The upcoming fall harvest can provide additional revenue streams
Under normal circumstances, this would be the time of year to start rolling out a slew of specials, using the freshest ingredients being harvested in your region and taking advantage of the bright flavors, seasonally low cost, and local nostalgia of the produce.
As it stands, the state of the industry could lead to hesitation in using produce with such a short availability window. But that could be a missed opportunity.
Shifts in consumer shopping patterns have left many growers and farmer’s markets in a bind and unable to move all their produce. Fortunately, there are ways to help both your local producer and drive business to your own door — from partnerships and meal kits to unique market items that can help bolster your online to-go and delivery orders.
People might not be going to the farmer’s markets as much this year, so why not bring it to them. Many restaurants have converted sidewalks and parking lots into outdoor dining spaces, creating areas that are often quite flexible and might not be used fully or every single day. Partnering with various producers, from vegetable to meats to dairy, to either set up a stall on days you're closed or during off hours can help you more fully utilize all this extra space.
Another option would be to pick from the best of the best — suppliers that appeal to your diner demographic — and create a weekly “provision box.” Fill it up with veggies, local eggs and dairy, perhaps some meats and cheese, or even some house made sausage — don’t forget to offer a vegetarian option. This is similar to the CSA concept except that it’s curated by you and then added to your online ordering system to schedule pickup times.
Chances are you’ve got plenty of unused kitchen capacity right now and possibly employees in need of more hours or ready to return. Make use of that space and staff to process the explosion of tomatoes available right now — procured even cheaper if you’re not fussy about appearances.
This means sauces for pasta or pizza, simmer sauces for meats, maybe even tomato jams or ketchups for burgers and sandwiches — anything your diners might use to enjoy your restaurant’s unique taste and style at home. Added to your online ordering system, they make the perfect jumping off point for add-ons like house made pasta or pizza dough, custom cut meats and seafood, plus any other ingredient they might need to round out the meal.
Don’t forget about salsas either. The freshest ingredients can really pop, and a salsa is a great way to create to-go snack kits with homemade chips or all the fixings for some guacamole.
Regardless, sauces are easy to freeze or pressure can — be sure to check local code for what you can and can’t do, allowing you to bulk buy as much as you can process to use long past the harvest season.
Who doesn’t love a soup? And what fresh vegetable can’t be made into one? That flexibility can be utilized easily as the season progresses to take advantage of the freshest and most abundant produce. Package them up in pints and quarts, to be sold fresh or frozen, then partner with a local bakery or churn out your own crusty bread to add on. Perhaps pair with a tasty local cheese or some house-cured charcuterie to round out the flavor profile.
Creating wine pairings for your soups can help build excitement about the offering — especially now with many localities allowing wine to be sold to-go in glass-sized increments.
Most of the year fruit can be expensive and of low quality. But not so right now. Jams, spreads, and sauces can be the perfect selling point for late night snack packs or a weekend brunch kit. Add items like eggs and croissants along with bacon or smoked fish for the brunch box while the snack box might have ice cream or house made marshmallows. Distill fruit down to syrups and you have ingredients for cocktails or an add-on for a mimosa kit.
For something a little more elegant, try canning whole fruits. Possibly pears poached in port or figs with walnuts and citrus, and don’t forget to stock some beautifully pungent bleu cheese to complement these tasty tidbits.
This is healthy and super trendy while being relatively easy to produce. Don’t limit yourself to the basics like pickles or relishes, although they can be big hits, consider using local peppers to make your own hot sauce or fermented chili paste for your diners to use on everything from sandwiches to eggs and rice dishes. Other possibilities for pickling include cauliflower, beans, and even cabbage for kimchi or sauerkraut.
Fermentation can also be used behind the bar in the production of shrubs — a type of drinking vinegar used to flavor cocktails. All manner of fresh fruit or herbs can be used to make these and they’re popular, not just in alcoholic beverages but also in adult beverages for people abstaining.
As you process all this amazing bounty, don’t forget to save the scraps. Vegetable bits can be utilized to make stock, while left over fruit is perfect for vinegars. Either can be repurposed for your own creations or bottled and added to your online market. There is a lot of uncertainty right now. Controlling costs and getting creative about new cash flow streams are going to be key moving forward. Taking advantage of the current bounty, with low costs and high quality, and converting all that into dishes today and gorgeously preserved items for tomorrow might just give you that edge.