The Essential Supplier Guide®

for chefs and kitchen staff

Intro

Welcome to THE essential guide that every chef and restaurateur needs to read before considering a new supplier. This will give you the tools you need to discover what matters most for your business so you can go out and source from the best suppliers for you.

Whether you are thinking about opening your own food business, or you are already up and running, having good suppliers is crucial to your success. A bad supplier can damage your ability to serve your customers. But to know what a good supplier looks like for your business, you have to understand what you actually need first.

Supplier types

First, the basics. This section might be obvious to you, but it’s good to make sure we all start on the same page. There are six general categories of suppliers:

Vegetables & fruit

Meat

Fish & seafood

Dairy

General (dry goods, disposables, etc.)

Speciality (bread, regional imported products, etc.)

The vast majority of suppliers will fall into one or more of these categories, and many will cover more than one. Thinking about your sourcing in terms of these categories is a good place to start. It’s easy to just assume you’ll need one of each supplier, but before you get yourself set up, take a detailed look at your menu (or menu ideas), figure out what you will need, and split those out into the above categories.

You might discover that you don't actually need one from every category, or you may discover that you require certain specialty products that need special suppliers of their own.

Don’t think about suppliers in isolation, but about how they fit into the bigger picture of how you run your restaurant. What are the supplier options in your area? How many orders do you want to be making at the end of each day? How many supplier relationships do you and your team have the capacity to manage? Remember, it’s not just the first conversation either. You’ll need to manage your supplier relationships in the long term too. Top tip: Check a supplier’s entire catalogue to see what they stock! It’s likely that they stock more than you think. Some meat suppliers also sell dairy; fruit and vegetable suppliers often stock some dry goods as well. If you can get the same product from an existing supplier or one you know you will order from regularly, it can sometimes make more sense to consolidate how you order. It’s also good to know which suppliers you can use as a backup in an emergency. It’s good practice to have a clear idea of what you can order from who, it might surprise you!

Practical Tips

When you add in limitations like budget, space, schedules, etc. your supplier list might look a little different to what you initially imagined, but that's ok. It can be frustrating to find that a supplier you were originally excited by doesn't fit with the needs of your business—they don't deliver to your area, you can't make them fit within your margins, or maybe the rep you spoke to didn’t leave you with the best feeling.

While that can be hard to accept, it can also make you realise what's most important for the smooth running of your restaurant. Figuring out which practicalities you can't live without and which are open to compromise can help navigate a long list of potential suppliers.

…you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need.

Delivery days

How many times can they deliver and what days a week do they deliver to your area? If the answer is less than the number of days you are open each week, how much space do you have to stock multiple days worth of raw ingredients?

Cutoff times

Does the cutoff time for orders conflict with when you are in service? E.g. is the cutoff time for next day 4pm, but you won't know how much you need to order until after dinner service finishes at 11pm? Do they have different cutoff times on weekends?

Minimum spend

Do they have one? What is it? Is that an amount that you can reliably order, or will you struggle to order enough to allow for a delivery? Will you regularly need to order extra, unnecessary items to reach your limit?

Second deliveries

If you or your team forgets to order something, you get a big booking at the last minute, or the new chef burns an entire oven full of prep, can your supplier help save the day?

Customer service

Like death and taxes, it's inevitable that deliveries will sometimes go wrong. When they do, whether it was the fault of your team or the supplier, will they be there to help you fix it and make sure you can still run your kitchen? Will they do everything they can to help you get what you need?

Sustainability

The environment needs our help. There’s no ignoring it. The choices we make as restauranteurs and chefs on where and how we source our ingredients should take the environment into account. We work in an industry that has a big impact on the climate, so we should be doing our part to make a difference.

The great thing is that there are a lot of different ways we can think about sourcing conscientiously. Packaging, food miles, growing/rearing methods, etc can all come into play. No one is perfect, but look for suppliers that are thinking about the way they work and making conscious efforts to be better.

When looking into suppliers, here are a few good questions to ask and research: What materials are used for deliveries (e.g. plastic/cardboard/reusable boxes)? Can you request plastic-free deliveries or return boxes or crates after use? What kind of vans do they use to make deliveries? How far does everything travel? What methods of travel are used? Are they members of any organisations or affiliations concerned with sustainability? Where do they source their goods from? How are the ingredients grown/processed?

Some books for further reading on the topic:

Real Talk

Here’s where we get personal. Beneath the nuts and bolts, what is the most important thing to you? Is it the provenance of the ingredients or the sustainable credentials of the company? Or maybe it’s reliable and consistent customer service and delivery, or that they have the best prices for the ingredients you need. Or even that your friend Alex has been using them in their kitchen for years so they come recommended. Whatever it might be, create a list of the criteria that matter most to you.

You might not be able to get everything from every supplier, but if you understand your wants and needs, you can make a clear decision on what to prioritise across your supplier list. Maybe for for your meat supplier, sustainability wins out, while fruit and vegetables wins for consistency.

Conclusions

Finally, don’t forget that if you start using a supplier and it’s not working out, keep looking! Negotiate and be willing to stand up for what your business needs to get the right prices and support from your suppliers.
The dream is to build up a great working relationship, where they give you an honest price and reliable service, but you might not find it the first time around. That’s ok, there are other, better options out there. Now go forth and find your essential suppliers!
As a final reminder, here are the links to the tools we recommend throughout the guide:

↪︎ REKKI
↪︎ GP Calculator
↪︎ Seasonality Tracker