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Making the most of your operator-distributor relationship

The Lookout

The Lookout Restaurant, Corner Brook, Newfoundland


By choosing distributors who offer exceptional customer service and then working closely with them, foodservice operators across the country are implementing ways to improve operations and enhance profitability.


By Lawrence Herzog


It’s a special relationship that can deliver big rewards. Astute distributors know the market they serve, they know the foodservice business inside and out, and they understand ways to make the supply chain work better for their customers.

Here’s a look at three of those special relationships from across the country:

Beach House Restaurant, Port Dover, Ontario

The team at the Beach House Restaurant is gearing up for another busy summer. Situated on the shore of Lake Erie at Port Dover, Ont., the restaurant works closely with Windsor-based distributor Morton Foodservice to meet the tremendous demand of feeding and satisfying hungry and thirsty customers filling its enormous 270-seat waterfront space.

“The level of service from Morton is excellent,” reports Chef Jon Mullett. “They are very fair with us, their pricing is on point, and they work quickly to get me exactly what I’ve requested or an equivalent brand. When you’re doing the volume we do in the summer, fill rates are so important.”

Morton Foodservice gets results for operators by engaging with them to intimately learn their business, says Jean Beauchemin, the company’s director of sales. “Our team asks operators how we can help. We’ve all been in the industry a long time, so we can offer valuable ideas and approaches.”

The Morton team targets resources to help independent operators and focuses value-added services on their particular needs. “Independents can get more involved with community events, promote products that are grown and sourced locally and regionally, and introduce more cross-utilization within a menu,” Beauchemin says.

Product sampling sessions, coordinated by the company with vendor reps, provide opportunities to test and try new ingredients and formulations and learn what can work even better. They look at how long something takes to cook, how long it stays hot and crispy, and how it can be cross-utilized.

One recent session included a spicy cod strip that can be used in a taco, wrap, or slider. “Samplings are great ways to build menus, increase efficiencies in the kitchen, and identify ways to reduce food costs while keeping the quality high,” Mullett says.

Ptarmigan Inn Hotel, Hay River, Northwest Territories

When it came time to build this year’s summer menu, the restaurant and bar team at the Ptarmigan Inn Hotel in Hay River, NWT reached south to Pratts Food Service for help. “The Pratts guys suggested a variety of great items – like a roasted stuffed chicken – and then they costed it out for us, and provided a suggested menu price point,” says Danny Plummer, food and beverage manager. “We like our food cost around 30 percent.”

Food and supplies destined for the Ptarmigan Inn are dispatched from the Pratts distribution centre just outside Calgary to Edmonton and then transferred to a Manitoulin Transport truck for the remaining 1,000 km journey to Hay River. “That adds another $400 to $600 onto our food bill every week,” Plummer reports.

He’s excited to be using a new online program just released by Pratts that includes a recipe manager, inventory manager and mobile app. “They’re helping us closely track our food cost, and keep us in the range where we want to be,” he says.

“We’re pleased with the ways our new software is helping our customers determine food costs and contributions per plate,” says Kevin Chipman, customer solutions manager for Pratts Food Service. “Our cost analysis tools use real time costing and enable operators to build menu item recipes and see their actual food costs daily, weekly and monthly without needing to update manually.”

It’s all part of the Pratts approach to help their customers succeed in a very competitive marketplace. “Dealing with the day-to-day operations is challenging enough and often leaves owners, managers and chefs little time to focus on actually growing their business or improving efficiencies,” Chipman says. “We offer professional menu engineering and design as well as marketing support with the goal of maximizing profits for our customers and growing their brand.”

Distributing knowledge along with product

When it comes to running a successful restaurant, Debbie LeBlanc knows every cent counts. As manager of the 100-seat Lookout Restaurant and Quality Inn at Corner Brook, NL, she deals with higher transportation charges along with ever-increasing food costs. That’s why her team work closely with their distributor, E.L. Bugden, to identity and implement ways to reduce costs. “We’re on an island, after all, and getting supplies to us just costs more,” she says.

“When we design our new menus, we sit down with Bugden, look at what we are planning to do, cost out the changes, and look at ways to use ingredients carefully. Whenever they have a new product that is a bit cheaper than what we’ve been ordering, or perhaps somewhat better for our needs, our rep Gary Bugden suggests we try a case. They are really good at understanding our operation and our needs.”

That communication between operator and distributor is vital, Gary explains. “Top notch customer service is a priority for us. It’s how our family has built the business since 1949, and it’s what sets us apart from the big guys.”

LeBlanc also appreciates that her distributor is a conduit of market trends and has insights about what is working in her market and new opportunities. “It’s always helpful to hear about what is working well at other locations, and about food trends and what is selling. We’ve got to stay on top of what the market is looking for.”


Top takeaways


  • Choose distributors who tailor their services to best meet your needs
  • Work with your foodservice distributor to identify and implement ways to reduce costs
  • Turn to product sampling and menu testing to evaluate new ingredients and expand menu choices
  • Cross-utilize products wherever possible for efficiency
  • Stay on top of food trends by asking your distributor for the latest research and trends info

Choose ingredients least likely to increase in price