Setting up a food supplier network

26 April 2005
Setting up a food supplier network

Once a restaurant has written a menu, it needs to buy all the ingredients and materials required to turn the business into a reality. Skilful purchasing is the first step towards ensuring the operation of a successful menu.

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The buyer

The responsibility for buying varies from restaurant to restaurant, according to its size and policy. It may be the job of the chef, manager, storekeeper or dedicated buyer.

The buyer will make the key decision regarding quality, amounts and price, while at the same time considering making a profit. As well as being knowledgeable about the products, the buyer must also be able to deal with determined sales people and be confident to negotiate.

If the buyer is not the chef, he should familiarise himself with how the ingredients are going to be used in order to ensure the purchase of the right items for the job.


Knowing the market

The buyer must be aware of the characteristics of different markets:

  • The primary market - the best prices are usually obtained at the source of supply (the producer, grower or manufacturer) or from central markets such as <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?> Smithfield meat market or Nine Elms (Covent Garden) fruit and vegetable market in London.
  • The secondary market - restaurants can buy wholesale from a distributor or agent and maybe able to obtain discounts.
  • The tertiary market - cash and carry warehouses are useful for smaller restaurants to purchase non-perishable items.


Buying methods

Buying methods depend on the type of restaurant and can be formal or informal.

  • Formal buying - this involves giving suppliers written specifications regarding quantities and quality and are best for items purchased over a long period of time. - Once a basic price has been established, it is unlikely to vary much during a year.
  • Informal buying - this usually involves face-to-face negotiations or over the telephone. - Prices will fluctuate according to market conditions.


Selecting suppliers

Research different suppliers by visiting premises and talking to other purchasers. You need to consider the quality and price of the goods, and the delivery arrangements.



When considering quantity, the buyer needs to know:

  • The number of covers to be served.
  • The sales history.
  • The portion sizes. The buyer, therefore, needs to know how many portions a certain size of ingredient will yield. - He must understand whether there is likely to be any cooking shrinkage and how that will affect the yield.



The chef must establish the quality he is prepared to accept and search the markets for the best quality at the best price.


Factors affecting quality include colour, texture, size, bruising, irregular shape and maturity.


Buying quality

  • Acquire a sound knowledge of all ingredients and items to be purchased, and be aware of the different types and qualities available on the market.
  • Regarding fresh ingredients, be aware of the availability of part-prepared and ready-prepared items.
  • Aim to buy the best quality ingredients that will produce the correct yield at the right price. Be aware of buying cheap items that may result in excess wastage.
  • Organise an efficient system of ordering with copies of all orders made to allow for easy cross checking.
  • Explore all possible suppliers.
  • While keeping the number of suppliers to a minimum, always have at least two suppliers for every type of item you require to ensure you have a ready back-up if one should let you down.
  • Place orders in plenty of time to ensure suppliers come up with the best choice of goods.
  • Keep a constant check on the prices you are paying to make sure you are buying at a fair market price.
  • Buy perishable goods when they are in season to achieve the best value at the cheapest price.
  • Check all deliveries against the orders for quantity, quality and price. - Goods below an acceptable standard should be returned immediately for a replacement or credit.
  • Check all invoices for quantities and prices.
  • Check all statements against invoices and ensure payments are made in time to ensure maximum discounts.
  • Keep up-to-date trade catalogues and magazines and visit trade exhibitions in order to ensure you are aware of new items on the market and that you are buying the best products at the best prices. - Study fresh food price lists.
  • Research how computer software can assist your purchasing procedures.


Source: The Theory of Catering, 10th edition, by David Foskett, Victor Ceserani and Ronald Kinton (Hodder & Stoughton)

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