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8 Challenges of Running an Organic Restaurant

Running an organic restaurant may result in some unique challenges

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There are many excellent reasons to consider serving organic food at your resturant. However, running an organic restaurant also presents some very real and unique challenges. Before you decide to transition to organic food at your restaurant, you'll need to weigh the pros along with the challenges listed below.

1. Organic Restaurant Certification Requirements May Vary

Restaurants that serve organic food are a growing trend. However, certified organic restaurants are extremely rare. Currently, under the National Organic Program (NOP), restaurants that serve certified organic food are exempt from the organic certification process. Due to the exemption, organic restaurant standards aren't always consistent.

Very few restaurants in the United States have achieved, or even tried to achieve official certified organic standing. Organic certification for restaurants is possible, but since it's a newer, non-standardized premise, the process can be confusing and dependent on the accredited certifying agent you choose.

2. Organic Food & Practices May Cost More

It can be expensive for a restaurant to go organic, for many reasons:

  • Becoming and staying certified organic involves start-up fees and ongoing annual fees.
  • Growing organic food is more time intensive than growing conventional food, so organics are generally more expensive across the board.
  • Organic food growers and organic distributors aren't as prominent as conventional suppliers. Choice organic suppliers often have more buyers than product, plus there's less competition. Thus, popular ingredients aren't always available for reasonable prices, when needed.
  • Time is money. It takes more time to adhere to both basic restaurant standards and organic standards as well.

3. Consumers Must Soak Up the Higher Price of Organics

Because, as stated above, organics can cost more, it's common for organic restaurants to charge more per plate than conventional restaurants. For organic advocates, it's clearly reasonable to pay more for pesticide-free food that supports local farmers and local economy. In fact studies show that organic advocates are 100% willing to pay more for organics.

However, for an organic novice, organic food, which frankly, often appears to be the same as conventional, because you can't see those pesticides, can be a hard sell. If you're running an organic restaurant, one of the hardest tasks is convincing customers to pay more, while educating them about why it's worth it to do so.

4. A Consistent Menu is Unlikely

If you want to run an organic restaurant, you'll absolutely need to be on board with constant menu changes. The organic food market is much smaller than the conventional food market. Organic food prices also can fluctuate wildly. As such, you may not always be able to find organic lemons, organic eggplant or other organics when you need them.

Organic suppliers often sell seasonally, so creating various seasonal menus can help, but it won't solve all your problems. If you go organic, you'll need to have creative chefs who can work with what's available, along with customers who accept that their favorite dishes may not always be available.

5. Organic Marketing to Non-Believers is Rough

Depending on your area, locals may not be as eager to go organic as you are. It's easy for an organic restaurant to be stereotyped as "Boring health food" or "Vegetarian," especially in areas where people aren't as open to organics. 

Undoubtedly, many consumers are excited about organics. However, you can't grow a restaurant on believers and already converted organic advocates alone. You also need to convince non-believers to walk in the door, eat organic and then come back for more. Choosing the right location and aggressive marketing that focuses on the benefits of organics for everyone are important for an organic restaurant's success.

6. Finding & Training Perfect Staff Can be Time Consuming

The two main problems with finding great vs. so-so organic staff for your restaurant has to do with knowledge and attitude. Training staff about the right and wrong ways to handle organics, keeping them updated about frequent menu changes and teaching them how to educate customers can all take quite a bit of time.

Beyond knowledge, the right staff attitude can be the difference between a good or poor customer experience. Too often at eco-friendly or organic establishments you run into pretentious staff who act like everyone should know all about organics, simply because they do. That not very welcoming. You need staff to be knowledgeable, yes, but also open to customers who aren't yet on 100% board with organics.

7. Waste Management is Crucial to the Budget

All restaurants can loose money over wasted foods, but food waste for an organic restaurant can be insanely significant. With costs of organics anywhere from 10% to 30% higher than conventional, you'll need to stay ahead of the waste management game.

Ideas for budget-savvy waste management may include:

  • Serve smaller portions.
  • Buy fresher, smaller batches of food.
  • Create innovative recipes that stretch ingredients further.
  • Keep flawless records and date label all food items correctly. 
  • Grow some of the food you serve. Uncommon Ground is an excellent example of an organic resturant that grows food - on a rooftop no less!

8. Consumers Want Sustainable Food - Not Just Organic Food

There's a big difference between a sustainable restaurant and an organic restaurant. A restaurant can be both, but organic doesn't denote sustainability by any means. That said, consumer surveys show that consumers want organic food and a green environment, so becoming more sustainable, which can be time consuming, is significant for any organic establishment.

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