4 Truths About Restaurant Suppliers No One’s Talking About

restaurant suppliers truths

Restaurant Suppliers.

You work with them on a daily basis. In fact, you might spend more time on the phone with them than anyone else.

They’re your one, all-important way to make sure your restaurant is properly stocked. Without them and the products they provide, you’d be out of business.

We’ve worked with thousands of restaurants across the U.S. over the past two years, and if there’s one thing we know, it’s that you love your suppliers. We also know that both you and they run businesses… and that your separate goals can make your working relationship tricky at times.

Because we’ve learned so much about the complex restaurant-supplier relationship and dug so deeply into this area, we’ve uncovered some facts… things that are true for almost everyone in the industry.

The surprising part is, no one is talking about them.

That’s why we’re putting our experience and knowledge from talking to our customers to good use… we’re listing the top 4 supplier truths and what they mean for restaurants.

dont let restaurant suppliers take advantage of you

Truth #1: Everything’s Negotiable

Fluctuations in food costs aren’t uncommon on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Managers who are keeping an eye on their food spend understand when a price increases a few dollars, it has the potential to affect their business’ bottom line dramatically.

As a business that invests a third of its budget into buying, preparing, and selling food… you need to get the best prices on ingredients all the time, every time. When a price is just too high, it’s perfectly acceptable to go to another supplier, do a quick price check, and ask for a better price.

In fact, that’s the first truth we know about suppliers… everything’s negotiable.

For one of our customers, linen is an item he spends a lot of money on, so he checks linen prices every week to see if they’ve changed. When prices shoot up without warning, he talks to his supplier right away… either asking for more linens for the same price or a lower price on the same amount of stock.

The best part: he’s usually able to negotiate a better deal.

Whether you calculate it in your head, on a spreadsheet, or using software… it’s important to know when food prices go up on your most-used items. And when you see price increases, call up your supplier and talk to them about these issues

Ask for a better price if you order more stock, ask for a discount if you refer another restaurant to them, ask for a deal just for a few months while you open your new location.

Negotiate until you get a price you can work with.

Truth #2: You Have More Control Than You Think

Time and time again it happens… you’re right in the middle of the lunch rush and your supplier arrives at the back door to drop off your order. Or how about when you receive your order and one of the items is wrong… those Granny Smith apples you were planning to serve with ice cream are replaced by Red Delicious… it’s not on the menu and it won’t work.

And you’re busy… in the middle of a rushed delivery, you’re too frazzled to remember the exact amount and price of the wrong item delivered… so credits go out the window along with any money you might have saved.

Most managers just accept this as the way it is in the industry… that suppliers are inconsistent and chaotic. But another truth we’ve learned is that suppliers have better control over these processes than you think.

It’s just a matter of asking.

Give restaurant suppliers a list of days and times that work for delivery… the more options, the better. Ask your rep to keep track of your credits and to notify you of rebates. When you receive a wrong item or there’s an item missing from a delivery, don’t wait… let your rep know right away. Give him or her the exact timing, delivery, and packaging you want.

Staying on top of details like this will let your supplier prove they’re reliable and prompt.

Truth #3: Customer Success Has to Come First

Many managers share a sense of camaraderie with their reps… they think of them as friends.

But the third truth we’ve learned about the restaurant suppliers relationship is that the best ones flourish not because of a buddy-buddy attitude, but because customer success comes first.

You and your rep need to share a business-first mindset… as a business, you need to make money and you do that by ordering food from your supplier. Likewise, your rep is in business and needs to make money, too. The way he or she can do this best is by giving you professional, timely, convenient service and communicating clearly with you.

Suppliers should give you a competitive edge by telling you about market trends and changes in legislation and healthcare. They should make you aware of new substitutes for your most popular items so you can be healthier, be more sustainable, or save more money.

You spend thousands of dollars with your rep every year. In response, your rep should do everything in his or her power to make sure you’re completely satisfied as a customer.

Just as guests come first in your restaurant, so you should come first to your rep.

Truth #4: There Aren’t Any Checks & Balances

How do you keep track of whether a supplier is following through on its contract? How about negotiated prices? Or delivery times you requested?

The truth… and the last truth we’ve learned… is that most managers don’t have any checks and balances in place to audit their restaurant suppliers.

You’re busy. It’s hard enough to keep track of who’s showing up for the next shift. Now you have to worry if your supplier is making good on its promises. You need a hassle-free way to audit your experience with your supplier just often enough to keep your finger on the pulse of your relationship.

That’s where a quarterly business review is a lifesaver. Once every three months, sit down with your restaurant suppliers. Rate them on the things that are important to you when it comes to customer success. Show them where your prices have increased over the last few months, and where you’re spending the most money with them.

These quarterly business review meetings have worked wonders for our customers… saving them thousands of dollars and establishing a stronger supplier relationship moving forward.

Improving Your Relationship with Restaurant Suppliers

If there’s anything these 4 truths reveal, it’s that the restaurant-supplier relationship isn’t perfect… there’s room for improvement on both sides.

Suppliers need to step up and be your go-to industry expert. They can help you get the best prices so your business can be successful. They need to show more control over the processes related to the services they provide, so you’re never inconvenienced.

Managers need to step up to the plate, too. That means asking questions when things don’t seem right, fighting for excellent customer service, negotiating prices, setting realistic expectations for your suppliers, and committing to quarterly business reviews.

You work with your suppliers every day. You depend on them and love them. Your working relationship with them shouldn’t be tricky. So talk with your suppliers about these unspoken realities to create a better experience for you both.


At Orderly, we know how daunting the restaurant-supplier relationship can be. That’s why we created a printable quarterly business review template so you get the most out of your supplier meetings. Get it here.

Of course, Orderly can help automate all these processes for you. You can get all food spend & price trend data in the palm of your hand with our free Orderly App.

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