One of my favorite activities is to eat out. However, I have one rule:
• Do NOT eat at a chain restaurant.
I have a number of reasons for not eating at a chain restaurant, some of which are because of my desire to eat a healthier diet. The other reasons touch on a bigger movement, specifically the “shop local” movement. What you can do is to locate Mom & Pop restaurants in your area. Either contact the Chamber of Commerce in the city you wish to eat in, ask the concierge of the hotel where you are staying to recommend local restaurants, or pick up a copy of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives to see if there is a recommendation for the area where you are. I have found many wonderful locally owned restaurants this way. Then, once you’re there, ask your server and the host and the owner/chef where they like to eat, and specify that you want to dine at a locally owned restaurant.
The recent economic downturn has made all of us evaluate our spending habits very closely. Some of us have realized that we need to curtail our spending overall. However, did you know that if you chose to spend your remaining dollars at a local vendor, you will be doing a huge favor for your neighbor and for your community?
Spending money locally means that you are supporting your local community and not some group of investors (many of whom do not even live in the United States). The money spent in your community pays for the infrastructure that allows for quality education, for safe streets, and for prompt emergency services should you need them.
Eating at a chain restaurant can certain be a satisfying experience because you know that you’ll get the same quality product in each location. I’ve been with people who need the comfort of familiarity. We spent the day in Santa Fe with some relatives and when we began to get hungry, I wanted to try one of the local restaurants. However, I was overruled…”My daughter won’t eat anything spicy…my son doesn’t like chile…my husband has digestion problems…” and we ended up eating a chain sandwich that took care of the hunger pangs, but did nothing for my desire to sample the local food.
From that point on, I have made it a point to seek out local restaurants. Not only do I like supporting a local restaurant, I like to meet the people who work there. Many times you not only get a meal, but a story because the restaurant is a family run business. I’m interested in how they came up with their menu offerings…some of them are old family recipes. Other choices on the menu are available because they are from the local farmers in the area.
Yes, you can get a pretty poor meal at a locally run restaurant, but that is a rarity. Most of the time, I’m overwhelmed by the passion and creativity that is displayed in the menu offerings and in the presentation of the food. I love seeing the beaming faces when you compliment them on their “old family recipe”. I love talking to people, and when you ask them questions about something they love, like their restaurant, they love talking to me.
If you’re traveling, ask the concierge of your hotel for recommendations of local restaurants. If you have access to a computer, see if you can find local restaurants on a search. Most communities have a list of local vendors available through the Chamber of Commerce, or search the name of the city adding the words, “dine local” and see what comes up.
Some Food Network programs specialize in highlighting local restaurants in a specific city. Watch the program for your city. You might be pleasantly surprised that a hidden gem is just around the corner from you!