“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven:” – Ecclesiastes 3:1
I grew up on a farm, and the seasons of the year were distinct: preparation for planting, planting, growing, preparation for harvest, harvest, storage / transport of harvest, winter…
As we’ve worked alongside the restaurant industry for nearly a decade now, we’ve noticed distinct seasonality to the restaurant business, too. Certainly, it’s a seasonality that differs from farm seasons – but in many ways, compliments it.
In the winter on the farm, our ground lay fallow, resting as it were, in preparation for the next growing season. But alas, there is a season for every activity under heaven, as Solomon wrote in the Book of Ecclesiastes. And winter, too, has its purpose, especially for the “farm to table” producer who wants to sell to restaurants.
In many areas of the Northern Hemisphere, winter – specifically January into February – provides a break between the busyness of the holidays and the anticipation of spring. Chefs often take this time to plan new menus, experiment in the kitchen and meet with new vendors – things they very much do NOT have the time to do during busy holidays and seasonal spikes.
And this, my friends, is what we call in farm vernacular: “Selling Season.” It’s simply the opportunity you’ve waited and wished for so anxiously during the long silent months of November and December and have not had time to attend to during your own harvest. This moment is the end game for your farm to table business.
The great benefit to this January “Selling Season” phenomenon is that it is one of the few complimentary seasonal overlaps that occurs between a chef and farm schedule. I realize this isn’t a universal truth, but nonetheless, it is a concept that we’re seeing benefit the bottom line of our Eat Y’all Producer Partners heavily this month, and one that we believe is worthy of your attention.
Sales Season means that you’ve got PLENTY to do while you wait for planting season. I encourage you to call on as many chefs as you’d feel comfortable serving with your next crop or round of production. Seek to build relationships with them even before you have product to offer, so they can keep you in mind when you’re both ready. And if you have product now – by all means, get out there and find a home for it.
Understanding Restaurant Seasonality
There are certainly many exceptions to the seasonality I described above, but unraveling the seasonal ups and downs of a particular restaurant or region’s restaurants is fairly straightforward once you know what to look for. And while it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to get your product on a menu during a busy season, your odds are much higher if you apply your sales efforts during optimal selling seasons.
In short, the first question I ask is whether or not a restaurant is driven by tourism or locals. If it’s driven primarily by tourism, you’ll need to understand when the tourism activity peaks and wanes. For example, beach destinations typically enjoy a multi-week boom during “rolling Spring Break” followed by a few weeks of downtime before the crowds return for summer, often staying busy until at least Labor Day weekend. They also often cater to shoulder and off season events and “snowbirds” which often influence seasonal menu changes to accommodate very different clientele at different times of the year.
(Note: Some restaurants in tourist markets even close during particularly slow times of the year, making access to the chef much more difficult.)
If a restaurant is driven by local business, seasonality often follows the holidays: January is slow until Valentine’s Day when there will be a busy week. Then slow again until Easter, especially during local school holidays like Spring Break. Easter, Mother’s Day, graduation happenings, Cinco de Mayo, Kentucky Derby parties and Memorial Day all play together for a well-marketed restaurant to enjoy a strong spring before the dog days of summer ensue. In our area, fall is driven by football. After Labor Day, if you aren’t a football town, times are slower paced again, especially on the weekend. If you’re a college football town, it’s like a tourist boom. And then come the holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas take-out, catering, parties, community spirit and frazzled weeknight desperation drive record sales throughout the last months of the year, leaving chefs very little spare time to do anything but make hay while the sun shines, so to speak.
Two Ways to Benefit from Restaurant Seasonality
When you’re selling to restaurants, keep in mind the access to build relationships with chefs provided by the seasons, but don’t stop there. Also think about the opportunities provided BY the seasons for them to use your product.
Would your product make a great addition to a Valentine’s Day menu? Or maybe an Easter or Mother’s Day promotion? Think ahead all the way to Thanksgiving and Christmas and see where you could fit in or meet a need this next year. Offer up your ideas early and often when you do have an opportunity to meet with chefs, and they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness and effort tremendously.
>> Want to learn more about selling to restaurants and chefs? Download our e-book called, “How to Sell to Restaurants” for 11 more ways to increase your revenue by selling your farm to table products to restaurants.