Although a fundamental service in cities around the world, the restaurant industry is known for being particularly cutthroat.
You may have heard of an astounding rumor-esque statistic that 90 percent of restaurants fail in their first year of business.
In reality, that number is a little lower. A study by Ohio State University found that only about 60 percent of independent restaurants fail in the first year, not 90. Although that number is still a little on the high side, it does make your prospects a little more promising.
Positioning yourself for success requires a few non-negotiable elements: a good concept, great food, and the forgotten part of the equation, the right restaurant suppliers.
The Importance of Suppliers
In business, everything your employees and customers use or consume comes from somewhere. Unless you’re building your own chairs and tables from the trees out back or creating a menu with only items that you can grow yourself, suppliers will be an integral part of your operations. Restaurant supplies encompass just about every part of your business, from restaurant equipment to bar supplies. This can create a sizable margin of error if you’re not properly equipped.
The quality of supplies and suppliers can make or break a restaurant business. Overpriced supplies can ruin your budget before the doors even open. On the other hand, cutting corners on quality can destroy your reputation and leave your customers looking for better quality somewhere else.
Finding the perfect balance between affordability and quality can be crucial to the success of your business. That’s why we’re arming you with everything you need to get off on the best foot possible. Let’s get jump right in.
Identifying Your Needs
Before opening your doors, you’ll need to be prepared with equipment, furniture, food and standard restaurant supplies. This means creating a list of every single thing you will need to purchase to keep your restaurant in business. No detail is too small to include; even seemingly minor obligations can leave your business in the lurch when neglected.
First, do your research. Before you make any significant purchase decision, do your research! Start with a simple internet search for restaurant suppliers. This query will yield your basic, or most common items such as a stainless steel ice machine, convection oven, pizza oven, or miscellaneous small wares. This will give you an idea on some of the necessary items you’ll need to buy as well as cost.
Also, don’t forget to also do a local search and see if there are any restaurant supply stores near you that you can check out in person. The internet is great, but sometimes you just need to talk to someone (even if it’s a salesperson) and see things in person to get you through the decision making process.
Another option is to explore is looking for used equipment or pre-owned items, especially for large purchases like refrigeration or ovens. If you know of any local restaurants that have closed recently, see if you can get in touch with the owner and find out if they’re willing to sell some of their equipment.
Once you have an idea of what you need and a general idea of cost, set a budget (we’ll go into more detail on this later). Before getting on the phone with all of the suppliers you know and starting the process of obtaining supplies, you need to know exactly what to buy and how much you have to spend.
The exact logic behind these two elements will vary from one business to another — for example, a bar won’t need the same supplies as a coffee shop — but the process of selection will likely be similar.
Equipment and Non-Perishable Supplies
When it comes to the heavy artillery, such as your walk-in cooler, grill, ovens, or front-of-house furnishings, these are usually one-time purchases. Or at the very least, infrequent purchases.
The hope for any restaurant owner is to buy them once, and they just continue to work without ever thinking much about them again. That is until they break down or stop working.
Just like everything else in life, over time, things start to break down. They start to deteriorate, pieces start breaking off, or it’s just not as efficient as it once was. It’s not your fault, its just general wear-and-tear of everyday use.
For these larger food service equipment items, make sure you find a supplier and manufacturer that offers a great warranty on their products and excellent customer service policy. The last thing you want is for your dishwasher to stop working in the middle of a Saturday night rush and you’ve got nobody to call to fix it.
When it comes to some of the smaller items that you’ll purchase on a recurring basis, such as paper products or janitorial supplies, find a supplier that is reliable, priced reasonably, and of course, provides you with excellent customer service.
To get you on the right path, here is a list of the commercial restaurant equipment supplies you’ll need to consider – from back-of-house to front-of-house.
Kitchen, Cooking Utensils, and Appliances
- Cooking equipment, like stoves, ovens, microwaves, grills, griddles, fryers, pasta cookers, immersion cookers, steamers and broilers
- Kitchen equipment, like fridges, freezers, dishwashers, condensation hoods, heat lamps, soda fountains, espresso machines, and ice machines
Food Storage and Work Surfaces
- Counters, countertop warmers, storage spaces, cold food tables, steam tables, prep tables, walk-in cooler, freezer
- Cooking tools, like knives, spatulas, tongs, storage containers, microwavable containers, brushes, ladles and serving spoons
- Food service tools, like silverware, plates, napkins, glasses, placemats and tablecloths, paper products, including napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper
- Bar tools, like glasses, napkins, swizzle sticks, shot glasses, containers for fruit and other garnishes, mixers, equipment to wash and manage glassware behind the bar, shelving for liquor, taps, and keg space.
Point of Sale System (POS)
- A high-quality point of sale (POS) system that can handle the needs of your business, like ringing in food, customizing orders, splitting checks, and processing a variety of payment types. Consider modern upgrades to traditional point of sale systems, like iPad-based POS options that can improve the customer experience and expedite food service.
Front-of-House Furnishings and More
- Front of the house furniture, like tables, chairs, booths, bar furniture and a host stand. Be sure to measure your space to maximize capacity without breaking any local ordinances or fire codes.
- Decor, like paint, wallpaper, carpeting and window treatments
- Plumbing and associated hardware, like sinks and toilets
- Miscellaneous items, like coat racks, trash cans, mops and cleaning supplies, step stools, rags, and buckets
Unlike equipment, food is something you’ll have to purchase on a more frequent basis such as monthly, weekly, or even daily. This is where one of those non-negotiable items comes into play – great food.
If you want your restaurant or bar to succeed, you have to serve up some pretty great food and beverage. Customers can make a lousy meal at home for half the price it’ll cost them to dine at your establishment. If they’re spending their hard-earned money at your place, you better make sure it’s worth it. Or you probably won’t be seeing them again.
You can’t sacrifice food quality and expect customers to show up and spend their money. That’s why food quality should on the top of your list when you’re creating your menu. Also at the top of the list is try to consider minimizing inventory by using similar base components for multiple dishes; this cuts down on waste and unnecessary expenditures.
Unless you’re using a farm-to-table concept for specific dishes or daily special, the majority of your food or ingredients will come from a local supplier. You need to make friends with these suppliers and quickly try to get to BFF status. Your food suppliers are the lifeline of your business. Without them, you have nothing to serve your customers.
When it comes to finding food and beverage supplies, other than wanting to find a supplier that is friendly and easy to work with, you also want to find one that provides top-notch customer service and is uber reliable. A late delivery of key items can have a negative impact on your business and ultimately your sales.
To get you pointed in the right direction, here is a list of some food items and ingredients you’ll typically need to purchase from suppliers.
- Proteins and meats
- Seasonings, herbs, and oils
- Starches and pasta
- Fruits and vegetables
- Grains and rice
- Sugar and other sweeteners
- Soda syrup
- Chocolate, ice cream, and other dessert items
Setting a Budget
We said we’d talk more about budgets later, so here it is. While elite equipment and designer decor are desirable, unless you have millions to pour into running a five-star establishment, you’re probably going to have to find a way to balance wants and needs in the beginning.
When crafting your budget, here are a few points to take into consideration.
- Support staff needs, like the number of servers, managers, cooks, bartenders, dishwashers and bussers you will need to keep your customers satisfied.
- Employee salaries and any benefits you may be obligated to pay by law, like vacation days and health insurance.
- The price point of your menu items and what margins you need to have to make a profit
- Service trends in your area such as online ordering or pay at the table technology
- Rent, utilities, and other overhead expenses like payroll
- Regular supply deliveries, like food and paper products
- Start-up costs, like kitchen equipment and furniture
Evaluating Your Options
Once you know what you need, it’s time to contact restaurant suppliers, get price quotes, and begin placing orders.
Like we mentioned before, research is essential when it comes to evaluating your options. Preparing to launch a new restaurant — or to upgrade, scale or expand a current operation — requires significant time and analysis. Just as you wouldn’t hire an employee, implement a new POS system, or try a whole new menu without due diligence, the same should apply to your approach to securing vendors.
In general, there are two ways to identify and secure supplies for your restaurant: traditional suppliers carrying new equipment and second-hand sales.
Traditional suppliers are companies that carry tools and equipment for commercial kitchens and focus on meeting the needs of those in the restaurant industry
There are many ways to identify supply sources, from asking around in the industry to online research. For novices without a clear starting point, your local restaurant association is a valuable resource. All states have one, and you can find yours through the National Restaurant Association. These professional organizations can connect you with trusted names, helping to ensure you’re making a responsible, and educated choice.
Trade publications like Nation’s Restaurant News can also be a helpful resource. Providing insight into the state of the industry and leads on suppliers in your area. Online directories can be useful as well. FoodService Central, for example, offers a comprehensive marketplace of different kinds of suppliers for locations coast to coast.
Pre-owned and Used Equipment
For businesses on a budget, low-cost equipment may be a good compromise. Older products can often work just as well as newer models when they’re well maintained. This can allow you to save money without sacrificing on functionality.
While some resale marketplaces exist specifically for restaurants, many foodservice professionals can find great options through sales platforms like eBay and Craigslist for pre-owned equipment. It’s always important to exercise caution when purchasing from an unknown third-party, so be sure to do your homework before jumping in.
All restaurant suppliers aren’t made equal, so it’s essential to partner with a trusted name. Before moving forward, take time to learn more about the businesses you are considering questions like:
How long has the company been in business?
While there’s no reason necessarily to disregard a new company, an experienced vendor will be more likely to support your needs and understand your vision.
Can I see samples?
Purchasing without knowing precisely what you’re getting is never a wise business move. From perishables to plates, samples can help you understand quality and functionality.
What are your payment terms and refund policy?
Some companies allow financing, while others do not. Some take all returns, while others have a strict policy after installation. Be sure you know what to expect before paying for equipment.
What is the minimum order?
Some companies are willing to work with smaller operations, but others have minimums. Discuss the terms of a sale before allowing money to change hands.
Are there any discounts available?
In general, what you see is what you get. However, some retailers may be willing to offer discounts for bulk orders, the frequency of requests, early payment, or even cash orders. A little negotiation can save you a lot if you’re willing to ask.
Do you have a contingency plan?
Sometimes, deliveries are delayed, or other issues like bad weather arise. If you’re working with food vendors who need to stick to your schedules, a backup plan is crucial.
Do you have any references?
Since your vendors are essentially working for you, don’t be afraid to ask for references. Find out what other local restaurants they service and see if you can talk to those business owners about their experience with the vendor.
Final Points of Consideration
As you prepare to meet with vendors for your restaurant supplies and equipment, it’s important to keep these additional points in mind:
Savings later vs. savings now: A high price tag shouldn’t always be a cause for concern. A higher quality initial investment may mean a reduction in repair or replacement costs down the road.
Quality of service counts: A company that can meet your needs quickly and appropriately is a significant advantage, especially when trouble arises.
Quality of products counts: Fresh produce is always preferable to shipments that may be mealy or spoiled. Be sure your vendors prioritize quality just as much as you do.
Relationships matter: Your supplier is a major resource. Choose those who you can trust and depend on.
The food and beverage business may be a challenging one, but a strong combination of restaurant suppliers can make all the difference. By arming yourself with the right business partners, it’s possible to ensure your restaurant is on the right track from day one.