Category Archives: Trends

Online Restaurant Reservations | Booking Online Reservations | Central Restaurant Products

As millennials buying power continues to grow, many businesses are adapting to accommodate their preferences.  This is a generation in search of convenience, opting to do what they can with a click of a button on their phone without having to speak to anyone. This includes quickly making restaurant reservations, whether last-minute or planning a special occasion.

For many small businesses, building a website advanced enough to allow for online reservations can be a daunting and costly endeavor.   Some restaurants may have the ability to manage their own reservations; but, they may also be in search of new ways to market to a broader group of diners, or just trying to get their name out there more.

We wanted to break down a few of the bigger players in this space to give a high-level overview of what they offer.  One option isn’t better than the other. It all depends on your personalized business needs.

Open Table

According to OpenTable’s site they offer restaurant marketing, data analytics, training, support and more for restaurants who sign up.  Some compelling stats of the reach they can offer your business include:

  • 21 million diners find restaurants through OpenTable each month
  • Their diners have spent more than $16 billion at partner restaurants
  • OpenTable diners write more than 850,000 reviews each month

Their app is user friendly, allowing a potential diner to search by location, time and day and then expand differently.  You can also select a restaurant based on recommended options, cuisine type, and more.

Open Table

Open Table’s Mobile User Interface

Outside of the breadth of restaurants on OpenTable, potential diners may choose to use this reservation option over others because of the perks of booking through their site or app.  Each reservation offers points that a diner can cash in for gift cards to OpenTable restaurants or Amazon.  This could potentially sway guests away from making the reservation directly on the restaurant’s website, opting to use OpenTable instead.

Open Table Rewards

Open Table Rewards

OpenTable offers two different package options: GuestCenter or Connect.  Connect is their standard offering that features “more covers without the table management.” GuestCenter, on the other hand, is a cloud based service that runs on both Apple and web-based products, marketed as their premium level of service.

This chart from their website makes it easy to compare the pros between the two:

Open Table: GuestCenter vs. Connect

Courtesy of www.opentable.com

Additionally, there is a $1,295 set-up cost when you start with them.  OpenTable allows you to accept reservations through their website or through your own website via a widget.

You can find more information on all OpenTable can offer here.

Yelp

Yelp bills themselves as a better restaurant booking system at a lower cost.  The stats they offer are:

  • 92 million diners seated in 2016
  • Number one most frequently used site for finding restaurants
  • Save, on average, $800 for every 1,000 online reservation

Yelp officially got in to the online reservation game in 2014, having already acquired SeatMe in 2013, leveraging the 95 million plus who use Yelp monthly. They went on to acquire Eat 24 in 2015, and partnered with NoWait, a company that helps diners skip the waiting time, in 2017.

They offer a single standard plan cheaper than the OpenTable options. There is a flat monthly fee for service and that’s it. No set-up fee, no individual reservation fee, no hidden fee.

Yelp Reservations

While the pricing is more affordable, the ability to search based on open tables on a specific date and time is not yet available. 

To use, a potential diner searches by area and selects the restaurant to view availability.  This can be a drawback to someone looking to make quick reservations.

Yelp also displays restaurant reviews front and center. This is a nice experience for potential diners to see, but if a restaurant has less than stellar reviews through the Yelp service, it may not be the best option for them.  It also shows the most recent review below the star rating.  If a restaurant has several great reviews, but your most recent one is negative, it will unfortunately be the review potential guests see until a new review comes in.

Like OpenTable, you can accept reservations through Yelp or through your own site with their widget. You can find more information on what Yelp could offer your restaurant by clicking here.

Resy

Resy is a complete restaurant reservation and waitlist system, boasting:

  • 80 million diners seated
  • 8% global no show rate
  • 2,000 venues live
  • 160 global cities

Like Yelp, the cost structure on Resy is based on a flat fee; however, they offer more plan options ranging from $189/month to $899/month.Resy

The search functionality allows users to search by date and guest count, and will show open time slots right on the search result page.

The downside of using this option is the reach.  Since the service is only available in select cities, you are not reaching as many potential diners.  It also curates the results, so your restaurant may not show in all searches.  This is done with the potential diner in mind based on what they search and book; however, this can present a challenge in acquiring new customers.

You can find more information on what Resy could offer your restaurant by clicking here.

Restaurant Sustainability: Best Practices

Today’s restaurant goers care more than ever about where their food comes from, responsible business practices and social responsibility.  In short, they care about restaurant sustainability and they speak with their wallets.  Sustainable practices are not only good for the environment, they can also save you money.  With this in mind, we took some time to scour the web for the easiest ways to improve restaurant sustainability and have aggregated the best ones for you!

Restaurant Sustainability: Best Practices

  1. Source Local: According to lightspeedhq.com, “purchasing food from a local vendor or farmers’ market means that the trip to your restaurant is shorter and less gas has been used on the journey”.  In addition, this supports local farmers and suppliers, and customers view this in a positive light.
  2. Cook What’s in Season: Openforbusiness.opentable.com suggests changing your menu four times a year (once for each season) and rotating new dishes in every six weeks or so to accommodate ingredients with short growing seasons.  In addition, if you can grow it yourself, do it!
  3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: This is a very simple way to not only cut costs, but to improve your restaurant sustainability.  According to buzztime, you can: buy kitchen and bar mats made from 100% recycled materials; recycle wood boxes, cardboard and glass bottles; and opt for beverage and takeout containers made from recycled paper or compostable materials.
  4. Recycle Fryer Oil: You may not even have to go anywhere to do this.  According to starchefs.com “there are biofuel companies across the country that will pick it up and convert it”.  The win is two-fold here.  You recycle your old oil, and you provide a cleaner source of fuel.
  5. Don’t Waste Ice: It takes energy and water to make ice, so don’t just automatically refill ice bins.  Starchefs.com suggests waiting until the bins get truly low, and only adding as much as needed to get through.

These tips are among the easiest to implement and can begin having a positive impact on your sales and reputation in the community.  Little steps add up and make a big difference over time, so keep it up!

 

Restaurant Technology: What’s Coming?

Technology is evolving faster and faster each year.  If you are not keeping up with the latest, your restaurant could suffer.  Read on to discover the restaurant technology that is trending in 2017 and the potential benefits of getting on board!

Restaurant Technology: What are the Potential Benefits?

Digital Menu Boards

According to restaurantbusinessonline.com, digital menu boards are finding their way into more and more restaurants.  There are many good reasons to use these new digital boards, including:

  1. Digital menu boards are appealing to the eye.  Restaurants can use high resolution images of their offerings, and entice customers to buy.
  2. Provides the ability to update all the menu boards simultaneously with changes going live immediately.
  3. Offers more flexibility to showcase regular or limited time/seasonal offerings.

Kiosks

Also from restaurantbusinessonline.com, ordering kiosks are becoming more and more popular in fast and fast-casual restaurants.  This trend does not show any signs of slowing as customers recognize the benefits as well.  Among the top benefits are:

  1. Reduction in labor costs.  No need to have a staff member take orders or run a cash register.
  2. Offer customers a better ordering experience.  Guests are able to customize their orders and there is less risk of miscommunication.  Order accuracy can be improved.
  3. Higher check averages due to ability to customize and upselling opportunities.
  4. “Frequency lift”- people come more often because the experience has been made easier

Online and Mobile Ordering

Online and mobile ordering is gaining traction according to an article by toasttab.com.  Today’s customers seek convenience wherever they can find it, and many are finding it here.  See why below:

  1. Customers can see all of the menu options at once
  2. Bill is immediately updated as items are added and removed
  3. Free up staff members to take care of more crucial tasks
  4. Provides the ability to for customers to place their order from anywhere at any time.
  5. Better channel for upselling than the phone.  Photos of food items are more enticing.

Mobile Apps and Payment

Along with online and mobile ordering, mobile apps and payment are becoming more popular as people try to save time, according to toasttab.com.  The top benefits are listed below:

  1.  Mobile apps tend to be more user-intuitive than online ordering pages
  2.  App-based loyalty programs are more engaging and do not get lost like the old stamp cards of the past
  3. Good channel to notify customers about new deals, coupons, menu items, events, and etc..
  4. Allows for a convenient way for customers to place and cancel reservations.  Does not take up staff time
  5. Mobile payment is faster than paying in cash and way faster than the chip cards
  6. Mobile card readers on the tables speed up payment process and free up tables

Now that you know the latest restaurant technology and benefits, its time to get on board! But, before you jump headlong into any of these new technologies, consider the following from restobiz.com: “Since new features and technology are evolving so quickly, restaurant owners should choose technology that is regularly updated at no additional charge and that can be integrated with other programs such as accounting or scheduling”  You don’t want your technology choices to paint you into a corner!

January 2017 Latest Launches

Here at Central, we are dedicated to bringing you the best new products on the market. We know how fast paced your world is, and when you need the latest and greatest, you need it now.

Check out some of the great new products from great vendors!

Cal-Mil

Added everything you need for your dining room and food prep equipment! Top trending styles including farmhouse and industrial. Top quality with great prices!

Flash Furniture Update

Added top trending furniture! Update your dining room without breaking the bank!

ChefMaster

Added fire pits, patio heaters, menu boards and more!

 

Don’t see what you’re looking for? Let us help! Give us a call at 800.215.9293 for a helpful product consultant to walk you through the buying process!

Customer Rewards Cards

Customer Loyalty Considerations: Pros and Cons of Reward Programs

Any more, it seems nearly all types of businesses offer a customer rewards program. Often, the theory behind implementing a rewards program is to retain current customers, turn new customers into returning customers, and reward loyalty. Here, we outline the pros and cons of starting such a program, and offer some considerations for businesses thinking of implementing their own.

Types of Rewards Programs

There are three popular types of rewards program you’re most likely to come across in today’s market.

  1. The Frequency Program

The classic punch card style. The “buy nine, get the tenth free!” reward system created to inspire regular visits. The pros? It’s simple, low cost, and easy to set up and hit the ground running.

Cons? It’s one more card for customers to carry and remember they have. I don’t know about you, but my wallet is overflowing with these types of cards that I never seem to think about until AFTER I’ve made nine purchases and could get the tenth free, consistently forgetting to have my card punched. I know, negligence on my part, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

The information you collect with this type of program is minimal. This creates hurdles in the way of future marketing efforts. One of the biggest benefits of loyalty programs is the ability to collect information to tailor promotional branding for your establishment.

  1. The Points Program

Spend more, earn more points, redeem for rewards! We all want that free flight or trip to Hawaii. And like the punch card style, it’s simple, easy to understand, and depending on the reward, can provide an awesome incentive to visit your business frequently. It’s easily customizable to reward customers with bigger prizes for making bigger purchases.

Cons? No instant gratification. Users must wait longer to collect prizes, and maintaining this program takes more effort and organization (keeping track of customers’ points and reminding them of where they stand and how far away they are for prizes).

  1. The Cash Back Program

Also known as the rebate program. Customers can earn money back depending on their purchasing behavior to spend on future purchases exclusively at your business. This has worked wonders in retail (think Kohls Cash), and certainly has a place in foodservice. Who doesn’t love free money, and earning money for purchases can make customers feel good about spending their dollars at your place. Requiring they return to spend their reward is a wildly effective way to turn new customers into regulars.

Cons? Like the points program, rewards take a while to build. This isn’t always a negative, though, as it incentivizes visitors to spend to earn. However, if customers visit infrequently, this type of program may have less appeal.

Bottom-Line Benefits

Loyalty programs have been shown to generate brand awareness and create profitability. It is six times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep one. Rewards programs have been shown to help with customer retention with a steady return on investment. If you are considering starting a rewards program, we recommend checking out this beginner’s guide to customer loyalty.

Customer Spotlight: Mallow Run Winery

A good bottle of wine is often a staple of the dining experience. Wine has the power to bring together new friends and strengthen bonds between lifelong ones. Whether you prefer those on the sweeter side of the scale, or your palette grants you the opportunity to enjoy the subtle complexities of a bold Cabernet, conversation is inevitable.

It seems, much to our delight, more and more locally owned and operated wineries are springing up across the country with the goal of bringing consumers together to share in memorable experiences. Wine production is such a rich field that it always offers something new to learn, both for expert connoisseurs and novices alike.

When it comes to growing grapes to turn into wine, the climate holds major influence. It’s a sensitive procedure, tending to grapes, with many factors to watch out for. For instance, too much rain or humidity, too little exposure to sunlight, or off-balance soil pH levels can drastically alter the grape, and thus the flavor of the end product. It’s no surprise, then, that certain areas with favorable climates have come to stand apart as “Wine Capitals,” producing and distributing some of the best wines in the world. Northern California is one such hotspot that’s home to popular wine destinations like Napa Valley and Sonoma County. With its sunny afternoons and cool nights, the hospitable environment is a perfect home for vineyards.Vineyard

If the climate plays such an important role, then it can come as some surprise that Indiana has seen a rise in wineries over recent years, and has been able to hold its own in terms of quality of product. With a climate that experiences both extreme heat and cold, as well as a myriad of other harsh weather-related elements, it doesn’t necessarily paint a picturesque outlook for vineyards. Still, though, as if in direct defiance of Mother Nature herself, many of the wines produced from Indiana wineries have gone on to win national awards and critical praise.

One such Indiana winery is Mallow Run, located twenty minutes south of downtown Indianapolis. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sarah Shadday, the Marketing and Wholesale Coordinator for the winery, to learn more about the business, as well as the challenges and possibilities of operating an Indiana winery.

Q & A

Central Restaurant Products: What inspired the idea for Mallow Run?

Sarah: The winery originally started as a vineyard; a project by owner John Richardson and his son Bill, after they moved back to the family farm in the early 2000s. What started as a vineyard to grow grapes and supply other wineries turned into its own winemaking facility and has since evolved into a vineyard, winery, concert/event venue, and much more!

The name of the winery comes from John’s Great (x5) Grandfather, George Mallow, who originally settled the farm. The farm is still owned by the family today and in addition to the winery, still produces corn, soybean, alfalfa and cattle.

CRP: What types of wine do you produce?

Sarah: We produce a wide variety of wines, from dry reds and whites like Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon, to semi-sweet wines like Traminette (Indiana’s signature grape) and sweet wines made from grapes like Concord. We also do fruit wines like Blackberry and our famous Rhubarb! We also started making hard cider last year. That has been a fun project!

CRP: Do you still grow your own grapes, or do you import them from other regions? Grapes

Sarah: Both. While we do have twelve acres of vineyard (four of which were planted this past Spring), there are certain varieties that will just not grow in Indiana’s climate. When we want to add a wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Grigio to our list, we are importing that juice from growers on the West Coast and producing the wine here.

CRP: Can you explain how much Indiana’s weather contributes to the taste and quality of each batch?

Sarah: Indiana is a HARD place to grow grapes, especially in Central and Northern Indiana. The summers can be hot and dry; the winters can be devastatingly cold. That incredible range of temperature and precipitation can really stress the vines and in some cases, kill them. However, when the weather is good, it can really produce some flavorful grapes!

The biggest difference between our grapes (which are primarily hybrid grapes) and West Coast grapes (which are primarily vinifera grapes) is that ours tend to be white or red with lower tannin structure. They’re not going to be as big and bold as the Cabs and Zins in California. But Indiana grapes do have some really fun fruity, earthy, and floral characteristics that do come through.

CRP: What would you say sets your wine apart?

Sarah: I think our wines are special because they really mean something to people. Our best seller, Rhubarb Wine, is sweet and fun, and rhubarb is a super nostalgic plant for a lot of people. They remember Grandma’s rhubarb pie.

We go for fun flavors and try to keep it interesting by doing new things. Earlier this year, we were the first Indiana winery to ever CAN wine!

CRP: Can you give us a brief overview of the wine-making process?Tank

Sarah: This could fill a book, so I’ll keep it simple. We spend a lot of time in the vineyard making sure to prune in the winter and allow sunlight to produce healthy grapes in the summer. We then watch them carefully when we’re close to harvest and let them tell us when they’re ready. We usually only have one or two days’ notice! After picking, the grapes are crushed and pressed and the juice is fermented.

Depending on what we want to do with that particular grape (blend or create a single varietal) it may stick around. It can be blended, introduced to oak; there are so many variations and choices. Once a wine has been filtered and stabilized (for wines that will be chilled), a team of five people still bottle every single wine by hand. We sell wine at the winery of course, and it is distributed to select grocery stores, restaurants and retail outlets in Central Indiana.

CRP: Are there any good food and wine pairings you would recommend?

Sarah: Our motto – eat what you like, drink what you like. If it pairs well on your palette, it’s a perfect pairing! Traditionally you match strength of flavors. Something heavy and fatty? Choose a structured, bold red. Light fish? Go for a delicate rosé or light white.

CRP: Anything else you would like the readers to know?

Sarah: Don’t be intimidated! Younger and younger demographics are enjoying wine. It can be fun, casual, and cool. It’s becoming the Millennial’s drink of choice very quickly!

Formula for Success: Wine + Food + Live Music

Mallow Run also pairs wine tastings with exciting events. They feature live music nearly every single weekend, and during the summer season they host the Picnic Concert Series, inviting musicians, guests and food trucks to jam out all summer long.

On Labor Day Weekend they will be celebrating their eleventh anniversary with a hog roast and three days of music, food and, of course, wine.

Another upcoming event is their annual Wine at the Line run/walk that benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Indiana. It will be held on Saturday, October 1.

In addition to hosting their own events, they also participate in dozens of festivals throughout the year.

If you’re interested in learning more about wine, be sure to swing by Mallow Run and try a tasting with their experienced sommeliers.

Interior

Customer Spotlight: The Broken Beaker and the Artisan Distillery Trend

FullSizeRenderThe craft beer and winery experience has exploded onto the scene. Over the past decade, we have seen more and more local breweries and wineries pop up all across the country, and consumers are drinking it up. Depending on the state you live in, a similar trend may be observed among artisan distilleries.

The Broken Beaker is one of the newest in the Indianapolis area. Located in the center of the Mass Ave strip in downtown Indy, they are surrounded by local eateries, bars and other nightlife hotspots that residents flock to for weekend festivities. But they stand apart, offering a refreshingly new experience. Perhaps this difference can be reflected in the way they distill their own high-end vodka right on site. Or the fact that there are very few local distilleries in the Indianapolis area (or Indiana in general), juxtaposing against the backdrop of a craft beer mecca. Maybe it’s their unique theme, paying homage to the wonders and mysteries of science, that nicely wraps the experience up in a periodic table of excitement.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the husband and wife team behind the Broken Beaker to learn more about their unique concept, the process of distilling, what separates a good vodka from a bad, and the local legalities regarding artisan distillation.

Chemist + Engineer = The Inspiration

molecule mule edit

The Molecule Mule

When asked how they came up with the concept, Heather, an engineer by day, said they first got the idea to open a distillery ten years earlier while visiting friends in Oregon. They were inspired by the amount of distilleries there, and the unique types of liqueur that were being produced. Heather recalls, “There were all types of crazy liqueurs. Liqueurs I had never heard of before, or didn’t think you could make into a liqueur, and it was an amazing experience. We were kind of leaning in that direction anyways because we wanted to differentiate ourselves. We wanted to hit the basic spirits – the vodka, the whiskey, the gin, the rum – but from there, where do we go?”

But it’s not just enough to want to open a distillery. Thomas, a chemist, stresses the importance of your product’s story. He says you can’t just think of yourself as producing and selling some type of alcohol. It all depends on branding, how you want to market the product so it stands apart and offers the consumer something new. Given the nature of their professions, science was the obvious choice for concept.

Their vodka products are currently branded under the Pendulum label, inspired by physics, and they are hoping to expand into “Isotope Liqueurs,” a tribute to chemistry; “Hypotenuse Gin,” relating to math; and “Mitosis Whiskey” for biology. You can buy bottles on site, or enjoy entirely unique cocktail concoctions served out of laboratory beakers, some even over dry ice to create a visual, smoky perception! You can also tour the distillery located in a room right next to the dining area to learn more about where and how the process occurs.

Everything’s an Experiment: The Process

“Everything’s an experiment” is one of their taglines. “We do a brand new weekly infusion every Wednesday, and so every Wednesday it’s an experiment. What we’re essentially doing is, well, do this and this and this taste good together? And so far they’ve all worked out well, but it’s an experiment so we’ll see what happens,” says Heather.

And because of the delicacy of the distilling process, the same can be said for every batch of vodka they produce. But, Thomas notes, the constant focus is always on quality. He attributes this to the artisan character of their product.

distillerySo what separates a good vodka from a bad? Heather says that one of the benefits of making it yourself is you can taste it every step of the way to identify the bad compounds versus what they themselves would want to be served, using that as guidance when selecting what to serve to customers. “It’s really interesting because now in hindsight, I’m used to tasting where that cut is between the bad stuff and the good stuff, and I’m sitting here thinking when I was in college, the stuff that I was drinking tasted a lot like the stuff that first comes off the still, which is bad for you, is bad tasting, and that’s why you had the hangovers. But boy was it cheap! And now I know why,” she jokes.

When it comes to buying vodka off the shelves, they advise not to go too cheap. “With the cheap stuff, manufacturers have a high volume to produce so they are very liberal with their cuts, scooping in the bad stuff at the beginning and at the end, which leads to a bad taste and bad hangover. You don’t have to buy super expensive, but never go cheap.”

Thomas and Heather also recommend using wheat to ferment over corn, even though corn is arguably the most popular source due to its inexpensive cost and access. They vow that wheat provides more flavor and is more forgiving than the flavor offered by corn, making for a better product.

There are a lot of steps to the distilling process, and it is not uncommon for one batch to be slightly different than the one before it. In (very) layman terms, here’s a quick overview of the process:

  1. Choose your grain (in this case wheat) and convert it from starch to a sugar by applying high heat.
  2. Add yeast, which will eat away at the sugar and turn it into alcohol.
  3. Let ferment for five days to a week.
  4. The distillation process is basically the act that immediately follows fermentation, where you filter out the solids from the liquids, tasting along the way to identify (and remove through boiling) the compounds that taste bad.

Again, that’s a very brief description of the actual process. If you are interested in ever trying it out, Thomas and Heather highly encourage taking a class and touring as many distilleries as you can. They gave a special shout out to Six & Twenty Distillery in South Carolina.

Image courtesy of www.distillerytrail.com

Image courtesy of www.distillerytrail.com

Indiana Legalities

It turns out, it is much harder to open a distillery in Indiana than it is a microbrewery or winery, as evidenced by the disproportioned ratio of Indianapolis-based distilleries to breweries (two to, like, fifty). This is mostly due to current Indiana liquor laws.

There is risk involved when opening any business, but for distilleries, the stakes are much higher. The old Indiana laws prohibited tasting rooms. Heather recounts, “It’s not like beer or wine where you can make a little bit in your basement until you get the feel for it. You had to get a permit, pay a whole bunch of money for the equipment, and hope you could do something with it.” You also couldn’t sell directly to the public. Instead, you had to find a distributor and pray they would push your product.

Indiana passed a new artisan law roughly three years ago, permitting a tasting room. Now local distilleries can have more control over their product and how much it is pushed, as well as establish more of a connection with customers.

#Trending

The reason you are more likely to see more wineries and breweries in Indiana is that you can legally ferment certain amounts of beer and wine in your house, allowing owners time to perfect their product before setting up shop. That’s not the case with distilleries. “There is no quantity you can make in Indiana in your house without a federal permit. Other states are more lenient.” Heather elaborates that the big difference between the competition among breweries/wineries over distilleries is that the entry point is much easier and cheaper, both for equipment and the legalities already discussed that favor beer and wine over spirits. Before opening, Heather and Thomas had several investors lined up, but they wouldn’t invest until they could sample the product. They described this as a cyclical catch-22, because they couldn’t produce the product until they could afford the equipment and space to do so.

Now that they are up and running, they are eager to expand their selection to encompass other spirits, and are excited for the future of artisan distilling and what the possibilities the new(ish) artisan distilling law offers.

The Concoctionsbb drinks 1

Their most popular drink, Heather says, is their Bill Nye Elysium that mixes a strawberry-basil infused vodka, grapefruit juice and orange zest syrup. My personal favorite was the Tiny Rick, combining jalapeño-infused vodka with raspberry and jalapeño syrup, and grapefruit and lemon juices making for a delicious mixture of heat, sweet and tartness.

Other crafty cocktails include the Molecule Mule, French 76 and the E=MC?. To check out their menu in its entirety, click here.

Grow it Yourself! Hopping on that “Hyperlocal” Bandwagon

Spring has sprung and gardens are beginning to bloom. If you’ve ever thought about growing your own ingredients, or hopping on the urban farming bandwagon, this is the perfect time of year to start!

A trend among sustainability-minded establishments seems to be growing their own herbs and produce. This urban agriculture trend has taken big cities by storm, encouraging the ideal of growing local products in heavily populated areas instead of purchasing ingredients from national suppliers.

What are the pros of growing your own ingredients?

Consumers love knowing where their ingredients come from – not to mention supporting their local community. In fact, “hyperlocal” foods (foods grown by the restaurant themselves) has been a major trend for the last few years now.

These foods are often viewed as healthier and fresher, and there is a financial incentive to growing your own. One of the largest expenses restaurants face is the cost of goods. This could easily make or break newer businesses. Growing many of your own products cuts this cost down significantly, and it adds to the appreciation of where your food comes from.raised garden bed

Where to start…

If you’re new to urban farming or growing your own ingredients, we suggest starting small and working your way up. Raised beds are a great idea for beginners, especially if space is an issue. Raised garden beds are usually three to four feet wide and constructed of a solid wood frame, and almost any crop can be grown in them. For more benefits and instructions on constructing raised garden beds, check out this great resource.

You can also garden certain products, like herbs and spices, indoors. The most popular herbs for indoor kitchen gardens include:

  1. Thyme – spicy and clove-like; good with meats or vegetables because it lightens the profile of the dish, increasing the balance.
  2. Chives – thin, hollow leaves with mild onion flavor; great for a garnish.
  3. Mint – sweet, cool and refreshing; great for savory dishes.
  4. Sage – rich flavor with notes of citrus; combines well with other spices such as thyme.
  5. Basil – aromatic with scents of pepper, anise and mint; adds richness and depth to sauces and dressings.

One of the benefits of trying your hand at herb gardening is that many, like lavender and rosemary, thrive under less than ideal conditions.

Tips on Growing

If you’re growing your own herbs, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Soil and Light Requirements

The soil doesn’t need to be rich for herbs, but must be able to drain well. Also, make sure they receive at least five hours of direct sunlight a day.

Watering

Most herbs require about 1-inch of water a week.

Fertilizing

Most herbs don’t require fertilizer unless you have remarkably poor soil.

Harvesting

Cutting leaves and stems will allow your plants to become thicker, fuller and more productive. It is recommended that you harvest early in the morning when essential oils are strongest before the sun warms the leaves and releases them.

Deadheading

Certain herbs require deadheading the blooms as to maintain plant productivity. Basil and mint, for instance, both benefit from having the flowers pinched back before they mature.

Cleaning Up

After the first killing frost in the fall, pull up the annual herbs like basil. In the spring, cut back dead stems on perennial herbs like mint, and prune overgrown ones by removing about one-third of the plant before new growth begins.

window garden

Urban farming and herb gardening are both fun and rewarding, providing a great opportunity to save money while growing fresher products. For more tips, check out our GIY – Grow It Yourself – board on Pinterest!

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our posts on Farm to Table: What is It? and Earth Day and Your Restaurant: Ways You Can Help!