Ask any successful restaurateur what they would do without their trusted suppliers, and most of them are going to tell you the truth, vendors are the lifeblood of the industry. Whether it is scoring fresh produce, getting a vent hood serviced or building a menu specific POS, finding quality vendors that are compatible with your business, is not always easy, but is one of the most essential aspects of running and growing a restaurant. Here are some helpful tips to consider when it comes to vendor relationships.
1. Vetting Suppliers
All restaurant suppliers aren’t made equal, so it’s essential to partner with a trusted name. Since your vendors are essentially working for you, don’t be afraid to ask for questions. Before moving forward, take time to learn more about the businesses you are considering questions like:
How long has the company been in business?
Can I see samples?
What are your payment terms and refund policy?
What is the minimum order?
Are there any discounts available?
Do you have a contingency plan?
Do you have any references?
Asking these questions, in addition to the rest of these tips (doing research and talking with other restaurateurs) can go a long way in the process of selecting vendors and building relationships with them.
2. Ask for Advice
One of your most powerful resources, when it comes to vendors, is your peers. While you may see the restaurant owners in your community as your competitors, by interacting and building professional friendships, you build a network of industry experts. These become people you can go to for advice about the day-to-day aspects of the business, especially concerning suppliers. Make a list of questions you have, and consult with other owners/managers. Chances are they have had the same concerns, and if they haven’t then you can seek out the answers together.
3. Think Local
If you’re looking for unique suppliers and producers, or specialty made ingredients for your restaurant menu, get out and do some research in your surrounding community. Try visiting local farmer’s markets, there are usually a wide variety of quality products, and you may have the opportunity to consult the farmers who produced them. Also, talk to market organizers as they are usually knowledgeable sources of information on which farmers have bigger operations and are reliable to work with. Working with local suppliers can be very rewarding relationships and meeting them in person is a smart first step.
4. Consider Financial Implications
As with all areas of running your business, the most vital concern when it comes to vendors and suppliers is going to be your bottom line. Having vendors that are consistent and reliable makes it easier for you to accurately figure the cost into your budget, allowing you to plan for the future with confidence. A good partnership should be designed to increase margins everywhere. Pay close attention to the interactions between humans, machines and tech, because that interface can siphon margins quickly. The best POS machine in the world, for example, won’t improve margins if it takes so much training that few employees learn how to use it properly. A dishwasher that can only be fixed under warranty by a certified mechanic is going to be a liability if there are no certified mechanics in town. Suppliers who are looking out for you will find profit margin leaks and ways to plug them.
5. Meet All Local Codes
Before purchasing commercial restaurant equipment, you should check all health, fire, and building codes to see the specific requirements of your commercial kitchen. Local codes vary widely across the country, so what is acceptable in one location might be prohibited a few miles down the road. Equipment that can be operated without a vent in some areas has to be placed under a hood in other locations. Partner with your local government to ensure the layout and equipment you are considering is in line with local codes. Violations of these codes could lead to hefty fines or closure and can cost you thousands of dollars as you work to rectify the problem. Make sure your vendors are aware of the specific conditions/rules your restaurant operates under, and discuss how they are able to help you obtain and maintain equipment that is suitable.