Food suppliers are an essential lifeline of any restaurant. And relationships with those suppliers are critical your restaurant’s day to day operations.
Finding the right food supplier is as important to the success of your restaurant as hiring the right general manager and sous chef.
With your concept and restaurant menu ideas in mind, it’s essential to look for restaurant suppliers with whom you can establish a relationship.
Let them come to you.
As soon as you file for your restaurant licenses and permits to open your restaurant, you’ll likely start getting calls. Suppliers and sales reps are constantly looking for new business and are paying attention to what new restaurants are opening up in their territories. Don’t be surprised when they start calling or knocking on your door.
Ask your colleagues.
Fellow restaurateurs may not be willing to share their recipes with you, but they’ll likely be willing to share their suppliers. The more people buying from a supplier, the better the prices will be for everyone. Plus, knowing what each other is paying helps keep the prices the same for everyone. Visit your new neighbors, get in touch with owners of some of your favorite haunts and ask about where they are sourcing their food.
Get out and research.
If you’re looking for local suppliers and producers, or specialty made ingredients for your restaurant menu, get out and do some research. Visit your local farmer’s markets, try a lot of products, and talk to your farmers. 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.
Go national if you need to.
Even if you’re hoping to source as many products locally as possible, there can still be a place for big food service suppliers. You may be spending more for our local, organic chickens, so save on the big commodities like salt, flour or paper products by using a big food service supplier. Their prices will likely be the most competitive, leaving bigger portions of your budget available for the specialty items that make your dishes unique.
Join a cooperative.
If you are committed to working with local producers, join a local food cooperative. Restaurateurs who join together for bulk ordering can often make it easier for smaller suppliers to service you. See if any co-ops exist in your area, or talk to some of your like minded neighbors about setting one up.
As you look to form relationships, ask for samples and examples of their product. Also, ask for references so you can call some of their customers and to find out what it’s like working with them. The more information you have going into the partnership, the more lucrative it will be for both parties.