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How can I sell lamb to restaurants?

Answer: Restaurants provide lamb entrepreneurs with a steady and relatively high-volume demand for your product. Often, a single delivery run to restaurants will generate more revenue than hours at a farmers market. This makes up for the necessity of selling your lamb at a wholesale price.

Selling to restaurants requires building relationships with chefs. The quality of your lamb and the fact that it is locally raised are major selling points. These are counterbalanced by the fact that it is not as convenient for a chef to buy from local producers. Wholesale food distributors offer a much more efficient manner for her to source her raw product. As a lamb purveyor, you need to be able to supply the cuts the chef needs, when she needs them. Let her know your delivery schedule. Some chefs are very good about keeping in touch with you; some are not. It is best to always make a call before you or your distributor leave on a delivery run. If you are delivering yourself, try to coordinate your deliveries with your trips to farmers markets, thus saving delivery costs.

Many restaurants that serve lamb wish to only serve racks, which is standard menu fare. Unfortunately, there are only two racks per lamb and they only comprise one-tenth of the total carcass. It is to your advantage to use those high-demand cuts as encouragement for a chef to utilize other cuts in his main menu, for specials or for entrees. Many chefs realize that you have to sell the whole animal in order to stay in business. Excellent chefs also enjoy the challenge of making a superlative meal out of cuts that are not in high demand such as shoulder roasts, shanks, or riblets. Find those chefs and keep them. It is always better to build strong and friendly relationships with a core of chefs that you can realistically satisfy than to spread yourself thin over many and supply no one very well.

Restaurant customers love to hear the story behind your farm, too. Provide the restaurant with a small table flyer that describes your lamb product, your philosophy on raising food, and what makes your farm stand out.

The biggest drawback in selling to restaurants is that chefs come and go. Quite often, a new chef means a new menu and you will have to start over again building the relationship that you desire. Sometimes, however, he takes to his new establishment an appreciation of your product and you have a new customer! The volume of product sold through restaurants makes them a very valuable part of a lamb entrepreneur’s customer base. For more useful suggestions on selling to restaurants, see the ATTRA publication Tips for Selling to Restaurants

Here are seven keys to excellent restaurant relationships:

  1. Never sacrifice quality, period.
  2. Price just opens the door. Quality and service keep it open.
  3. Be patient and persistent, but not pushy.
  4. Chefs are very busy. They keep odd hours. Call accordingly.
  5. Serve your present customer base well before expanding.
  6. Free samples smooth over mistakes.
  7. Above all, be honest. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver.

This list was taken from the ATTRA publication Direct Marketing Lamb: A Pathway. This publication will serve as a useful resource as you move forward. In addition, check out these ATTRA resources:

The Lambulator: A Cut-Yield Calculator for the Lamb Direct Marketer

Direct Marketing Meat with Dave and Jenny Scott (podcast, Part One)

Direct Marketing Meat with Dave and Jenny Scott (podcast, Part Two)