How to Start a Restaurant 03: Choosing a Food Distributor

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How to Start a Restaurant 03: Choosing a Food Distributor

Last week we How to Start a Restaurant post we discussed how to find your unique selling point. With so many restaurants out there it is important to find a unique selling point for your restaurant. Basically you are looking for a different angle to come at your customers from that is specific to your restaurant. This week we are going to look at food distributors for your new restaurant.

Food distributors can actually be one of the hardest decisions you have to make. Hopefully they are going to be with you for a long time. My food rep for my food distributor suggested to me using 2 food distributors. He said that way if they run out of something I would have the other one to fall back on. I liked the idea of using multiple suppliers but now I just use 1 main one and I fall back on Gordon Food Service Store GFS. I also buy some things from Sams Club.

Your food supplier is going to be one of the longest lasting most important relationships you form. I used to use mostly Sysco and than Sofo and a few things from Sams Club and GFS. When my food rep from Sysco left their company I bought mostly from Sofo. Eventually I got rid of Sysco all together.   

How many of you have heard of Sysco? They are one of the biggest food distributors in the United States they may be the biggest after the recent merger with US Foods. Anything you need more than likely Sysco will have it.

What should you look for in a Food Distributors?

1. Size of your restaurant

The size of your restaurant can play a role in what food distributor will service your restaurant. I remember when I was first starting off when I was interviewing various food distributors I came across US Foods. US Foods rep told me it wouldn’t be worth his companies time. To me that doesn’t sound like good customer service so I will never use them even if I get big enough so they want to service my restaurant.

While you are starting off you may just find a GFS never you and run there to get supplies as you need them. This is how I started off. I would load my car up twice a week with supplies from GFS I was maybe spending 300 to 500 dollars a week though. As I grew the trips to GFS became more frequent and I just couldn’t keep up with everything after awhile. If your starting small and this is your first restaurant this maybe the way to go.

When you are ready to have a food truck come to your restaurant check with multiple distributors to make sure which ones will service a restaurant of your size.

2. What kind of food your selling.

This may be one of the biggest factors that determines what food distributor you go with. Some food distributors specialize in a certain market so they may not have what your looking for. One of the best things you can do is research. Research other restaurants that are selling similar things. When I started my pizza place I researched who was supplying Jets Pizza, Cottage Inn, and Pizza House. You don’t want to use someone who has never supplied a restaurant like yours.

3. Personality

This may not seem like a big deal but it is. It is important to meet with the distributors rep and his or her boss a few times before deciding who you want to use. If you don’t mesh with the food distributors rep than you midis well not use them no matter if everything else I mention matches. This may sound goofy but you are entering in to what is hopefully going to be a long term relationship.  Personality goes a long way.

The relationship you develop with your food distributor is going to be one the most important relationships you have. These are the people you are going to rely on to give you the best possible price they can on your food. They are also the ones you are going to call in the middle of the week right after your delivery date to ask if there is anyway they can get you extra supplies for a catering order that was just sprung on you.

4. Terms for payment

This one may not be that big of a deal to some but to others it will be. Depending on what kind of budget you have to start with you may need a week to pay for the food they deliver this week. It is not uncommon for restaurants to be set up on a 7 day term. This means you do not have to pay for the food you get delivered this Monday until next Monday.

When I first started out I was a little paranoid about this. I didn’t want to have to owe anyone any money encase it didn’t workout. Little did I know that it was a common practice for restaurants to do this. Now I always pay for what I get this week next week. I have been with this company for so long that if I forget to leave a check for them they know I will pay for it next week.

5. Delivery date

When you are interviewing the food distributors ask them what day they are in your neighborhood. They may only be there on Fridays at 1 p.m. which may be right in the middle of your lunch rush and this may not work for you.

6. Key drop

A key drop is when you give the food distributing company a key and permission to come in to your restaurant when you are closed and leave the food. Some restaurants really love this and others don’t. Some it is the only option. Meaning the distribution company is only in your town when you are closed.

The reason I don’t like it is because I like to be there when the food comes in and have it checked in as it comes in. Secondly I like to give them a check for what I owe. Yes I could leave a check for them and check the order once I get there but if I can avoid it I like to.

7. Price Audit Them

I got this idea from a guy at a seminar. This may come across as a little weird when you ask them so this is why having a good relationship with them is a good thing. We as restaurant owners understand that the food distributor is there to make money, but so are we. So 4 times a year once a quarter I ask to see their invoices they get from there suppliers. I understand that they are there to make money so you need to understand that going into this but just how much is ok with you.

8. Location

Especially now a days where the products are coming from is a huge deal to a lot of consumers. So if you have a restaurant in Ohio and you can say all food comes from Ohio it may mean a lot to some of your customers. At least for no other reason just for yourself. Just so you know where the products are coming from.

9. Organic

Are you an organic restaurant if so this is going to play a big role in who you finally choose as your food distributor. It used to be hard to find organic food but with it becoming more and more common a lot more food distributors are carrying organic food. This should be the first thing you ask if you are an organic restaurant.

10. Tour

When your in the interviewing stages or thinking about changing food distributors you should ask to take a tour of their facility. See how the food is loaded on the trucks and see how everything works down at there center. If it is a reputable company this won’t be a problem. Some companies will even do a cutting day. This means you take a day and go down to their center where they let you try all kinds of different foods. This is a good way to add things to your menu and to see how the product taste before choosing it.

11. Shopping at Local Grocery stores

It will happen trust me you will run out of something and have to run to the local grocery store to get it. It is always a good idea to know where to go when you run out of a certain product. Have it written down somewhere so your manager knows what to do if you aren’t there.


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