Establishing Relationships with Vendors
It is the impulse of most operators to henpeck, browbeat, filibuster or ignore a vendor to achieve pricing and considerations that best enhance a restaurant’s ability to meet the demands of the bottom line. These and other strategies of comparative shopping are the hallmarks of most vendor relationships. You are paying them money, which gives you the advantages that come with being a customer.
The other track operators take with vendors is an uneasy silence. Orders get placed, trucks deliver products and invoices get paid. However, cultivating a healthy relationship with your vendors can be very helpful as your business grows and the market trends that go with a commodity-based business fluctuate. A healthy friendship with vendor partners can help them work to find products and services that serve the best interests of both of you.
You have to be able to contact your vendor representative or an assistant at all times during business operations. This is in case problems arise or changes need to be quickly made. Mistakes happen far more frequently than they should (which in a perfect world would be never). Incorrect products are shipped, invoices have errors, the distributor runs out of product, or products go bad or are spoiled in transit.
Your vendor rep’s phone number should be nearby and that person should always be available. Getting to know your primary food vendor or his or her bosses—especially outside of work or away from the office—can underscore their obligation to make things right. Working with vendors implies more than grease for the wheel. It is the ability to work together for mutual benefit in a variety of climates and circumstances.
Good relationships with vendors also get you one step closer to the source. This can be critical in terms of answering questions or resolving problems. If the Mahi Mahi has spiked to $10 per pound or the New York Strips always have veins down the middle, good vendor rapport could help find out the real reason, and help you make important menu decisions.
Get You Deals
A good relationship is based on the promise of long-term collaboration. Vendor reps need long-term partnerships to succeed. They want to be able to bring you products and sell you on them. If you are an operator of a new restaurant…
Wine reps want to pour you quality wine.
Produce reps want to bring you exotic fruit and vegetables.
Full-service suppliers want to take you to trade shows.
Upstart vendors want to wow you with savings.
There’s no reason not to let them do these things. But there are many reasons in favor. They can come up with new ideas for your kitchen. They can suggest a missing ingredient in an entrée. They can also hook you up with discounted inventory based on supply surplus or desire to generate revenue.
A good vendor will provide you with sales techniques based on experience and knowledge of suppliers. A good wine company rep can provide wine tastings with service staff that create sales tips and contests. Seafood or protein providers can supply great ideas for specials and teach you their value to your business.
You may feel confident that you don’t need this kind of help from an outside sales rep, and I wouldn’t disagree. Operators are in this business for a reason, and familiarity with food and market forces may already be a strength of the restaurant. However, most of us have learned that good ideas can come from anywhere, and the most resourceful restaurants are often the most successful.
They’re Regular People, Like You
Ultimately, vendor sales reps are typically foodies or wine snobs, and have often entered this industry for the same reasons that many among your staff have. Put down your need to work the best price out of them and abandon your inapproachability. Doing so should help your restaurant succeed in the long run.