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Purveyor Alliances

It’s much better for you to be gossiped to than about.

Establishing and maintaining good purveyor relationships and controls can make or break your day as well as your month-end P & L. Consider the following scenario: It’s 5:30 p.m., your sea bass still hasn’t arrived, the owner just chewed you out because your food cost is too high, and you’ve just discovered that your morning prep guy accepted 50 pounds of beef short ribs at $24.99---rather than $2.49---per pound.  If similar fiascos have happened to you once too often, read on for a few tips on how to reverse your dangerous course.

Establish rules and guidelines from the beginning.

Take time to discuss with all parties how you want to handle purchasing and receiving---who places and receives orders and handles invoices; daily, weekly, or monthly reconciliation; tracking credit; and returning or rejecting product. Meet with your vendors to review product catalogs; establish pars; and decide on product specs, delivery times, special sheets, and placing orders.

Handle purveyors respectfully. The old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” also holds true for vendors. If you find yourself screaming at a delivery person, stop; don’t blame the messenger. Chances are it was the salesperson you spoke to on the phone, the picker in the warehouse, or you and your sous chef who erred when placing the order.
If the same mistake happens more than twice, speak to your salesperson and let him or her know that you are concerned and would like the problem addressed immediately. If you are complaining too often, you may need to shop for a new supplier instead of continuing a mediocre business relationship. Set and keep high, fair, and consistent standards. 

Cultivate a good reputation. Vendors are the best source of information about area restaurants. It’s much better for you to be gossiped to than about. Offer your vendors a cup of coffee once in a while and spend time getting to know them. You’ll hear who’s struggling to pay the bills, who is on the way out, and maybe what spaces will be on the market soon. And you’ll be amazed at the vendor’s response when you need an emergency product on a Friday afternoon.

Train your staff. Your receiver should match your order guide/clipboard with the invoice; have the driver indicate the boxes as listed on the invoice; check them off as they are received; match product codes, weights, and so forth to the invoice; and note discrepancies. 

Meats and seafood should always be weighed; they are generally more expensive than other goods and are the most likely to be different from what you ordered. You may decide not to contest a 40-pound rib-eye order if it’s off by a pound or two. But if your supplier delivers a 49-pound case during a quiet week, that’s probably not acceptable. You should receive a phone call if the quantity you ordered will differ from the amount being delivered. You have the option to reject a padded order, which is always easier to deal with before the driver leaves than after the paperwork is signed.
Have someone who knows your quality standards check in all fresh meat, seafood, and produce. Having an intern check in the dry goods order is probably fine, but you don’t want an intern receiving $2,000 in fresh seafood from a new vendor or your one pound of precious Alba truffles.

Don’t be reluctant to return goods.  A supplier expects the occasional mistake on an order or for product to be below your standards from time to time; this is especially true with produce, meat, and seafood. There should be a procedure in place to correct mistakes, such as a credit slip or an on-the-spot adjustment to the invoice.
If you are reasonable, consistent, and fair, you should be treated in the same manner or be prepared to move on to a new vendor. If the supplier errs, it is justifiable to expect delivery of the correct product ASAP. Special orders are an exception; there is an expectation that you will purchase that product unless there’s a significant quality issue. 
A few days before month’s end, follow up with your bookkeeper to insure that credits or price adjustments have been made to your account. If they haven’t, you’ll still have time to make the necessary phone calls.

Mistakes happen. As long as they are the exception and not the rule, and you deal with them effectively, you will maintain successful and constructive relationships with your vendors. And you’ll also end up with the quality products you want and a positive P & L to go with them.

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