The 360 perspective foodservice vendors vs chefs

I admit it, I married a vendor. Gasp! Actually a married a great guy who at the time worked for Dole & Bailey, a company I still hold in high regards for both their quality of products and as I got to know a bit about their company through plant visits and hearing and interacting first hand with other of their employees, a great company in general.

My husband has since then worked for more broadline distributors and a specialty product distributor. I also now have many friends that work in sales and distribution. Not part of the same circles I used to move solely within before.

He was my salesperson and a casual friend for many many years prior to us being a couple and I have lost count of the times he bailed me out when his company and in many cases other companies shorted me product, subbed something not useable or mispicked a case of something. I vividly recall him tracking down sliced prosciutto and bringing it to me by gondola when I was the chef at the Cliff House.

Sysco had sent me a case of layout bacon. (mispicked sliced procuitto on the label) Not something you can quickly sub for a upscale wedding party of a 100 people showing up for hor d’eouvres in half and hour, especially when it takes 20 minutes just to get off the mountain, swinging in the breeze.

The point behind this is being married to someone in the other side of the industry gives a different perspective on the working of vendors. As a chef, the case of bacon from Sysco had big red letters on all sides saying BACON, I recall throwing a hissy fit about, i.e. can’t these stupid people read? It says on the tag “prosciutto” It says on the #@$^*&*& invoice its “prosciutto” etc. etc.. Why the %$^*^* did I get BACON? After touring many different plants and operations and getting to know more then I ever though possible about the distribution side of the industry. I know now why I got the bacon.

Please reference:  Tips on not getting ripped off by your food vendors.-Weigh It and Check Everything!

I know a lot more about the margins they run on and the costs they maintain, I have a lot more sympathy and understanding for sales people in the business then I did before. Their phones ring 24/7, they have to deal with corporate notices from on high that make no sense and many times have unattainable expectations and difficult and temperamental customers, and I admit I was definitely one of the temperamental ones!

As a chef, I used to get deluged with salespeople making in person calls and phone calls on a daily basis. Back then I said “get lost” to most of them, especially if they were new. “Make an appointment” “I don’t have time.” While there are many bad salespeople out there, there are also just as many good ones and in hindsight I should have been a bit more understanding.

What I see now from the other perspective is companies pushing their employees daily to make quotas, grow their business, not an easy thing to do in this economy. I think if I were back in the kitchen now, I would have a tad more sympathy for these poor people, on the road most of the day making calls, putting out fire-drills and finding product for their customer.

My husband has also learned more about how the back of the house operates, if the company he works for is out of a product someone needs he now knows (or he can ask me and sometimes does) what are some suggestions and alternatives for things that might work; what are the best hours to call on restaurants; how to scope menus out in advance so when meeting the chef and/or owner for a first meeting he has a better idea of what kinds of products they would be interested in. A good example of sales people NOT doing this is an old US Foodservice rep consistently bring in premade junk deserts like snickers chocolate pie and precooked, stuffed pork rolls into a fine dining white tablecloth restaurant.

I think it would be helpful to both sides of the industry if they took good long hard looks at how they both really operate. To foodservice reps it means a better understanding of how restaurants really operate and more hands on food knowledge. To chefs it means taking plant tours and talking (real talking) to people in the distribution industry. Or for those of us in the industry, you can always turn traitor and marry the other side. A bit like Romeo and Juliet but with a happier ending.

About Chef Forfeng

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