Restaurants: Vendor Relations & Purchasing
For restaurateurs, selecting the wrong vendor often correlates into a recipe for disaster. Before contracting with a food distributor, industry insiders recommend that owners follow a few basic steps. Doing so could mean the difference between cooking up sales and putting out fires.
Savory Vendor Tips
Faced with a number of food distributor options, restaurateurs should explore all the best strategies to keep their fridges full.
- Order together. Smaller to medium sized eateries might consider teaming up with other nearby restaurants to form a coop of sorts. Since distributors generally price product by bulk, it's often cheaper to buy in large amounts. Provided they use all of the food delivered, restaurants get more for their buck when they purchase in mass quantities. With a handful of dining establishments placing one large order on a single ticket, the price certainly looks to go down for all involved.
- Look at capabilities. Restaurants wanting more from a distributor often turn to established national food vendors. These operations generally own facilities throughout numerous states, allowing them to handle a larger capacity of customers. In short, no order is too demanding. While small, independent distributors might offer cheaper prices due to the scope of their delivery area, they do not always provide the bonus services found at larger operations.
For instance, some national vendors give their clients routine market reports and trend studies, outlining top-selling items around the industry for that time period. In other cases, these large-scale distributors provide menu and recipe services, helping their customers coordinate meal options based on the products they order. Even more important, national distributors tend to hold promotions on a regular basis, such as free delivery when purchasing more than $100 in food.
- Check the distributor's track record. The cheapest, most dependable vendor means nothing if that company sells inferior, unsafe products. No matter the type of food distributor, restaurateurs should always research the vendor's credentials and regulatory practices. Industry specialists tell eatery owners to make sure their distributor receives supplies from licensed, established sources. It's important to find out if the workers handling the products are trained in food safety.
In addition, restaurateurs should contact the appropriate health department officials to see if the distributor possesses any code violations. Restaurant owners can learn a lot about an operation simply by talking to others about their experience with that particular vendor. Some food safety experts even recommend visiting the distributor's warehouse(s) from time to time. If this, however, presents a problem, restaurateurs should at least know the vendor's quality assurance procedure. Paying attention to details such as the condition of delivery trucks, packaging and product presentation also might help reveal the vendor's safety practices.
Like their hungry clientele, restaurants run on food. While dining establishments must place food orders to vendors every week or so, the buying process is not an exact science. Eatery owners, managers and chefs must time purchases on an as-needed basis. There's no guarantee they will be able to use the ingredients before the product spoils, though.
To help lessen the risk of waste, software companies offer programs that track inventory as well as alert employees of expiration dates, low stock and needed products. Still, not all restaurateurs have the time, nor desire, to train staff members how to run a software application.
Other purchasing possibilities include working with local vendors. According to the National Restaurant Association, a growing number of dining establishments are relying on locally-produced food items. This ensures freshness, cuts back on the time it takes to get products from vendor to restaurant and often reduces delivery fees. Moreover, it allows the restaurant owner and vendor to form a more personal business relationship since they're within driving distance of the other.
Some industry pundits feel eatery owners should always negotiate with vendors - particularly if they are repeat, loyal customers. The reasoning goes that the food loses value when it's stockpiled and aging in a distributor's facility. The vendor also is running against the clock in terms of selling and product expiration dates.
Establishing efficient methods helps owners get the most out of their inventory. In certain instances, eatery owners may opt to hire a restaurant consultant to assist with purchasing specifications. These cuisine craftsmen not only help restaurants purchase the right items for their operation, but show them how to incorporate the products into a menu that sells. In addition, consultants can aid in meal pricing, setting up food delivery systems and portion control.