Food Suppliers for Restaurants


If you’re a first-time restaurant owner, making connections with suppliers may seem like a daunting task. Where do you start if you don’t have a network of suppliers in your back pocket? You know you’ll need suppliers for food and drink, but you want to make sure you’re getting the best price for the best ingredients.

In this section we’ll outline the types of food suppliers for restaurants you’ll need depending on your concept, and we’ll explain the ins and outs of the supply chain and delivery. We’ll also guide you through the process of establishing relationships with suppliers in ways that will keep costs down. Finally, we’ll provide a list of suppliers you can reach out to for each of the types we’ve identified.

Types of Food Suppliers for Restaurants

Before you read this section, keep in mind that one supply chain model may overlap with another.

As restaurant supply chain technology and operations continue to evolve, models consistently borrow practices from each other.

So you may get a local farm large enough to employ some of the infrastructure of a national wholesaler, a local market may facilitate delivery between farmers and restaurants, etc.

Be aware if you buy alcohol to sell on from a UK wholesaler, you must check that the wholesaler or producer you buy it from is approved under the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS).

Here’s what you need to know about each restaurant supply chain model and how they work as individual systems.

National wholesale food suppliers

Your one-stop shop for meat, produce, dry goods, dairy, desserts – you name it. National wholesalers work with a large network of farmers to source a wide variety of ingredients for restaurants. They deliver goods via truck, and you can usually order online, over the phone, or sometimes through an app.

Fact: national wholesale food suppliers also often carry kitchen smallwares and other equipment.

Pros

  • Large selection
  • Centralised source for multiple goods
  • More discounts and bulk deals

Cons

  • Impersonal: less likely to build a relationship
  • More generic, less specialised
  • Ingredients are typically not as fresh

Farmers

Farm-to-table restaurants order ingredients from a farm or farming cooperative. Working with local farmers can come in the form of a direct relationship or through larger farms that have similar distribution networks as national wholesalers.

fact: locally sourced ingredients sometimes need to travel farther than you think. if you’re committed to a small carbon footprint, make sure to locate the farm on google maps to find out how far your food needs to travel.

Pros

  • Fresher ingredients
  • Relationship building – which may lead to discounts
  • Conducive to seasonal menu building

Cons

  • Higher prices (but you may be able to charge 12% more)
  • Limited to local ingredients
  • May need to order from multiple sources

Local food markets

While originally intended to bring local food from farms to communities, more chefs are shopping at local food markets for locally sourced ingredients. Farmers who sell at markets have begun to set aside some of their best crops for restaurateurs due to their growing presence at markets. Shopping at a local market allows restaurateurs to handpick ingredients and talk to the farmers who grow their food.

Pros

  • Fresher ingredients
  • Relationship building – which may lead to discounts
  • Opportunity to learn about food

Cons

  • Higher prices
  • Limited to local ingredients
  • Time added for shopping and pickup

fact: some local markets facilitate delivery between restaurants and farmers. check in with your local farmers’ market to find out if this is an option in your area.

Organic suppliers

Organic suppliers can come in many varieties, from large national wholesalers to local farms. Organic farming uses fewer chemicals in their fertilisers, which are known to pollute local waterways. Organic livestock is free of antibiotics, and animals are usually kept in environments that better mimic a natural habitat.

Pros

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Fresh ingredients (if locally sourced)
  • Marketable to diners

Cons

  • Higher prices
  • Seasonal limitations
  • Produce may have a shorter shelf life

Butchers

Similar to working with farmers and shopping at local markets, you can rely on your local butcher to source fresh cuts of meat and educate you on where the meat came from. Butchers work with livestock farmers they’ve built relationships with, and they’re a trusted source of information about which cuts you need for your menu or for special events. Butchers can work with you to craft your menu with high-quality cuts of meat.

Pros

  • Fresh cuts of meat
  • Relationship building – which may lead to discounts
  • Opportunity to learn about food

Cons

  • Higher prices
  • Limited to daily stock
  • Time added for shopping and pickup

Beer suppliers

Beer suppliers come in many sizes, from national brands to local craft breweries. The beer you purchase will depend largely on your restaurant concept. If you’re a place that’s going to be known for your craft beer selection, you’ll need to work with multiple breweries to offer variety to your customers. If you’re a family establishment that just needs two or three options on the menu, you’ll probably want to work with larger national brands that offer cheaper prices.

Be aware

  • Beer suppliers offer free stuff! Table tents, pint glasses, umbrellas, coasters, and menu boards – they’ll be branded with any large beer supplier’s logo, but you won’t have to pay a dime for them.
  • Be aware of your state’s gallonage tax, which is imposed on wholesalers of alcoholic beverages.

Wine suppliers

If your restaurant is going big on wine, hire a sommelier who already has connections with wine suppliers. You’ll also want a sommelier to help you with wine pairings, as the type of wine they’ll order will largely depend on your menu. Wine suppliers will have a portfolio you can browse, no matter how many wines you need; there’s a lot to know about wine, so your supplier should be willing to talk you through flavour profiles and regions.

Be aware: The supplier you work with will depend on whether you want to feature local wines or wines from a region outside your own.

Did you know? wine on tap is becoming more popular. new technologies are enabling restaurants to serve wine on tap to help reduce costs and improve quality.

Getting Food Suppliers for Restaurants

Before we describe the best way to ask for quotes and source suppliers for your restaurant, you need an understanding of how the food supply chain works. Here’s how ingredients are delivered from the source to your restaurant.

Farmers

Farmers and fisheries grow crops and raise livestock.

First-line handlers

Prepare raw ingredients for processing and manufacturing. By-products from this section of the chain are fed to livestock.

Processors and manufacturers

Meat packers, bakeries, and consumer product goods companies turn processed raw materials into packaged goods.

Wholesale food suppliers

These are the companies restaurants buy from. They store ingredients in warehouses and then sell and distribute them with an extensive transportation infrastructure.

Restaurants

Supply chain technology

The restaurant supply chain is complex. Supply chain software increases shipment tracking visibility, improves communication between businesses, and enables the prediction of fluctuations in the supply chain. You may find supply chain software useful if you’re working with multiple vendors, speciality vendors, or sourcing ingredients that are rare and high in price. Read reviews of supply chain software here.

What You Need to Know Before Connecting with Food Suppliers for Restaurants

The decisions you make about your suppliers are tied to two things: your business plan and your labour costs.

When you’re thinking about getting quotes from suppliers, go back to your business plan. What does your restaurant concept require from suppliers? Here are some example scenarios:

Scenario #1

Your restaurant is a steakhouse and you want to be known for your higher quality steaks. You’ll want to spend more time sourcing quotes from butchers than you would for organic produce.

You’ll also want to tackle this from a holistic point of view. For instance, while you might be focused on your steak because that’s the heart of your concept, customers who go to a steakhouse also expect higher quality wine or a larger selection of wine. So you’ll also need to consider this when you’re seeking suppliers.

Scenario #2

You’ve opened your farm-to-table restaurant with the goal to educate your customers about where their food comes from. It will be more important for you to build relationships with local farmers than spending a lot of time on choosing speciality liquor for your bar.

Scenario #3

Your fast casual restaurant is looking to fill a gap in your neighbourhood: a truly vegan quick service restaurant that specialises in takeaway high-protein salads. Your produce will need to be top-notch but still low cost enough for the quick service market.

All these scenarios serve to illustrate one thing: remain focused on your primary goal for your business. Your suppliers are your partners in business, and they are there to help you execute on your business plan. While it may be tempting to spend time getting quotes and building relationships with all kinds of suppliers, it’s more efficient to prioritise based on what your restaurant will be known for.

Quotes from alcohol suppliers are also tied to your business plan. If you want to be known for your craft beer, for instance, you’ll need to seek multiple quotes and develop long standing relationships with several breweries. The same goes for cocktails. If you’re not super focused on premium alcohol, then one liquor distributor may be a good choice to cover a broad range of beverages.

Remember to leverage your bar manager or lead bartender. They’ll have the established relationships required to make the process go much more smoothly. If you’re a place that prides itself on its beverages, seeking quotes for alcohol can be a feat unto itself – you’ll need to get three to five quotes for each premium item that requires a separate vendor. So don’t do this alone if you can help it.

The second factor you need to consider is cost of labour. Going back to Scenario #1, the steakhouse, you should be asking yourself whether you’ll be sourcing primal cuts of protein for your chef to process or having the vendor portion out retail cuts. Which is cheaper when you consider the labour costs of having your chef prepare the cuts for you? And if you choose the higher cost option, you’ll need to make up the cost elsewhere with a menu item that’s not your staple. You may want to take a lower quote from a vendor to supply portioned poultry and make sure your markup is high enough to compensate for the beef and extra prep time.

Finally, think about who will be taking deliveries and managing your suppliers. Will you have so many suppliers that you need to hire someone full time to manage their deliveries and keep an eye on the supply chain? Make sure you tailor the amount of suppliers you work with to the labour capacity your restaurant can handle.

Connecting with Food Suppliers For Restaurants

When you’re just starting your restaurant, you want to keep it simple. Here’s the best way to start making connections with suppliers:

  1. Start with one supplier.

Your goal is to have a small amount of suppliers. Avoid complicating your operations if your concept allows you to work with only one supplier for each of your essentials.

  1. Get three to five quotes for each service.

Three to five quotes for each service will allow you to compare prices but prevent you from sinking too much time into finding quotes.

  1. Start small to big: get quotes from small businesses before larger ones.

Larger businesses are in a better position to negotiate prices, so you’ll want to use quotes from smaller businesses as leverage for better deals.

  1. Take no more than a month to settle on a vendor

Quote gathering, negotiation, and contract signing need to happen quickly so that you can move forward with every aspect of your business.

  1. Start nurturing relationships.

Especially if you’ve decided to work with smaller vendors, you’ll want to start nurturing those relationships early. Attend farmers’ markets when you know your vendors will be there, and chat with them about their ingredients. When they see you’re passionate about what you do, they may be more willing to give you discounts and bulk promos down the line – and recommend your restaurant to their customers.

Bargaining with Suppliers

The #1 rule of bargaining? Never, ever sign with the first vendor who gives you a quote until you’ve received a sufficient number of other quotes.

Don’t be afraid to barter with your supplier if you see other suppliers with cheaper products. You won’t want to send vendors quotes from other vendors, but don’t be afraid to give them ballpark numbers when you’re letting them know how much you’ve been quoted. They may want to know if their prices are being undercut by another business, so don’t feel intimidated about notifying them.

National and Local Food Suppliers for Restaurants

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors

UK

Restaurant Whole Sale

Restaurant Whole Sale operates both delivered and cash and carry services, with its head office based in Manchester. They serve restaurants, cafes, take-aways, caterers and small businesses.

Pallas Food

Pallas Food is one of the top foodservice providers on the island of Ireland

Bidfood

Bidfood is a foodservice wholesaler supplying fresh, frozen, ambient and non-food related products to customers in a wide range of sectors within the foodservice and catering industries

Reynolds

Reynolds is a leader in the UK distribution of fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and cheese.

Infinity Foods

Infinity Foods is one of the UK’s leading wholesale distributors of Organic and natural foods.

Costco

Costco is a membership warehouse, dedicated to bringing our members the best possible prices on quality, brand-name merchandise.

Sysco

Sysco is the largest foodservice distribution network in the world. They have Food Suppliers in Scotland, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Dublin, Northern Ireland.

LEAF

LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) – the leading organisation delivering more sustainable food and farming.

Conclusion

The suppliers you work with are highly dependent on your restaurant concept and your menu. Sometimes your suppliers are even a reflection of your core values as a business owner – if you’re concerned about finding local ingredients, you’ll be making an effort to build relationships with local farmers over national suppliers. If you’re needing to source larger amounts of ingredients in bulk, then national suppliers are the way to go.

No matter which suppliers you work with, it will always be important to remember that sourcing suppliers is primarily about relationship building. So start small, build some relationships, and you’ll probably find it’s easier to scale up after you’ve made connections and know your concept inside out.