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Cafe Suppliers: How to Select Cafe Suppliers and Vendors

Nick PerryAuthor

Cafe Suppliers: How to Select Cafe Suppliers and Vendors

Cafes are some of the most popular food establishments for good reason. Not only are they a great place to get your coffee fix, but they can be excellent spots to work, have lunch, or hang out with friends. They’re a classic example of a “third space” beyond home and work where people spend significant amounts of time.

When you add that consideration to the fact that coffee is an everyday habit for 60% of Americans and an $80 billion industry, cafes seem like pretty good business.

Of course, the cafe industry is also highly competitive, and opening a cafe or coffee shop isn’t just a walk in the park. It may cost up to $300,000 to open a cafe, which means you’ll want to keep your operating costs low to keep profits high. One of the most important factors in your cafe’s profit margin is who your suppliers are.

Suppliers are crucial to any business, but they’re especially important in the cutthroat cafe business. You may not be able to compete with the wholesale prices of national chains, but suppliers help you keep your food and beverage quality high and your costs as low as possible. That way, you can offer the best prices possible for your outstanding menu.

In this article, you will learn how to find cafe suppliers to support your business and provide the best service to customers at the lowest overhead possible.

The importance of cafe suppliers

Let’s delve deeper into the importance of suppliers as we explore the different types of suppliers that cafes need.

  • Food and beverage suppliers are possibly the most important component of your entire business. They provide you with the supplies to bring your menu ideas to life. The prices you charge for those menu items are directly related to what you pay your food and beverage suppliers for ingredients.

  • Equipment suppliers and repair suppliers ensure you have the equipment you need to run your cafe, from coffee equipment and a fryer to storage and shelving. They’ll also help you with maintenance.

  • Menu suppliers can help you make the perfect menu to show off your branding and resonate with customers. Your menu is one of the best ways to show off your unique cafe concept.

  • Laundry suppliers can save time and help maintain a high standard of cleanliness by servicing all of your laundry needs.

  • Technology suppliers keep your cafe up to speed with restaurant technology innovations that can save your business money and streamline operations.

Essential cafe suppliers

All cafes need suppliers, so let’s discuss some of the most important items to consider when looking for suppliers.

Food and beverage suppliers

Your cafe’s food and beverage will be the biggest determining factor in whether or not a customer returns. So, you definitely need a great food and beverage supplier. Here’s what to consider.

Menu needs

Are you more of a coffee shop or a sandwich shop? Pastry bar or breakfast sandwich joint? Your menu is the most important driving force behind choosing a food and beverage supplier. If you serve baked goods, breakfast, lunch, and dessert items, you may need a few suppliers for your complete menu. As much as possible, locally sourcing things like bread or bagels can be a nice way to demonstrate your cafe’s commitment to the community.

Sales volume

Even at cafes, food waste is a problem. Some estimates find that up to 10% of food purchased by restaurant leaders never gets used. That’s bad for the environment, but it’s even worse for your cafe’s bottom line.

Especially if you’re using multiple suppliers, you want to understand your sales volume so you don’t overorder. Restaurant reporting and analytics tools and inventory management solutions by Toast are great resources to help you determine the right order volume and frequency.

Delivery requirements

Fresh pastries and bread should arrive daily before you open. Large coffee shipments can probably come once or twice a week. Cold cuts should also refresh at least weekly. So, how do you juggle all of these deliveries? How do you manage the storage for new deliveries as well as existing inventory? Where and when can a supplier deliver?

Think through your delivery requirements before hiring a food and beverage supplier so you know they can meet your needs.

Equipment suppliers

Cafes aren’t just coffee shops, and they’ll likely need more equipment to service all customers. Consider the following when looking into equipment suppliers.

Consult your menu

Chances are, you’ve already laid out what you want to make in your cafe business plan, so you should know the equipment you need before you open your cafe. (You can always add more equipment later, space permitting.)

If you have a breakfast and lunch menu, you might need a fryer for french fries, a grill for sandwiches, and storage for sandwich dressings. You’ll almost definitely need an espresso machine and a dishwasher.

There are many pieces of equipment you might want in your cafe, and many you’ll definitely need. Sort the needs from the wants before you choose an equipment supplier.

Measure your space

We just touched on this, but space is a scarce resource in a cafe. Your cafe’s floor plan likely has a big impact on what kind of equipment you can actually fit in your space. As such, you must measure thoroughly to figure out exactly what kind of equipment you can inquire about from a supplier.

Consider new vs. used

Buying used is a good way to save money. Many equipment suppliers lease restaurant equipment to cafes, which is a good way to ensure you always have the newest, highest-end equipment. But it’s also a recurring expense every month.

Buying lightly used items is a good way to lower your recurring expenses while still having the equipment you need to service your menu. You may pay more upfront, but a good piece of equipment that lasts could save your cafe money long-term.

Menu suppliers

Not all cafes use paper menus. They might just keep the menu on a chalkboard or billboard by the bar. But menus are still a cool part of a cafe’s aesthetic, so if you do choose to have single menus, think about these three things when considering a menu supplier.

Your cafe concept

You definitely thought about this when working on your cafe business plan, and you may have a vivid idea of your concept and branding. You might have felt that way a while back, but have lost the vision a bit.

A menu is a great way to reinvigorate your brand and think about your mission. After all, menus are where customers most directly interface with your brand.

Make sure your branding is consistent on your menu, that items are neatly and clearly organized, and that there’s flexibility for menu engineering and changes as needed.  

Durability

From single-use paper to etched rock, you could put a menu on anything. If you want menus that last, it’s important to go with a menu supplier with a good track record of durability. Before committing to anyone, have the supplier do a test run on menu waterproofing and overall durability.

Aesthetics

Your marketing strategy isn’t just outside of your cafe’s doors. Your menu is an invaluable part of the overall aesthetic of your cafe, which is in itself a form of marketing. Any menu supplier must be able to meet your brand vision and clearly showcase what makes your cafe so much cooler than the competition.

Laundry suppliers

Cafes don’t have quite the same laundry demands as fancy restaurants, but they still have needs. Here’s what to keep in mind when shopping for laundry suppliers.

Laundry requirements

You probably won’t need a lot of items dry cleaned, but you might have branded T-shirts, aprons, and an assortment of kitchen towels and rags that need regular washing. Depending on your staff and the items you need washed regularly, you may not need a very involved laundry supplier. (You could even do it yourself or add a washer/dryer to your commercial space.) There are also national services like Rinse that could come in handy.

Budget

If you don’t want to spend much on laundry, you don’t even need a supplier. But if you’d like to save some time and have the laundry done efficiently, consider your budget before signing with a supplier.

Reputation

You can’t trust just anyone with your laundry. Make sure to do your due diligence when hiring a laundry supplier to find someone with a great reputation. Examine online reviews and gather as many first-person testimonials as you can.

Repair suppliers

Before you look for repair suppliers, see if your equipment supplier includes maintenance or warranties on equipment. That could save you some time and money as opposed to searching for and hiring a separate repair supplier.

Equipment expertise

Your equipment supplier may be uniquely suited to provide repair services on the equipment it has leased or sold to you. But, if they don’t offer this kind of service, make sure you hire a repair supplier with extensive experience working with the equipment your cafe has. Espresso machines, grills, refrigerators — if you’ve got it, your repair supplier should be able to fix it.

Reputation

Like the laundry, you can’t trust just anyone with repair service. After all, if a piece of equipment breaks down, you might not be able to sell certain items on your menu, risking ingredients going bad and customers leaving. Do as much research as you can on a repair supplier’s reputation before hiring anyone.

Reliability and speed

Again, if equipment breaks down, you’re probably going to be losing money as long as it’s out of commission. You need a fast, reliable repair supplier who can get equipment back up and running quickly.

Technology suppliers

Technology has changed how all kinds of food and beverage establishments operate. There are many types of restaurant technology that can streamline staffing, save money, and help businesses scale sustainably. But employing a dozen different suppliers for different aspects of your business is a great way to sow discord and confusion in your cafe.

A strong restaurant technology provider, such as Toast, is essential for helping a cafe optimize operations. Everything from a point-of-sale (POS) system built for your needs to automated staff and payroll management tools can all supply tech-driven optimizations to your restaurant.

Plus, Toast offers innovative self-serve options for cafe customers like kiosks, online ordering, and QR codes that can take some stress off staff and free up more staff members to process orders.

How to find cafe suppliers

Finding cafe suppliers isn’t as hard as you might think. They’ll compete for your business, not the other way around. Here’s how to find the best suppliers for your cafe.

Online directories and marketplaces

Any good cafe supplier will make a point to show up on online directories and marketplaces. Just Google “cafe suppliers” or “cafe suppliers near me” and you’ll be almost overwhelmed by the options. On most national and local directories, you’ll be able to narrow your search by budget, location, and the specific types of suppliers you need.

Industry associations and trade shows

The coffee industry is booming, and there are local industry associations and trade shows all over the country. These are great resources to find peers and gain inside information on local suppliers. You can get first-person testimonials about suppliers you’re interested in, or get recommendations for new ones.

Likewise, industry associations and trade shows might be a good way to get discounts or better deals from suppliers. Knowing somebody or getting a face-to-face meeting at a trade show is good negotiation leverage.

Cold-calling and prospecting

Most likely, you won’t have to cold-call or prospect for cafe suppliers, but if you want to thoroughly compare your options, it’s a good thing to do. By prospecting, you can get a range of quotes and use those as leverage to negotiate better deals.

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Suppliers have an incredibly important impact on your cafe. In order to serve the best food and beverages at the best prices, you need the support of high-quality suppliers. And you need to get supplies at great prices yourself. That’s why shopping around for cafe suppliers is so important. Remember to always consider your cafe’s specific needs and budget, and supplier reputation to find the best options for your business.

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