Have you always wanted to start an organic restaurant? It could be because you value the concept of chemical-free greens and hormone-free animal products. Or, maybe you find importance in spreading wellness and good health. Or perhaps you happened to notice that people will pay through the nose for organic products and want a piece of that sweet, sweet pie. Whatever the reason, with social and political attention tuned to organic eating, now may be the time to make your dream a reality.
To keep a clear perspective before diving in, it’s important to acknowledge some hard facts. The restaurant industry is notorious for widespread failure and only about a quarter of restaurants survive their first year [Source].
However, the industry continues to grow and shift along with changes in social demands and economical trends. Organic foods are gaining in importance and popularity, and many restaurants are finding success in this niche.
Before getting started, weigh both the benefits and the risks.
Acknowledge The Desire For Healthy Food
Consumers are displaying a cumulative shift in awareness of how diet relates to health. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) recently performed a study indicating that 71 percent of adults reported making the effort to eat more healthfully in 2013 than they were in 2011 [Source]. Many consumers accept and appreciate the concept of organic foods, and this alone will be good for your business.
Still, the reality is that some consumers’ eating habits will not change. Consider your current demographic and if there is a realistic demand for organic food. It may take time. Many diners alter their dining preferences at some stage in their lives, but know that not all diners will embrace your concept right away, if ever.
Defining “Organic”: The USDA and FDA must both be involved when it comes to defining organic and securing an organic label on food products. Generally, food that is produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, sewage-based fertilizers, or petroleum-based fertilizers is organic. Livestock must be exposed to outdoor grazing and receive no growth hormones or antibiotics to be considered organic. [Source]
Maui Restaurant Focuses on Health: “We need to wake up about our health,” says Michelle Fournier, who runs the organic restaurant Bamboo Fresh, in Lahaina, Hawaii. She offers local products in her small café and keeps everything organic when possible. She sources all of her meat from island ranchers and her smoothies are blended from local fruits and vegetables. The benefit? The food maintains its inherent nutrients, enzymes, fibers and proteins that are necessary for nutrition, without depleting earthly resources or exposing people to unnecessary toxins.
Michelle also uses eco-friendly products like biodegradable straws, which are made from plant fiber. “They’re flimsy,” she admits, but she’d rather maintain her philosophy than use plastic, which takes years to decompose.
Avoid Being Pretentious
There are certainly niches and neighborhoods for menus with nothing but soymilk, seitan and seaweed. But food that doesn’t taste, look or sound “normal” can be the source of elitist stigmatization. When crafting your organic menu, try offering familiar menu options, like classic hamburgers (made with hormone-free beef) or homemade vegetarian chili (made with organic beans, peppers, tomatoes and onions). Put the details in the menu descriptions.
It’s important to work at making your business, your brand image, your menu and yourself acceptable to others in a way that makes them value what you offer to the dining community. Market your healthy menu so as not to intimidate or shun the status quo.
Be Prepared For High Food Cost
There are strict, often regulated procedures involved in organic farming, and production costs can range 10 to 30% more than non-organic competitors [Source]. On top of that, produce yields are usually slightly smaller and perhaps less predictable than produce farmed with pesticides. Nation-wide certification can add to the cost, although the USDA is working to ameliorate the process [Source]. Still, there is almost a high cost to the restaurant owner when compared to non-organic options.
Operators should be aware of these high prices as well as volatile markets; organic foods may be more sensitive to changes in weather, pests, and market fluctuation. The cost often makes its way to the customer, but strive to keep prices reasonable in your restaurant so as not to make the items on your menu unaffordable.
Find A Good Food Source
All restaurants recognize the importance of a steady food supplier. Organic food suppliers may vary, but good relationships are essential and can sometimes help reduce volatile pricing. Many operators may choose to source food locally, from a certified-organic farm or even a neighborhood gardener, depending on the size of your kitchen and menu needs. Depending on your location, your supplier-to-operator partnership must last all year long. It may be that you need to work with multiple suppliers and change your menus seasonally.
When opening any new restaurant, acknowledge that there will be difficulties. Not everyone will love your concept, and high food cost is just a part of it. Organic restaurants are especially vulnerable to high costs, but they are also becoming more and more appealing to modern diners.