While the quality of your food has a major impact on whether customers will return to dine at your restaurant, the level of your menu offerings is not the only part of the supply chain that matters. The raw ingredients that contribute to your high-quality food come through a distribution channel that connects you with your suppliers.
Choosing quality vendors, says Modern Restaurant Management, is the key to the success of your restaurant.
Build a Relationship with Your Vendors
In the restaurant industry, there is a real need for restaurant owners and managers to connect with their food suppliers. Establishing a solid working relationship is critical, and the wrong partnership could damage a business. Your relationship with your vendor is like a marriage: you should be able to complain or argue with your best supplier, and at the end of the day, you will have hopefully corrected any problems and made up. If you can’t maintain a good relationship with vendors, and if problems aren’t corrected through discussion, you have to reevaluate the situation or consider a divorce.
The relationship between restaurant and vendor is like a marriage in other respects, as well—the sides rely on each other to put food on the table. And, like in a marriage, a good restaurant-vendor relationship relies on communication. In addition, the relationship between a supplier and a restaurant requires some maintenance, as over time, it may get to a point where one or both sides takes the other for granted. “Date night” is vital; in other words, regular face-to-face meetings are important to address concerns and keep the relationship fresh.
Price is Not Everything, but…
While some restaurants opt for a short-term relationship with vendors by shopping based on price, that approach may not be best in the long term. In today’s market, building good relationships with suppliers is crucial. If they’re not on your side, your product is affected. Think about hiring a food supplier in much the same way you think about hiring your restaurant’s staff. You’ll want to find a trustworthy vendor you feel comfortable with, so don’t make your decision solely based on price; sometimes you do get “what you pay for.”
…Trust is Vital
On the other hand, trust is a major component in the supplier/restaurant relationship. Suppliers need to know that the clients that buy their food won’t renege on an agreement, while restaurant owners should be assured that, when a problem comes up, the person at the other end of the supply line has their best interests at heart. As a restaurant owner, this may occasionally mean that you will have to lose in order to gain. For example, if you commit to a vendor to purchase a certain quantity of product and it turns out to be a flop, you can’t just back out of the deal. Instead you should buy the item whether you’re going to use it or not, to show that you respect the vendor’s business and your relationship.
Learn About Trends Through Smart Vendors
Building a partnership with suppliers can have unexpected positive consequences as well: it can bring some innovative ideas to a restaurant owner. Since different businesses are buying from your vendor, they often see trends just as they are developing. They probably can’t give away secrets from one customer to another; however, if you’re looking for innovative ideas and current trends, a loyal vendor can let you know about products that are doing well elsewhere.
Finding the Right Vendor
In “How to Run a Restaurant: Sourcing Supply,” Forbes discusses the best way to choose vendors for a restaurant. Before you commit to a vendor, you have to shop around. Make sure that your vendor has outstanding references by asking them what restaurants they serve and contact those restaurants directly.
Taste their product before committing. Again, the cheapest vendor isn’t always the best one, so look at the quality of their food, and check their service record. If it is relevant to your restaurant, inquire about their meat and produce packing dates. This information is critical to ensure that you get the freshest meat and produce possible. You’ll also want to know about the transit time for your fresh fruit and vegetables to ensure that you don’t end up with overripe produce.
Visit the vendor’s warehouse. Do they have sufficient room and safe storage for both dry and cold goods? Are they taking steps to protect the food from contamination? The best distributors go to great lengths and expense to protect the products they deliver.
Negotiate the Best Deal
When shopping around for a vendor, ask for price lists. When bartering for a better price, never accept their first offer. You might find there is room for negotiation. There may also be room to negotiate your payment terms; for instance, will your bill be due upon receipt, or in 30 days?
Work out a mutually beneficial delivery schedule. Make sure that your vendors know your schedule and when you need your items. Tell them what time of day they should deliver your product, as it will be difficult for you to receive inventory items during peak meal times.
Maintain the Relationship
A customer/vendor relationship is ideally a partnership. The vendor is going to have their own way of doing things, and it will be different from yours. Just like you expect them to adapt to your company’s policies, you should be willing to make exceptions for them as well. To keep the relationship with your vendor on a productive and positive level, try the following:
Pay On Time
If you want a vendor’s support to disappear – quickly – try not paying your bill. Every now and then a customer will use non-payment as a sign of displeasure, like leaving a bad tip at a restaurant. On occasion, the problem is simply that the vendor and the customer have a different idea of when a bill should be paid. Sometimes, the customer has an accounting policy like “net 60” and forgets to mention that to the vendor during the contract negotiations. As a result, the vendor is surprised when it takes a few months to receive a payment. During your contract discussions, make sure that the vendor’s expectations of “on time” payment and yours are in alignment.
Understand a Vendor’s Responsibilities
It is easy for a restaurant to feel steamrolled by a vendor, especially if the restaurant is the smaller of the two businesses and the vendor has a strict set of policies and procedures in place. Most misunderstandings between vendors and restaurant owners boil down to the same fundamental issue: mismatched expectations. The earlier that you make your expectations clear to the vendor, the sooner you will find out if and how they can be met. The best time, of course, is during the initial discussions. The contract is the only thing that you can count on when the going gets tough, so make sure that your expectations are aligned to it. By talking to the vendor, you can find out what is and what is not possible. Without that discussion, you will simply be disappointed and upset.
Understand That You’re Not the Only Customer
All too often, customers act as if they own a vendor or that they are the vendor’s only customer. Sometimes, the person who you are used to dealing with is helping another customer and you will need to deal with someone else. Mutual respect is vital in the vendor-restaurant relationship. Even if you have a contract for long-term, continued work, you can’t expect to send an email with a request and have the vendor start servicing it within minutes of receipt.
Deal with Damaged Products
We already discussed the importance of finding a distributor with high-quality products. But, what happens when you order something and it arrives spoiled, moldy, or both? You want to be sure that your vendor will take care of the problem. Don’t sign an invoice until you’ve checked everything. Make sure your vendor guarantees returns with damaged or unusable products, and that he takes care of you by providing new product (or a refund) in a timely manner. Ensure that the steps for this are put forth in your contract.
The Best Vendors: Key to Your Restaurant’s Success
Finding a vendor that compliments your restaurant is an integral part of your business, as the best vendors can help your restaurant create the best possible dining experience for your customers. When restaurants and vendors are in sync, both businesses can flourish. Vendors and restaurants rely on each other, so it is in everyone’s best interest to make the relationship work. It is up to you to find suppliers that are knowledgeable about the products they carry and that really know the restaurant business. And, most important of all, pick a partner that you can trust!