Narrow the playing field
Do you cater to Millenials and Gen Z’ers that are willing to pay more for farm-to-table freshness and transparency? Alternatively, do diners flock to your restaurant to enjoy a filling meal at a reasonable price?
There’s a huge and increasing focus on supporting local farmers and sustainability. If you’re managing a restaurant that built its appeal on natural and fresh products, you’ll probably want to avoid obtaining your produce, meat, dairy and seafood from broad-line distributors. Did you know that, on average, fruits and vegetables will travel 1,500 miles before reaching your restaurant?
Let’s say your restaurant resides on the opposite end of the spectrum. Your diners prefer moderately priced meals and are not interested in where the ingredients came from or how far they traveled. To keep your menu prices low, you may be able to narrow your search to just broad-line distributors.
What if your restaurant has mass appeal and caters to diners at both ends of the spectrum? Since both local farms and broad-line distributors offer desirable benefits, you’re in a position to get the best of the best from vendors in each of these categories.
Now that you’ve narrowed the list of potential food service vendors down a bit, let’s explore some criteria you’ll want to use to rate potential vendors. As you go through the evaluation process, keep a log so that you’ll be able to make accurate comparisons.
Don’t leave anything to chance
Quality: It’s no secret, your customers expect a certain quality of food. When you dish up anything less, you’ll be left with empty tables and ultimately declining profitability. If you’re not sure which vendors offer the quality of goods your restaurant has built its reputation on, ask for samples.
Cost: While being budget-minded should be top of mind, cutting cost to the bone is not an option. We’ve all heard the phrase, “You get what you pay for.” This phrase may be more relevant to the restaurant industry than any other line of business. Be sure to compare your potential food service vendor prices against each other. Having this knowledge, as well as knowing the quality they provide puts you one step closer to finding the best of the best food service vendors for your restaurant.
Reliability: It won’t do you or your restaurant any good if your foodservice vendors deliver quality products at a good price, but they frequently miss deliveries or run out of the products you need. When substitutions need to be made, and it will happen, the vendor should let you know in advance. This will give you the opportunity to let them know which substitutes you’re willing to accept.
Be sure to find out if the vendors can accommodate your delivery schedule. Also, ask if they deliver items to your cooler or freezer, or will you need to ensure staff is on hand to assist.
Sustainability: Your food service vendors should be closely aligned with your sustainability efforts. If you’re looking at onboarding one or more of the top 10 U.S. food vendors, you can be sure they are committed to sustainability and actively onboarding new initiatives. What if you’re searching for niche vendors? Not a problem. Be sure to ask for their sustainability reports, then do a bit of due diligence to ensure they have a proven track record.
References: Once you’ve narrowed the list down to a handful, it’s time to check their references. Ask for references from establishments that are similar to your restaurant. And if they’re local, visit their restaurants in person. This is a good opportunity to build rapport and add other restaurant owners to your network.
Speaking of your network, reach out to those who’ve used the food service vendors that have made your shortlist. In addition to verbal references, take the time to search industry associations and read trade publications.
The process of selecting food service vendors can be tricky, time-consuming and at times overwhelming. Done right, you’ll find the perfect balance between quality, cost, reliability, and sustainability. And equally as important, your vendors will be the perfect match for your restaurant.