January 31, 2013

Maine Maple Syrup: Use It

My order of waffles at brunch recently prompted my server to ask, would like real Maine maple syrup with that? My affirmative response then added $1.50 to my tab. And this has me thinking. 

Why is the inclusion of maple syrup to a brunch dish an upcharge here in Maine, where tourism one of our biggest industries? Why would a fairly nice brunch spot, one that has hour long waits on the weekends and is known as one of the best brunch spots in town to tourists and locals alike, default to serving corn syrup with waffles? 

Maine maple syrup and a Maine Coon cat for good measure

Now, I'm not talking about breakfast at Ruski's or a diner, where the squeezy bottle of pancake syrup sits in the tray of condiments all day long. And to be fair, there are plenty of restaurants that serve maple syrup without an separate charge.

But for those that don't, shame on you. (That's right, shame!) In Maine, Maine maple syrup should be the default syrup served with pancakes and waffles. We're a tourist-driven city, and if we don't show off our state's products, then how are we to expect visitors to be interested in them? There's tons of people that don't even know Maine produces potatoes at all.

For those of you forming the counter-argument that maple syrup is expensive, I hear you. So please absorb this cost into the cost of the dish, as you would with any other ingredient. Charge me $7 for waffles instead of $5. I'm pretty sure the market will bear that cost. And if you don't like maple syrup, but prefer corn syrup? Fine. You're still paying $7 and subsidizing the cost of future maple syrup purchases.

Did someone say waffles?

Surprisingly, in discussing this issue with friends, a whole host of other issues comes up. It's a touchy subject apparently! Also related: the (not so nice) attitudes of servers in tourist spots such as Moosehead Lake, the labor and cost involved in the production maple syrup, government subsidies of large commodity farms, and the need to balance the desire for a free market with that of supporting the local economy (see: Maine Congresspeople urging 5 Guys to use Maine potatoes).

I'm not asking that every product that is available locally be used, although it is lovely when a restaurant can do that. I appreciate food costs and profit margins. But for a product as visible as Maine maple syrup, it seems like a simple switch.  Because you're in Maine, of COURSE your waffles come with local maple syrup! How charming! Just charge me appropriately from the start.