What the Midwest Drought Means for Your Restaurant

The news out of the Midwest is difficult to digest: Mother Nature has devastated the area with a severe drought. And the impact is sure to have a lasting effect on not only the availability and conditions of crops (such as corn, wheat, soybeans and rice), but also animal feed and grazing pastures, all ultimately adding to a rise in food costs for years to come.

According to U.S. News & World Report, increases are gaining speed with overall crop prices on track to jump another three percent this year on top of the more than eight percent uptick last year. More specifically, the USDA forecasts that the 2012-2013 price of corn alone is expected to increase 39%, from $5.90 to $8.20 per bushel.

Although help is on the way in the form of $170 million in federal aid to buy meat and poultry to help struggling farmers and ranchers, the question of the hour is: Will this be enough?  Only time will tell.

In the meantime, there are things your restaurant can do to weather the storm:

Focus on Menu Development. Since meat and poultry prices are predicted to soar, focus on creating flavorful fish dishes. Fresh fillets are a natural pick, but also try dishes that feature other ingredients to get more bang for your buck, like crab cakes and paella and steamed mussels.

Embrace the Versatility of Pasta. Adding hearty, varied pasta dishes to your menu is a great way to keep costs down. Shop seasonal, locally grown produce for inspiration and develop new dishes on a regular basis to keep offerings fresh. The positive here: Pasta possibilities are limitless.

Buffer Your Budget (and stick to it!). Revising your restaurant’s operating budget to reflect rising food costs will put you in a better position to stay afloat. Focus on eliminating expensive offerings. Keep your menu streamlined, creative and inviting. There is no price tag for innovation.

To stay informed on food costs/news, visit USDA.gov.