What Does 'Quality Ingredients' Mean? 3 Things to Consider

What does it mean when you use the term “quality ingredients”? Restaurants and brands toss the phrase everywhere on their menus and websites, but does that mean we buy the absolute best of everything? If not, why not? Quality is as subjective as flavor.

Being open about quality in terms of a marketing device is much like listening to explicit music with your grandmother in the same room — uncomfortable, but quite relieving when it is a shared experience. I guess. In other words, are you buying the best or are you saying that you buy the best? Either you don’t know, or you don’t want to admit to perpetrating a crime against ingredients.

Quality isn’t just throwing money at the most expensive ingredients. That doesn’t make them the best for your business. Throw money at a problem and now you have two problems. So, how do we keep our commitment to quality intact? Here are three things to consider.

Garbage in, Garbage out

Starting with subpar ingredients will almost never yield a good product. When you hire the wrong people, you usually have to own up to the mistake. So, is it any surprise when it’s the same when it comes to ingredients? Coaxing some extra “oomph” from an ingredient may gain some merit. After all, we should be able to make some magic from “trash cuts” and by-products, however, you can only do so much. Care is the variable. The quality of ingredients should be about the same as the caliber of the folks out front interacting with customers.

Does “Local” Equal Excellence?

Does local mean that greatness is automatic? Foolishly, many operators and plenty of consumers insist so, but that is irrational. Local here is the “distant somewhere else.” Yes, yes, unripe melons have to be crated and shipped long before they have reached their true worth. That’s what you get for buying cantaloupe in February.

Still, local does not dictate superiority. — but “knowing” does. Knowing, for instance, the type of feed for your cattle may make a measurable impact. Knowing the variety of basil and age it was harvested is a better indicator than merely slapping local on your menu and expecting supremacy. In order to educate customers, you must first educate yourself on your own ingredients.

Expensive Wine Is Not Always Better Wine

I am a raving fan of Moscato. Overly sweet, refreshing, and very, very ordinary. But it is what I like and I simply don’t care for, say, dry red wine. Does this mean I don’t know quality? Maybe. But if I don’t like it, I don’t like it. Does more expensive plastic wrap, dry pasta, olive oil, and shrimp automatically make them better than their less expensive counterparts? How about...no.

Buy what you like. Buy what works best, tastes as you expect, and performs to your standards. The fineness of a 0x1 strip steak is only as good as you think it is. Grass-fed or not. Antibiotic-free or not. Prime or not. It is what works best.  My mom used to pass by some of the steaks at Giant Eagle because they were too fatty. To her, that was a mark of inferiority. “Ech, too much fat. Cheap,” I can still hear. Her standard was to buy something better with less fat.

Wouldn’t conventional wisdom tell us that surpassing expectations is better? Isn’t this why a little hole-in-the wall gyro shop can have better Yelp reviews than the dining room in four-star hotel? Value is not the same as price. What is it worth to you? Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Make a bold statement with your finances and buy smart. Don’t just buy for the idea of quality. Create quality.