You often hear that having effective working relationships with your vendors and suppliers is extremely important for your restaurant. This makes sense given that the strength (or lack thereof) of these relationships often determines if your inventory arrives on-time, undamaged and unspoiled. This all can be the difference between making or losing money in an industry with thin profit margins.
Let’s assume you already have a great supplier or vendor relationship and everything is operating smoothly. Now imagine for a moment that there is an emergency with one of your vendors; say your POS system unexpectedly shuts down in the middle of service or you open your order of salmon only to find a giant squid staring back at you. What do you do?
Most restaurateurs would say “call someone to fix the problem ASAP”, but is this the most effective way to get results? When there is a crisis in your business and time is of the essence, how do you ensure there’s a plan in place to make sure it is dealt with in the best way possible?
The following are 4 strategies you can employ in your restaurant to ensure you maintain open and effective communication with your vendors and suppliers. This way, when a crisis comes - and believe us, it happens to everyone eventually - you can mitigate it in the most timely and effective way possible, while still maintaining great relationships:
1) Pick A Common Communications Channel
If you are in a bind and need to get a hold of your suppliers or vendors, it’s essential to know the best way to contact them, especially when there are numerous ways to connect. Perhaps they answer texts immediately but don’t pick up the phone. Or their email spam filter is aggressive and blocks your ‘urgent’ message, so it’s better to send them a message on a shared Slack channel. Communication channels can also live within tech solutions. Procurement platforms, like BlueCart, often have built in communication features that are designed to enhance restaurant/vendor relationships and smooth over any and all issues. Establishing the best way to reach your partners is the first step to ensuring you can get a hold of them.
2) Establish Frequent Contact
A proven way to ensure the lines of communication are kept open with your suppliers and vendors is to set up a consistent series of check-ins to identify potential issues before they impact your business. These check-ins also serve as a great way to maintain your relationship so you are top-of-mind with your partners.
An easy-to-implement idea is to institute a quarterly calendar invite for coffee date with your supplier or vendor contacts. You can use it as a way to catch up and find out what’s happening in your industry, but it is also an informal way to chat about issues you might be having. This is a fantastic opportunity to review your business together and see where improvements could be made.
For example, if you have noticed in your Restaurant Manager Log Book that your inventory deliveries have been late in the past weeks, bring it up and see if there is a reason behind this.
3) Communications Triage
One of the main components of “crisis communications” - which is a specialized field in press relations (PR) - is the idea of setting up a communications triage. Meaning, in an emergency there is a pre-defined plan of who to contact to fix your problem, and in what order they should be contacted based on limited resources, capacity and mobility.
For example, if you call your local cable provider regarding a problem with your television, the communications ‘triage’ in place would have you speaking to a customer service representative, then a manager, then a supervisor; eventually leading to the CEO of the company. In your partner relationships the same logic applies - if you have a problem, identifying who you should contact and in which order will greatly reduce the time it takes to mitigate an issue.
4) Create A “Red Telephone”
During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 the United States and the Soviet Union discovered that it took up to six hours for “official” lines of communication to pass along messages from the leadership of one country to another. This lag in time was determined to be dangerously long when the two superpowers were on edge and the chance for armed conflict was real.
This led to the creation of “Moscow-Washington” hotline in 1963; a direct line of communication between the two nations’ governments meant to accelerate communications in time of crisis to avoid potentially deadly consequences. This ‘hotline’ was commonly thought of as a red rotary telephone thanks it’s depiction in Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove.
Just like the cold war hotline, it would be wise to consider a similar setup for your communications with your key suppliers and vendors. In practice this does not need to be anything elaborate, just swapping contact information for key decision-makers at your partners’ businesses, which in case of a major emergency can be used to get resolution quickly and efficiently. This will bypass all of the regular communication apparatuses you have in place.
Post written by Chris de Jong, the Marketing Lead for 7shifts, an employee scheduling app designed for restaurant based in beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He works with the rest of the 7shifts team to help their customers all over the world save time scheduling, reduce labor costs, and improve communication in their businesses.