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Alcohol Supplier 101

alcohol supplier 101

There are as many types of bars, eateries, and otherwise food-and-beverage establishments as there are genres of music. On one end we have speakeasy-revivalist situations which only sell single-malt from prohibition-era cellars (i.e. very, very specialized, and likely just as pricey.) On the other end exist country dives and diners whose revenue comes mostly from cheap beer sold in large quantities, and dollar shot nights. In the middle there exists every flavor of niche or generic service you can hope to think of, and all of them have supply needs which are as unique as they are. 

Building a relationship with the right supplier who carries exactly what you and your establishment need – and at the right price point – is one critical key to success for bar and restaurant owners. So let’s talk about how you can make this happen for your establishment.

Things to consider when picking an alcohol supplier for your restaurant

Many bar owners and restaurateurs prefer a trialing approach to building a rapport with a new supplier. This allows them to literally sample the goods and get a solid grasp on the specifics of what this particular supplier offers before fully committing. If they don’t like what they find, however, extracting from the current supplier and onboarding a new one can be messy, not to mention expensive.

Luckily, it’s perfectly simple to vet your suppliers ahead of time to guarantee a correct fit by looking at a number of essential factors. 

Product portfolio

The ideal supplier for your establishment will have everything you want to sell, and more. If you’ve done your due diligence, your research will tell you what your patrons are most likely to buy, what your bartender’s favorite ingredients are, and what gaps there are in the competition’s inventory which you might be able to fill. And it’s your supplier that will ultimately make these problems possible to solve. 

But whatever alcohol vendor you choose should have a portfolio that expands past your current menu. Your aim should be to maintain a flexible and engaging inventory so you can update and add-on when needed (within your niche, of course.)

Product pricing

If you’re selling beer at 5 dollars a bottle, you shouldn’t be paying at the price point you would expect if you were selling it for 15. How much a supplier charges is in some cases a more important factor than the brand of whatever it is they’re charging you for. To turn a profit, you must first make sure that you can afford the product coming into your inventory. 

A good supplier at any price point will have utmost transparency regarding the cost of their available product. If they don’t, that’s your signal to say “no, thank you,” and move on. 

Available promotions

While not every supplier will offer these benefits, one nice-to-have that may signal an easy relationship is the availability of promotional deals and discounts over time. An alcoholic beverage company might also call this a rewards system, loyalty program, or other familiar concept similar to what you might find in B2C commerce situations. 

This kind of offer should by no means be the pin on which your decision hinges, but can definitely offset product costs and help your establishment to profit in the long run. 

Flexibility and delivery guarantees

Let’s address this point in two parts. 

One, life happens, something you thought was going to sell like hotcakes is still sitting on the shelf on inventory day, or a family emergency forces you to close right when you were supposed to receive your  delivery, etc., etc. In the event of an emergency or otherwise unforeseen inconvenience, a good alcohol supplier should give you the grace of shifting an order, delaying a delivery, or canceling altogether.

Two, deliveries during calmer seas should be guaranteed by the company. You should expect to receive your new inventory on-time and in full. If circumstances beyond your control prevent this, you should receive a refund or replacements. A policy like this will also help to establish a general sense of trustworthiness for the supplier. 

Do you like the sales rep?

If your contact with your supplier is unpleasant to work with, you don’t have to work with them. It may take some time to parse this out, however. Sometimes a difficult rep is just that, however the company they work for might make a little head-butting completely worth their great, inexpensive product. In other instances, a bad rep might be symptomatic of some deeper issues within the supplier at large – a definite red flag. If you do like the supply company itself, you can always request to work with a different representative.

Legal notes

Some states may stipulate laws which determine where and even when you can buy alcohol for your establishment – whether you’re a full-service cocktail bar, or a restaurant with a beer and wine menu. Individual states may also stipulate different sales tax metrics depending on whether you’re getting your inventory from within or outside of your state of operation. Check your state’s supply laws before you begin shopping for a supplier. 

Getting set up with an alcohol sales rep

Once you find the right supplier for you, here’s what to do next. 

  • Make contact. If you’re reaching out, you already know you like what the distributor has to offer. Now it’s their turn to get to know you. Let them hear the story of your establishment, what you hope to serve, and how they can help.
  • Establish expectations. This means giving them a forecasted volume of what you will need so they can create your account and fill orders appropriately.
  • Figure out the financials. This might mean filling out a credit application, establishing a PayPal relationship, etc.
  • Negotiation. Make sure you and your supplier are engaging in a mutually beneficial relationship which will ultimately support both your businesses in the future. 

Provi can help

Did we mention that you might need to think about hiring multiple alcohol suppliers? Vendors sometimes specialize just as much as bars and restaurants and one might not be enough if you want your inventory to have a range of ingredients. Managing orders from multiple representatives can often prove a chore. 

Unless, of course, you sign up with Provi. Provi is an all-in-one inventory management platform for restaurants and bars that gives you a streamlined ordering process so you don’t have to worry about tracking multiple orders from multiple distributors. Plus, Provi provides easy inventory tracking complete with notifications to tell you when it might be time to restock. 

Sign up for free today to see what else Provi can offer you.

The Provi Team


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