“Kind words do not cost much, yet they accomplish much” Blaise Pascal

We are a couple of weeks into COVID-19 and there have been some topics on my mind that I believe can be very helpful for all of us to reflect on. In the restaurant industry, most owners focus on profits by buying the cheapest product available without sacrificing quality. While I am a huge advocate in finding the best deals, there is something to be said for maintaining great restaurant vendor relationships during the COVID-19 crisis.

This is today’s topic, because although it may not be a focal point, I believe it should be. Over 20 years ago when my grandparents ran a restaurant, the number one thing they always told us was: “your sales rep/vendor is your lifeline and partner in success, so treat them as a family and you both will last a long time making memories and money.” Now, 20 years later, we change vendors like we change our clothes, with no regard for what a true partnership looks like.

Have you ever stopped and wondered what it would be like to have the same salesman from the same company for over 5,10, even 15 years? Would you be making money? Celebrating wins and working through the losses? Imagine what that bond and partnership would look like in a time such as COVID-19. While many people are wondering how they will get reopened, stay open, or maybe even change career paths, you could be flourishing.

I say flourishing because I am seeing it happen with many restaurants who value their restaurant vendor partnerships. These restaurants are like water changing direction to flow with whatever obstacles are in front of them right now. They are servicing the community and keeping people employed. Don’t think this is possible? Take a look on Facebook and you will see many restaurants turning into grocery stores, doing curbside take-out or delivery, and creating meal kits for families to cook at home.

Many restaurant owners are making this work somehow. I truly believe that while it can be done on your own, you can multiply your efforts with a great vendor relationship. In times like this, you need a team you can lean on to get your products, offer valuable and trustworthy advice, and help you manage whatever the financials look like within your four walls.

So what are you doing to maintain your restaurant vendor relationships during COVID-19? Let’s consider some ways you can help solidify your vendor relationships – and even grow them.

Every vendor right now is watching their P/L just like you.

What does this mean to you? Well, they are trying to control inventory, manage labor, and support their customers. Sounds familiar to your situation, doesn’t it? One of the most important things you can do for your vendor is create a payment plan or even make good faith payments while your sales are lower. Being honest in this area, which we often keep close to our chests, is the only way to do this right! Honesty will help your vendors stay committed to you and your daily evolving needs, as well as keeping much-needed products coming to your restaurant. Most vendors will work with you because they know how important it is for both parties to make it through this battle together. 

Everyone wants to know they are making a difference.

So many great success stories are being flooded into social media with restaurants stepping up to help their community and employees. Just as you feel good when you are giving back, so do your vendors. Reach out to them to see if you can buy some products at a reduced price and cater lunch to their facility. Maybe it’s putting a meal kit together for the driver when he delivers your food. Most vendors right now have many deals and are doing the best they can to not throw away products. By creating a two-way street of service and gratitude, both parties can strengthen their brands, especially when things are so uncertain.

Remember that we are all part of a much bigger world.

You may be thinking, “Where is he going with this?” 

Well, I believe this may be the most important perspective to building a great vendor relationship which will span the test of time and turbulence. Humility! In an industry where common thoughts are ‘we may make something better than the restaurant down the road’, ‘this vendor is cheaper than that vendor’, ‘my employees are better than yours’, or ‘vendors should be our banks – they have plenty of money’, we must remember that we are all human. 

I say this because when we come from a place of humility it gives us the perspective of compassion in its rawest form. Just like your employees want to be treated as people, and not numbers, your vendors also want to be treated with compassion. They do not owe you anything, don’t have to help you get products, don’t have to put their money on your reputation. The next time you’re out of a product and call your salesperson, remember they are just like you and are dealing with this the best they can, so be polite and solution-minded because their day could be going worse than yours.

Hopefully, this will give you a unique perspective on your restaurant vendor relationships during COVID-19 and will help you strengthen your partnerships with your vendors. This two-way street doesn’t need any more potholes and speed bumps than it already has on a daily basis. Change what this looks like in your environment and watch how well the wheel continues to turn.

The My Restaurant CFO Team

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