If you’re new to or have no experience in the restaurant business, you may be wondering how restaurants find the right vendors to source their food, beverages, and other items. Managing so many vendors can be somewhat of a balancing act, especially when everyone wants to get the freshest food at the best price. In addition, 66% of diners say they prefer to eat at restaurants with locally sourced food, which is another factor for a manager or owner to consider when weighing their options.
We’ve broken down the different types of restaurant food and beverage suppliers and how restaurants work with them.
Whether a restaurant is a vegan fast food joint or a sit-down steakhouse, having a wide variety of vegetables and fruits on the menu is a must. Restaurants source their produce in several different ways, and usually combine more than one of the following methods to best suit their needs.
Larger and busier establishments may find it easier to get their produce from major food providers like US Foods, Sysco, or Performance Food Group. Other restaurants may utilize local suppliers or purchase from nearby stores, while others – especially those that make organic meals a priority – often source their produce from local farmers markets. These farmers markets offer a unique opportunity to meet local suppliers, allowing restaurants to establish a connection and create the option to buy wholesale from them as well. There are also apps, such as Local Dirt, that connect restaurants with local suppliers.
While some restaurant’s source their poultry, beef, and pork directly from local farms, others may choose to purchase through larger companies. These companies have a network of farms and butchers that get the meat restaurant-ready. These large-scale companies often have more resources to invest in sensor technology that can ensure proper food safety.
Restaurants may feel more secure going this route since these big companies provide some peace of mind with their technology systems. However, there are many advantages to sourcing meat directly from farmers or smaller suppliers. Restaurants can build relationships and obtain the freshest, best quality meats while simultaneously supporting their local economy. These farms may also practice more sustainable farming that is better for their animals and the environment. Some restaurants utilize these nearby farms and hire a third-party to ensure the safety of their ingredients, a DIY combination that brings together the best of both worlds.
Seafood suppliers aren’t always a one-stop shop. Some restaurants may find that they need to work with multiple sources, as each provider focuses on a different type of seafood.
Some fish suppliers will only sell fresh seafood, sourced locally or as part of an international network; other providers specialize in the frozen variety. One thing they are likely to have in common is that much of the seafood today comes from fish farms, with each farm dedicating itself to a different type of fish. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that nearly 50 percent of the fish we consume is now farmed.
One item that is nearly impossible for restaurants to source directly from farmers is coffee. This is mostly due to the infrastructure of the trade, but restaurants can still use suppliers that source their beans directly from farms, including those that are fair trade-certified.
Restaurants may also choose to go through a larger-scale, wholesale supplier to obtain their coffee, or source directly from a local roastery.
From nuts and rice to flour and spice, a restaurant’s dry goods tend to be purchased – often in bulk – from a major supplier, such as the ones mentioned above for produce.
Sometimes a certain dish may call for a particular ingredient that is only available through a specialty supplier. A popular option in the United States is Crossings Fine Foods, where restaurants can purchase specialty items at wholesale prices.
Restaurants may also utilize special events–such as The Summer Fancy Food Show in New York to meet with different suppliers and explore their options for sourcing those extra special, dish-elevating ingredients.
Calculate the ideal food costs for your restaurant with our free Food Cost Calculator.
If a restaurant’s baked goods are not made in-house, the next best option is to source them from a local bakery. Specialty breads, cakes, and other bakery items can be obtained from big suppliers as well, but it’s common for bakeries to function as suppliers for nearby restaurants. The quality and freshness in locally sourcing these types of items is far superior. Bulk items like hamburger buns and other white breads are more commonly sourced from large-scale suppliers.
Sourcing beer for your restaurant can be done several different ways. Going straight to the big suppliers will net you the most popular, mass-produced beer. On the other hand, depending on the type of crowd in your restaurant, you might prefer to work with a specialty supplier to obtain craft beer, or even work directly with a popular local brewery to serve their lineup of brews. The best way to keep all your guests happy is to combine two or more of these sources.
Similar to beer, wine can be obtained straight from a local winery, or it can be sourced through one or more suppliers that work with wineries across the world. The best option for your restaurant depends on the width of the selection you’d like to offer.
When it comes to hard liquor and other spirits, the most common option is for restaurants to go through large suppliers like Ultra Pure and Luxco. These providers specialize in a variety of alcohols from a wide range of companies, so you’re sure to find the selection you need to stock your restaurant’s bar.
Now that we have a broader knowledge of all the different people who have to work together to stock a restaurant, it makes a busy Saturday night service look that much more impressive.