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Restaurant food suppliers are vendors that sell wholesale products directly to restaurants. There are several different types of food suppliers, but their function is the same. Food suppliers can sell wholesale foods to restaurants for reduced prices in larger quantities than you would find at the grocery store. Because of the lower prices of these goods, restaurants can increase their profit margins. 

Types Of Food Suppliers

There are several different types of food suppliers available in the restaurant industry. The type of food supplier you’ll need will depend on what your menu offers. For example, if your menu revolves around seasonal and local ingredients, you will likely need to establish a relationship with a local farm or market to get the freshest local ingredients. 

If you aren’t concerned with proximity and food seasons, a national food supplier may suit your needs just fine. You might also have more specific needs when it comes to food items like baked goods or deli meats. In these cases, you’ll have to seek out a more specific foodservice distributor.

National Wholesale Food Suppliers

National wholesale food suppliers, or full-line suppliers, are sometimes referred to as the “big two”: Sysco and US Foods. Full-line suppliers are a one-stop-shop. They have everything you need: produce, meat, dry goods, canned goods, baking supplies, to-go containers, cleaning products, and anything else you can think of. 

National foodservice operators like this are great because they have a large selection that allows you to get everything you need in one place. Also, because they are big national brands, they have very low price points and can be very economical if you have the storage space to buy things in bulk. 


Another option is to get your food supply directly from a local farm. These ingredients will be fresher since they don’t have to travel as far and will therefore have more flavor. This is a great option if your restaurant is a farm-to-table concept and, while the ingredients may cost a bit more, you can change your menu prices to reflect this. 

By purchasing your produce goods locally, you will be supporting your local farmers, and you will be able to establish a relationship with your supplier. Being able to talk with your supplier can be useful for quality control. Farmers can also be a great source of organic ingredients.

To find a local source for food products, you may need multiple suppliers for meat, produce, and dairy products. Look at the USDA’s Local Food Directory for local sources, or ask other businesses who their supplier is. 

Local Markets

Many chefs are turning to local farmers’ markets to source local ingredients. While this may not be a way to source all of your necessary food supplies, it can be a great way to obtain fresh specialty ingredients. You will be able to talk to the people who grow your food, and oftentimes after you establish a relationship, they will begin setting aside some of their best ingredients for you to buy. 

The disadvantage of this method is that you cannot use this as a reliable option to source all food products, and you have to have the time to go in person to pick items up. If you are a creative chef, this could serve as a supplementary food source that will also inspire you with new ingredients. 

Before You Look For Restaurant Suppliers

Here are some things to consider before you settle on a food supplier.

Know What You Need

You will first need to know exactly what you are looking for. Make note of all the ingredients you need to cook all the items on your menu. Be sure to create this list with great attention to detail, as this will determine everything else to come. Don’t forget basic things like salt, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper. 

This comprehensive list can include everything from food products to napkins to equipment you need to rent. Categorize all your items in case you need multiple vendors. Making sure that this list is complete down to the last detail will help you budget each category and compare prices from different vendors.

Pay Attention To Storage

When making your supply list, consider the amount of storage you have available. Don’t accidentally order more meat than your freezer can hold. Make sure you have enough of everything to last until your next delivery.

Searching For Food Suppliers

Visit the sites of prospective suppliers and use your list to see who can fill most of your needs. You will likely need multiple suppliers, but if you find one that fits most of your needs, then you can build from there. Make sure to get at least three to five quotes before selecting your primary vendor. 

Contact sales representatives at each supplier and set up meetings to get proper quotes. Come prepared with your list of supply needs and questions to ask the representative. You will want to ask about their delivery schedule, order procedures, and credit policies. 

To ensure that you get the best quotes, start with small vendors. Small suppliers will offer the best deal they can, while big suppliers have room for negotiation. If you have some quotes from smaller vendors, you can use them as leverage when negotiating with larger vendors. 

Comparing Vendors

Take your time when comparing vendors. You will be entering into a long-term relationship with whichever vendor you select. It is important that you carefully consider and meticulously compare your options to find a food supplier with the right price and the best ingredients.

Opening An Account

You will need to open accounts with each food supplier you use. While you will typically be required to pay upfront the first few times, you will likely be able to establish a line of credit once you have a relationship with your supplier. Once you are in good standing with your provider, they may give you a period (typically seven to 30 days) to pay for your shipments after they are delivered. 

When opening an account, expect to provide your supplier with your business’s information such as shipping and billing addresses, your tax ID, how long you have been operating, and whether you own or lease your restaurant space. They may also need your bank account information for establishing credit at a later time. 

What To Expect At The Time Of Delivery

Once you have placed your order, your vendor should tell you what date and time your delivery will arrive. You or your manager should be ready to meet them and inspect the delivery. All deliveries should come with an itemized receipt. You should check the receipt with every single order and inspect that you are receiving everything that you should in the shipment. 

Sometimes mistakes happen when dealing with fresh produce. Make sure that all food products arrive at a safe temperature and free from pests. If something arrives in poor quality, is missing from the shipment, or arrives in the incorrect amount, be sure to alert your delivery person and do not accept the order unless it has been thoroughly reviewed and is to your liking.  

In Conclusion

Now that you know how to shop for your restaurant’s food suppliers, you are one step closer to opening your restaurant and serving up the food of your dreams. Check out Nextbite’s website for more great tips on everything from how to open a restaurant to tips on how to improve your restaurant’s efficiency. 


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