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Essential Bar Suppliers and Where to Find Them

Nick PerryAuthor

Running a bar isn’t exactly like Cheers. While the bar business is booming, with projected 9.38% annual growth through the decade, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Bars face myriad challenges, from extensive competition to inflation putting a higher demand on recipe costing and other forms of budget management.

You can’t control everything that goes into your bar’s bottom line, but you can control some of the most important factors in determining your profit margin: suppliers.

Bar suppliers are a major lifeline for your business. Whether you’re considering opening a bar or you’ve been in business a while, suppliers keep your business operation with ingredients, booze, and other supplies that your bar needs to function. The trick is ensuring you get what you need at the best price you can.

In this article, you will learn how to find bar suppliers to keep your bar fully stocked with everything it needs without putting your business at financial risk.

The importance of great bar suppliers

Every food establishment needs great suppliers, but especially bars because they specialize in expensive, high-margin wares like alcohol and have more specific needs than typical restaurants. Some of the suppliers you should consider include:

  • Food and beverage suppliers are absolutely vital. Whether you’re running a cocktail bar or a sports bar, food and beverage suppliers make sure you have everything you need to serve everything on your menu. Depending on what’s available from certain suppliers, they may even inspire some menu ideas. Keeping costs low begins with finding quality food and beverage suppliers.
  • Equipment suppliers and repair suppliers ensure you have all the bar equipment necessary to provide quality service, make the drinks on your menu, and provide maintenance to keep everything up to snuff.
  • Menu suppliers help you get your menu just right to showcase your branding while highlighting the best (and most profitable) items on your menu. Cool menu suppliers will lean into your bar’s unique concept and incorporate elements of your marketing strategy.
  • Laundry suppliers do the dirty work you don’t want to do yourself. Bars run through lots of rags and towels, and a laundry supplier ensures your staff aren’t using dirty linens to clean up.
  • Technology suppliers keep your bar up to date with restaurant technology that can streamline operations and save money.

Essential bar suppliers

All bars need suppliers, so let’s go into some more detail about the types of suppliers we mentioned above.

Food and beverage suppliers

All food establishments have different needs, and your food and beverage supply requirements will depend on what kind of service your bar offers. Here’s what to think about.

Menu needs

Does your bar offer a full menu, or is it just drinks? Are you open for lunch and dinner or just dinner? Are the menus different?

Beer and wine are probably your top priority, but if you serve food, you still want to have the best quality available. Finding the right suppliers will help you offer a full-service food and drink menu at prices that your customers like.

Sales volume

The restaurant industry is constantly battling food waste, with up to 10% of food purchased by restaurant leaders never getting used. Food waste isn’t just a problem for the planet, but it costs your bar money, too.

With xtraCHEF by Toast, you can seamlessly track inventory to understand when it’s time to re-up on specific bottles or kegs, as well as track how quickly you run through certain menu items and need to restock.

Delivery requirements

Ask yourself a few questions about your bar’s delivery requirements, like when you want to receive them, the storage available, and the cost to get deliveries at certain times. Figure out the precise delivery schedule that works for you and find suppliers that accommodate your needs.

Equipment suppliers

Many restaurants have bars or bar areas, so there are more bar equipment suppliers than, say, ice cream shop equipment suppliers. With more choices, think about these three things.

Consult your menu

Your menu will dictate what kind of equipment you need in your business. You can always get some general bar equipment like freezers, refrigerators, and keg machines, but if you really want to make frozen drinks, you’re going to need a blender, too. And that’s before we get to any kitchen equipment.

Basically, figure out what you need to serve everything you want to before figuring out the equipment suppliers you need to lock down.

Measure your space

You’re working with a finite amount of space, which may limit what kinds of equipment you can actually fit in your bar. Your bar’s design may have a big impact on how you stock the bar and what kind of equipment you can fit behind it. The same goes for the kitchen.

Figure out the exact dimensions of your space by reviewing your floor plan or actively measuring the areas you think you want certain equipment. Then, you can figure out what kind of equipment will actually fit.

Consider new vs. used

You can probably save money by choosing used equipment over new equipment. Many equipment suppliers lease industrial equipment to bars, so rather than pay a monthly fee, it might make more sense to buy a used item outright from a supplier.

Menu suppliers

Depending on your bar’s layout and concept, you might not need physical menus. However, if you do decide that you’d like to have them, think about these things when considering a menu supplier.

Your bar concept

What’s the bar’s vibe? Is it a sports bar, a cocktail bar, or some kind of themed bar? You may not have thought too much about your bar’s concept since writing the business plan, but your menu is a crucial element of branding. Don’t take it lightly.

Whether you have small paper menus or QR codes on all the tables, menu suppliers can help you design a cool menu concept that customers will appreciate.

Durability

If you go with paper menus, you need a menu supplier that can create durable menus that will stand the daily wear and tear of living at a bar. Make sure to have the supplier do a test run on menu waterproofing and overall durability before committing.

Aesthetics

As we’ve noted, menus are an important element of your branding. They’re a crucial element to how customers interact with your business and brand, so you want them to look nice, be highly legible, and clearly state information you want customers to know about your brand. As such, a menu supplier should have an eye for design.

Laundry suppliers

A bar might not have the same laundry needs as a white tablecloth restaurant, but you may have uniforms and tons of aprons and rags. As such, you should shop for laundry suppliers.

Laundry requirements

Most likely, your bar doesn’t have extraordinary laundry needs. But they’re probably enough that you don’t want to load items in a bag and take it home to your personal laundry machine. With many local and national services like Rinse out there, you have many options to find the best service for your requirement.

Budget

Your budget will be a major factor in choosing a laundry supplier. National services may offer better prices, but they may not offer the same service as a more local company. Figure out what makes the most sense for your budget and needs.

Reputation

Who wants to trust their laundry to someone slimy? Laundry is personal stuff, even if it’s just rags for the bar. Remember to do your due diligence to find a well-regarded laundry supplier. Online reviews and first-person testimonials from other people in the bar industry are great places to look.

Repair suppliers

It’s possible that your equipment and repair suppliers could be the same people. That might save you some time and money. However, if you’re looking for a different repair supplier, consider these things.

Equipment expertise

Bar equipment runs the gamut of simple to complicated, and you need a repair supplier with expertise and experience with myriad brands and styles of equipment. Again, that could be the equipment supplier you leased or purchased equipment from in the first place. If it’s not, though, you need to verify that repair suppliers have worked with your equipment in the past.

Reputation

You wouldn’t trust your car to a mechanic with lousy reviews, would you? Don’t put your bar equipment in the hands of a repair supplier with a poor reputation. Look at the online reviews and gather first-person testimonials from other people in the bar industry before signing on the dotted line.

Reliability and speed

If a keg line goes out, you need it fixed ASAP. If a freezer shuts down, you really need it ASAP. A repair supplier is only as good as their reliability and efficiency. Every minute a significant piece of equipment is out of service could cost you money, so make sure you can trust your repair supplier to show up and get to work quickly.

Technology suppliers

Technology is allowing all kinds of restaurants to streamline operations, save money, and grow. With so many types of restaurant technology, it can be hard to know where to get the most bang for your buck.

A strong restaurant technology provider, such as Toast, is essential for helping bars optimize operations. Everything from a point-of-sale (POS) system built for your needs, automated staff and payroll management tools, and streamlined guest-facing tools, such as self-serve kiosks, online ordering, and QR codes, can all supply tech-driven optimizations to your restaurant.

How to find bar suppliers

Now that you know what kind of suppliers you need, let’s discuss how to find them. The good news is that most suppliers want your business, too, so they aren’t hard to find. Here are a few things you can do.

Online directories and marketplaces

There’s no shortage of bar suppliers out there, and they’re all vying for your attention just as much as you want theirs. Just Google “bar suppliers” and you’ll find loads of online directories and marketplaces with options to peruse. Then, you can continue to narrow your search by sorting by budget, location, the specific suppliers you need, and more items. Any supplier worth considering will have made it a point to ensure they show up on the most prominent web-based resources.

Industry associations and trade shows

The bar industry has local associations all over the country. Your local bar association will be a great place to source first-person testimonials about suppliers you’re interested in, or to get recommendations for new ones. The local association may even be able to get you deals with certain supplies.

Likewise, trade shows are a great way to gather more intel about suppliers or to meet many first-hand. All kinds of suppliers will set up booths at bar trade shows so you can get some face-to-face time and potentially even negotiate a deal — all while being in a position to vet them with other bar owners.

Cold-calling and prospecting

Nobody particularly likes cold-calling or prospecting, but the good news is that it shouldn’t be too hard to find bar suppliers interested in working with you. The difficult part will be keeping track of quotes and figuring out who can best cater to your needs.

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Beyond the customers you bring in, suppliers will have the biggest impact on your bar’s bottom line. It’s absolutely essential to get the best arrangements with the best suppliers possible to ensure high-quality ingredients, service, and atmosphere in your bar. Always take time to shop around, consider supplier reputation, and understand your budget and specific needs to avoid getting into a deal that ages poorly.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.