Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Nutrition Science and Dietetics
Jennifer L. Wilkins
Food, Local, Restaurant, Waitstaff
Medicine and Health Sciences
Objective: The purpose of this study was to describe restaurant waiter and manager perceptions of local foods with regard to customer inquiries, personal values, barriers of local foods, ingredient source, waiter training, and personal definitions of local food.
Methods: A cross-sectional study design was used to collect data from restaurant managers, chefs, and wait staff at local food promoting restaurants (LFPR) in an urban county in central New York State. The study design involved questionnaires consisting of close-ended and open-ended questions about local foods. Questions regarding local food perceptions, motivations, customer inquiries, training, source, and barriers to local foods were asked of the wait staff. Managers and/or chefs were asked questions regarding the source and amount of their ingredients, training methods, and barriers to local foods.
Participants: The participants were 27 managers, chefs, or wait staff from eight restaurants in central New York restaurants that claim to explicitly use local foods on their menus or promote them in their advertisements. The study focuses on restaurants promoting local foods on their menus or in advertisements. Four participants answered survey questions through face-to-face interviews. The remaining 23 participants completed a paper version of the questionnaire.
Results: The most frequently mentioned motivators for serving local food on the menu included supporting the local economy (83%) and reducing environmental impact (59%). Wait staff reported most commonly asked customer questions related to the origin menu items. Training on local foods ranged from no training to taste testing dishes to bus trips to local farms. The most wait staff (63%) indicated that “most of the menu items” contain local ingredients, yet most managers or chefs (75%) stated that half of their ingredients or less came from local sources. More than half (61%) of wait staff indicated feeling “very confident” in addressing customers’ questions about local food. Four wait staff respondents (29%) were accurate in identifying the sources of the restaurant’s ingredients. No significance was found between accuracy and confidence level in addressing questions about local foods. The greatest barrier to sourcing local food was the inconsistent supply of local foods, which was reported by 100% of chefs and 65% of wait staff.
Conclusions: Local food promoting restaurants have the potential to be innovators in the local food movement through communicating local food benefits and messages via the wait staff. Increased adoption of local food consumption may potentially enhance the development of a more sustainable food system. Restaurant wait staff may have a false sense of confidence in addressing customer questions about local foods. This suggests that more training on local foods should be emphasized in the restaurant. The results of this research point to a need for further studies to investigate how the customer interprets information provided by the wait staff about local foods. Further, additional studies should look into the true source of ingredients on LFPR menus.
Dragon, Laura, "The Dissemination of Local Food Rhetoric via Restaurant Wait Staff: A Pilot Study" (2016). Dissertations - ALL. 472.