Catering for hundreds of diners week in, week out can be an arduous task, and a head chef needs to rely on their team to deliver the goods when it counts.
They also need their supplier network to quite literally deliver the goods! So it’s important to pick a supplier that can meet your exact needs.
But what should you look out for when picking a food supplier? Well, we’ve put together a list of the most important things to watch out for.
What do their customers say about them?
As with all products and services, reviews are worth their weight in gold. Does this supplier get good reviews or bad? What do the good ones praise and what do the bad ones slate?
Check the common places, such as Google, Facebook and Yell.com, and see how they perform under the scrutiny of their customers.
Do you know someone who buys from them?
Better still, get the opinion of someone you know and trust. Catering is a small world and the chances are that you’ll know a chef who’s currently being supplied by them. If you know them well and trust their professional opinion, this could be one of the best checks you make.
Do they source local produce?
Provenance is still important to your diners, so it should be just as important to you. There’s an abundance of produce that can be sourced locally, so if this supplier isn’t then you should question this.
Are they searching further afield to get a cheaper deal at the expense of quality? Are they too small to have the buying power to acquire local produce for you?
This isn’t the ‘be all and end all’, however, as sometimes the supermarkets can swallow up large swathes of the supply, and sometimes foreign products simply are better quality. But it is a factor to consider and a question to ask.
Do they have the ability to source further afield?
Equally important is a supplier’s ability to source products from further afield. Local is good, but not every product can be grown down the road.
Does this supplier have access to the large food markets, such as New Covent Garden Market in London or Rungis Market in Paris? Do they employ expert buyers who can get access to the pick of the crop and the best deals?
Without access to the variety from around the world, you may find your menu lacking.
Can they get the first pick?
If they can source locally and internationally with ease, how good are they at getting access to the first haul of new season products?
Mousseron and St George’s mushrooms are all highly seasonal and sought-after, as are gariguettes and British asparagus. If you want these items on your menu as soon as they come available, does your new supplier have that network of buyers that enables them to be first to market?
Do they deliver to your neighbours?
One clever cost-saving exercise is to opt for a supplier who delivers locally – perhaps even next door!
After the cost of the food, the cost of transporting it is a wholesaler’s second biggest variable cost to consider. So if your restaurant is already on one of their current routes, there’s no extra transport cost for them to factor in; which should mean better value for you.
Does their quality align with yours?
Perhaps one of the most important questions to ask is do their quality standards match yours?
It’s important to get a good alignment on quality, and ensure that you’re picking the right supplier for your restaurant.
If you run a Michelin-starred restaurant, you’ll want to opt for a supplier that values quality and service above all, such as First Choice. If quality isn’t as important and the service you offer is cheap and cheerful, you might be better placed with one of the big wholesalers, such as Brakes or Bidvest, whose huge buying power earns them cheaper prices.
Can they deliver to all your restaurants?
If you’re operating a chain of restaurants, can this food supplier deliver to all of them?
You’re much better placed if you’re dealing with one supplier, rather than a portfolio. Managing one point of contact will make communication much more simple. And, as multiple suppliers might source products from different producers, you’ll also mitigate the risk of varying quality between your sites.
How passionate are their staff?
And lastly – but by no means, least – scrutinise a supplier by assessing how passionate their staff are. Are they foodies? Or better yet, chefs!
Is their product knowledge as good as or better than yours? Do they sound excited by what they’re selling you? And can you rely on them for an innovative recommendation the next time you ask?
Picking your food supplier
So there’s a few tips for you to use ahead of your next chat with a potential food supplier. Whichever factor has the most impact for you, make sure you don’t compromise. Good suppliers can be the backbone of a good restaurant, so choose yours wisely.