Putting local food on the menu: comparing the food purchasing practices of Vancouver’s Chinese and fine dining restaurants

Author/s: Sarah Smith

Creation date: 2011-04-06

Contact info: smsmith5@gmail.com

Senior supervisor: Peter V. Hall

Keywords: local food, Vancouver, food purchasing practices, food service industry, urban food policy, local food systems

Geographic focus: Vancouver, BC; British Columbia; Canada

Research question/s: To what extent do fine dining and Chinese restaurants purchase products from the local (BC) food system? What are the factors that affect these restaurants’ food choices and are these factors different for each restaurant type?


In recent years, the concept of local food has attracted much attention. Many Canadian municipalities and their American counterparts have put relocalizing the food system on their agendas by forming food policy councils, drafting food charters and adopting mandates to develop “just and sustainable food systems.” But despite all this attention to local food, little is known about the organization and particular characteristics of agrifood systems in different regions. This research aims to help fill that gap by examining the extent to which Vancouver’s Chinese and fine dining restaurants purchase products from the BC food system and the factors that affect food choices for each type of restaurant.


Findings are based on data from a survey conducted on a representative sample of restaurants. The author found that three-fifths of Chinese restaurants reported sourcing over 60% of their annual food purchases from BC while only one-third of fine dining restaurants reported doing so. However, the difference was not simply one of ethnic and non-ethnic cuisine types and differing food cultures. Less expensive restaurants in both groups were more likely to source local food. While fine dining and Chinese restaurants used separate distribution networks to source local food, restaurants in both groups set up customized, often highly complex, supply-chain networks to purchase their food products. Interestingly, purchasing products from grocery stores is common practice among Chinese restaurants, but not among their fine dining counterparts. Local purchasing by fine dining restaurants is in part driven by reportedly high consumer demand for these products and these restaurants make an effort to advertise local ingredients on their menus, even when they don’t purchase large amounts. By contrast, advertising local products on their menus is not part of the marketing strategy for Chinese restaurants. Finally the price of food products, the perception of food quality, the type(s) of cuisine served and the ability to find distributors appears to have little influence on the choices of Vancouver’s fine dining and Chinese restaurants.