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What Questions Should You Ask at Local Restaurants?

Here’s something I absolutely love to do: go to a restaurant, read the menu, and ask the server what’s fresh, local, and organic. Sure, it surprises some servers. Sometimes they explain that - while they don’t know - they’re sure that the ingredients are the best, most sustainable ones around. Some servers get flustered and say things like, “I’ll have to ask the chef.” The last time I ate out, the server asked, “do I have to bother the chef?” The answer, my friends, is always “yes.”

I’ve seen my share of reality TV, and I know that chefs can be scary people. That’s okay, don’t back down. A chef’s responsibility is to know not only what he or she is serving, but also where it comes from. And this will only happen if more diners start asking questions.

Asking questions is scary. It exposes our lack of knowledge, for one thing. It also forces us to confront the realities of the food we’re eating. Should we eat that Chilean sea bass? Was that meat grass fed? How many miles did that spinach travel to get to my plate? Knowing more means having to ask ourselves hard questions about what we value.

But the biggest impediment to asking questions can be our own desire not to bother people. The waiter’s busy, so maybe we should leave him alone. The chef and the restaurateur too. What we need to realize is that these people have created a business that relies on people like you and me to buy their food. Simply put: if we don’t buy it, they won’t serve it.

But there’s more to it than that. Asking servers and chefs more questions about their food helps them create the kinds of businesses that we’ll support more. When I decide not to support a restaurant, I want to let them know why, to give them a sporting chance to win back my business. Not supporting organic growers? No grass fed beef? Serving California tomatoes in the middle of a Minnesota summer? Now you know exactly why I won’t be back, and you’ve got the chance to make a change.

So while listening to your customers can be painful, it’s also smart business.


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