus of fresh ingredients in season.

- Farm to Table Catering by Filomena. The parents of the head chef Filomena were farmers who would prepare daily food from the vegetables. This business offers private dining room, online ordering, cafe menu, and catering that embrace the farm-to-fork concept.

How to start a farm-to-table restaurant

1. Name your restaurant

The name should reflect your restaurant's concept and service style. For instance, Dig Inn is good for a fast-casual farm-to-table establishment in the Northeast. Meanwhile, The Lost Kitchen suits a fine dining farm-to-fork site in rural Maine. Should you be struggling to name your eater, use a Restaurant Name Generator.

2. Choose a location

When finding a restaurant location, consider local farm accessibility. For example, in outlying parts of cities, this probably means being near the main highway.

Besides, think about demographics. Gen X and Millennial customers generally consider the origins of the food they buy important. That is why a neighborhood with more young professionals would be perfect for farm-to-table restaurants. 

Another tip is to look for a location that already offers a commercial kitchen. This should help reduce your construction costs.

3. Evaluate the farm-to-table restaurant competition

Deciding what other adjacent businesses will compete or complement with your eatery is part of starting a restaurant and choosing where it is based. For instance, a farmers market nearby may support your eateries with supplies and attract customers to your neighborhood. But should the market provide many prepared takeaway meals, it can be a competitor. An area packed with some restaurants in one block can be good for your new restaurant if that block has high traffic. 

4. Create your menu

Image: Blenheim Restaurant/Facebook

To resonate with guests willing to pay more for local foods, your farm-to-table dishes should feature most of the ingredients that are traceable to local sources. You are recommended to start with some research to decide what foods grow well in the eatery’s location. To this end, check local agriculture groups or do an Internet search for your location and “organic vegetables” or fruits in season.”

This list of seasonable vegetables and fruits from the Southland Farmers’ Market Association may be of help to local eateries.

After writing a menu featuring seasonal ingredients, you are suggested to consider the instant contactless menu system from One2 for simplified menu management and improved search ranking.

What our customers have to say.

5. Find local farmers for your farm-to-table restaurants

Image: Blenheim

Here are some best ways to find farms:

- Contact your state farm bureau

- Reach out to local growers/farmers in person at agricultural events or farmers' markets. 

- Contact non-farm local food vendors such as RSA groups and foragers. 

When speaking with the farmer, consider asking these questions:

- How are daily operations?

- What type of produce, dairy products, etc., do they provide?

- What are produce washing or cleaning methods used?

- Do they give bad harvest/weather warnings?

- Can they supply the type of products along with the volume you need?

- How would they have inventory delivered to your restaurant or where you can pick up inventory?

Besides, remember to have a Plan B. For example, consider another local farmer in case your current one is at the mercy of the weather and thus suffers decreased yields.

6. Hire and train your team

Ideally, the managers of your new farm-to-table restaurant are experienced with the concept. But owing to the menu flexibility and granular detail probably required by orders, their true passion can be valuable compared to experience.

Speaking of hourly staff who serve food, find passionate individuals about the farm-to-table philosophy. Employees in the kitchen are recommended to have experience working with local food.

Besides, to ensure that the farm-to-table story of your restaurant is translated to your diners, educating your staff on the food served at your eatery (i.e., breakfast, lunch meals, dinner, and Sunday brunch) should be a priority. Consider asking forages and farmers if they are willing to take your employees on a farm tour. 

7. Make projections for your farm-to-table restaurants

Before starting this type of restaurant, you should calculate its operational costs and figures sales projections. Essential figures include:

- Projected customer count

- Projected sales

- Projected labor cost

- Projected food cost

- Projected break-even point

8. Create a business plan

Compile the information you have been gathering thus far and put it in a business plan format. As a summary of your eatery's vision, this plan helps entice banks and investors to invest in your eatery.

Some main features of this plan include:

- Executive summary

- Business overview

- Your concept description

- Sample menus

- Location (including the lease information and street address)

- Market analysis

- Operational plan

- Financial analysis

9. Find funding

While starting with a personal investment, restaurateurs tend to add outside funds by: 

- Asking family and friends

- Securing a line of credit or small business loan

- Pitching their eatery to independent investors

10. Construct your restaurant layout

Image: Blenheim Restaurant/Facebook

When designing your floor plan, follow the building and health codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Also, ensure proper ventilation of the equipment you used for cooking and refrigeration. 

Usually, restaurants budget 40% of the square footage for the back of the house and 60% for the dining room.

11. Obtain permits & licenses

The state-issued business license aside, your new restaurant will need to get the basic licenses:

- Certificate of Occupancy

- Employer Identification Number (EIN)

- Seller’s Permit

- Resale Permit

- Sign Permit

Additional permits are associated with sanitation and health:

- Health Permit(s)

- Food Service Licenses

- Grease Trap Permit

- Dumpster Permit

Besides, some eateries will need licenses for additional restaurant functions such as:

- Cabaret License

- Liquor License

12. Capitalize on cost-effective solutions for farm-to-table restaurants

The cost of buying local food to be served on your restaurant plate paired with labor costs for processing whole ingredients may generate relatively tight margins for your eatery. You can offset some of the higher expenses by picking more reasonably priced equipment, fixtures, and furniture.

Here are some tips in this regard:

- Buy mixed boxes of serving pieces from antique stores, Etsy sellers, or restaurant supply stores. 

- Consider lighting fixtures and shelving units constructed from reclaimed wood and pipes. These can be inexpensively built.

- Rely on POS (point-of-sale) systems that are a good value for money like One2 to get started. It is essential to get this customizable restaurant management platform.

- Save money for delivery by renting a truck and picking up your purchases from a nearby distribution center. 

- Consider used equipment.

- Ask vendors for support. For instance, should you commit to featuring their products, beverage firms will highly likely supply a soda machine. 

13. Advertise & build community

Hosting a soft opening helps test your eatery’s systems.

To this end, we suggest:

- Hosting a soft opening before you open to the public.

- Patronize neighboring businesses and let them know about your restaurant opening.

- Market on social media effectively.

- Ask your employees, farmers, and nearby businesses to spread the word about your eatery.

- Create content featuring your farm-to-fork story on your website or even menus.

Related questions 

1. How to convert a traditional restaurant to a farm-to-table?

- Update your menu using the menu management system from One2.

- Find vendors.

- Update standard operating procedures (SOPs).

- Train your team.

- Host a soft opening.

2. How to grow my gardens?

Image: Rosemary’s/Facebook

- Incorporating gardens in the back of your restaurants, indoor spaces, or rooftops.

- Do some research on which gardening method works best for the available space at your establishment, for instance, hydroponic gardening.

- Should you plan to create an outdoor garden at your location, do not forget to consult with a local architect before construction. This way keeps you from any possible issues such as improperly installed drainage.

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