Selling At Restaurants
Working with chefs and selling at restaurants allowed me to double my production from one year to the next. The first year I started I worked with only a few restaurants, as it was difficult to keep up to their demands on a weekly basis. This is why I advise working only with one or two when you’re starting out, and smaller restaurants as well.
You need to be careful to not take on too much at the start, because you’re learning the basics of maintaining a steady weekly production system. If you overload yourself, you’ll be letting down customers; I always find that it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around.
The balance between what the market demands, and what you’re able to produce on a consistent basis is the equilibrium you want to strive for. What makes a great farmer for a chef is not being able to show up every now and then with some great-looking product, but being able to work with them every week, to bend and flex to their demands as they change.
Chefs who have some experience with farmers are great to work with because they like being limited by the season. That’s what keeps their work interesting for them, but you still want to be as consistent as you can.
From a production standpoint, the best thing about selling to restaurants is that you can produce a lot more of the same thing and sell it all in one shot. For example, let’s look at one crop. I can sell up to 200 pounds of radishes per week.
In my farmers markets, I wouldn’t be able to sell that much of one particular crop. I’m lucky to sell ten bunches at a farmers market. To sell those 200 pounds, it might just be a couple of deliveries to restaurants done in an hour or less. That’s $1,000 of product very quickly.
On my farm, restaurants account for the vast majority of our sales. From a purely economic standpoint, selling to restaurants is far less work and more profit when time is factored in, because of the amount of product you can move at once, and the fact that once you deliver it, you’re done and not standing at a farmers market all day.
You do need to be careful because working with restaurants also brings a lot of risk. The main challenge is that if you lose a customer for whatever reason, that can deal a pretty heavy blow to your weekly income.