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Restaurants today are left searching for reliable and trustworthy suppliers for bread, pastries, seafood, meat, alcohol, produce, linens, and more. It’s extremely rare to find a one-size-all vendor that provides the full nine yards, so restaurants are forced to place orders with various distributors while coordinating multiple shipping schedules to ensure they have every piece of inventory precisely when they need it. 

It’s essential for restaurants to have a strategy around choosing vendors that can satisfy all of their inventory needs. Having a plan beforehand helps to build out your optimal distribution team. While going through this process, it’s critical to keep these ten questions for food suppliers in mind:

1. Do You Have a Minimum or Maximum Order?

Running a restaurant is all about inventory management, so it’s vital to ensure your kitchen syncs up with a vendor’s delivery requirements. If their minimum order quantity leaves you with too much inventory, it could lead to costly food waste. On the other hand, if their maximum order quantity doesn’t meet your kitchen’s needs, that won’t work either. 

Asking questions about the minimum or maximum orders required will help you keep your inventory stocked while avoiding unnecessary fees. 

2. Do You Discount for Bulk Orders?

Let’s say business is booming your restaurant is serving up hundreds (or thousands!) of meals per day. You need a substantial amount of food delivered each week, and you want a discount for placing such large orders. Many vendors offer discounts for volume orders, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to ask. This is a huge boon when it comes to reducing your food cost and increasing profit.

3. Do You Have a Mobile App? 

Working with a vendor that has a mobile app means you can have greater flexibility when it comes to on-the-go ordering. Online ordering reduces costs and minimizes errors, so you’re likely to save money on food items while experiencing fewer mistakes in your deliveries. 

Using a vendor’s mobile app is as easy as placing your order, adding notes, confirming your delivery schedule, and setting up a payment type – all in one place. You’ll be able to seamlessly browse through the vendor’s product catalog and make your selections all in just a few clicks. Plus, you can view order history and bills for record-keeping.

4. What is the Quality of Delivery Like? 

Punctuality is one of the most significant qualities a vendor can possess. The restaurant industry lives and dies by inventory shelf life, after all. And seriously, do you really need the stress of a delivery dropped right in the middle of a brunch rush? Finding a vendor with a solid track record of on-time, reliable delivery is going to be imperative for building a long-term professional relationship. 

Additionally, If you want to offer your customers the freshest of fare, then you have to find a vendor that has a reputation for fresh ingredients. This is key for both the vendor and the customer relationship. Choosing a vendor who can satisfy both of these fronts in a huge step in the right direction for a successful partnership. 

5. What’s Your Delivery Schedule?

Finding a punctual vendor that can accommodate your schedule is tricky, but can be done if you find the right fit. Since vendors supply multiple clients across the city, their delivery routes can generally get pretty stacked. 

Assuming you’re a restaurant that prefers your ingredients to be at the peak of freshness, there’s a good chance you want the just-in-time delivery method. That will ensure your food items have a longer shelf life and your odds of wasting unused inventory is reduced. 

By now you’ve figured out your par levels, when to reorder, and how long your inventory lasts. A vendor’s ability to match their delivery schedule to your needs is an excellent way to build a long-term relationship and avoid frantic calls and texts when a delivery shows up late, or worse, not at all. 

Other important factors to find out include:

  • Is there a specific time frame the vendor can guarantee delivery?
  • Do they deliver on holidays and weekends?
  • Can they drop off deliveries even when your restaurant isn’t open?
  • Will they deliver food items directly to your freezer and refrigerator, or will staff be needed to help unload the truck?

It would benefit you to identify vendors who have adopted tech solutions for streamlining their ordering process and delivery routes. It shows that they are organized and more inclined to proactively support your restaurant. 

6. What are the Payment Terms?

There are two common payment options: cost-plus-fixed price, and cost-plus-percentage price. As their names imply, cost-fixed pricing means you pay the cost of the food items plus a fixed fee. 

Cost-plus-percentage means you pay the cost of the food items plus a percentage (typically 5%). When deciding between these pricing models, it’s generally more favorable to go with cost-plus-fixed pricing. This is due to the fact that the cost of food is always increasing, so locking down this payment structure will make sure you don’t thin out your margins anytime soon. 

As far as the payment schedule goes, the longer you can wait to pay a food vendor, the better. What you buy for inventory today won’t be consumed for several days, if not weeks, so you won’t even bring in revenue to cover that order for a while. Negotiate terms so that they suit you. 

Lastly, what forms of payment do they accept? You might find it easiest to pay with a credit or debit card online, but they might insist on Cash on Delivery.

7. Do You Have References?

Before starting a vendor relationship, it’s wise to do research on what restaurants your frontrunner is already working with so you can receive an unvarnished opinion. Send their restaurant clientele a message and ask for their experience with the vendor. Some specific questions to ask include: 

  • Have you ever had problems with the vendor?
  • Has pricing ever gone up without notice?
  • Would you recommend the vendor?

Most restaurant owners won’t shy away from telling you exactly what they think. It also wouldn’t hurt to check out the vendor’s website or social media channels and search for customer testimonials that showcase what their service is like.
 

8. How Can You Add Value to My Orders? 

You can negotiate the basics to think you’re getting the most out of your food suppliers, but the reality is, you should ask for consistent improvements on all fronts. 

Perhaps the improvement comes straight at the sourcing stage. Are they able to provide you with a diverse range of products to meet your needs, or is their producer network too limited? Can they give you a curated list of products to save you the hassle of reviewing thousands of options? Can they help you advance your sustainability practices through eco-friendly or local sourcing? 

Improvements can be made at the manufacturing stage as well. Your vendor might be able to find producers that can consistently add value to your menu, such as providing exciting, seasonal flavors, or applying time-saving methods such as pre-cutting or sous-vide packaging. 

Another way a vendor can bring value is through logistics and consolidation. Reliable and proven food suppliers should be able to combine multiple orders into fewer deliveries so you can decrease the margin of error when receiving them. Additionally, you’ll spend less on logistical costs with this approach. Even if you begin working with one vendor or one product type, you still want to know that they’ll be able to handle it once you expand your orders in the future.

9. Can You Consistently Delight Me? 

Vendors that go above and beyond are more than just a company that stocks your shelves, by acting as your consultant, assisting you in thinking outside of the box, and delighting your guests with intriguing menu items. 

Thoughtful vendors may provide you with ideas that you might haven’t considered before, such as incorporating a different product origin than what you’ve been using. For example, a vendor might suggest that you start ordering from a local farm that they have a great relationship with while also saving you on import fees. 

Traditional vendors are more like sales agents, while a new generation of suppliers can act more like partners. Choosing a vendor who is invested in your restaurant and will provide you with the expertise to help you thrive will truly benefit you long-term. Their knowledge of the food supply chain is growing by the day, so they’ll be able to discuss product specifications with producers to provide you with fresher ingredients and even cost savings

10. Can You Provide a Liability Insurance Certificate?

What happens if a batch of lettuce you ordered is found to have traces of E. coli? Will you have to eat the cost, or is it covered by insurance? Liability insurance is a must for any food supplier. 

Should there be a product recall or other issue with anything you’ve ordered, the vendor’s insurance should cover it and reimburse you. Interview several food suppliers before making your decision. Don’t be swayed on price alone, and remember that the quality of the food you serve your patrons should be the best, so sometimes it’s worth paying a little more to get it. 

MarketMan Can Streamline Your Operations

Restaurant purchasing software can help you save time and money when placing orders with suppliers. Chefs and managers can submit purchase orders, check statuses, and manage vendors anytime, anywhere. When a delivery arrives, you can automatically reconcile and check items into storage. Find out how you can achieve all this with MarketMan today!

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