A La Carte NACE Blog
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Negotiating Food Pricing

Purchasing food is multi-faceted, and admittedly, it’s not always the easiest process. Everyone wants to feel as if they’re getting a good deal, and it’s important that you feel confident when crafting a menu for your clients. On one hand, you don’t want to deliver a lower quality meal for the sake of saving a few dollars, but you also don’t want to spend an unrealistic amount of money on ensuring that every item is organic or top-shelf. However, achieving that middle ground is realistic, and you can use these tips to ensure that you’re delivering a respectable dish without breaking the bank.

Negotiation strategies

Being mindful of where you’re spending your budget is crucial, and for most people in the industry, the best option is going with a GPO program that can offer more reasonable pricing due to the combined buying power of thousands of companies. Joining one of these programs will yield the most savings, plus you’ll be able to purchase ingredients of higher quality than you may not necessarily be able to if you were to purchase independently.

Consider taking the time to take a look at your invoices and price out your items to make sure you’re being intentional with your food purchasing in every area, rather than what you typically prioritize. For example, if you’re usually pushing for great prices on meat yet you aren’t paying as much attention to disposable items or vegetables, you may be shocked at how much money is going down the drain. Price-wise, what a distributor gives up on an item, they generally make up for on another.

Be conscious of long-term or binding contracts as well – you don’t want to get stuck in a situation you can’t easily get out of!

Quality that’s budget-friendly

That’s right, you can have both! Start by doing your research on products that are in-season and don’t run the risk of experiencing a shortage. To avoid waste, these are the items that will be priced reasonably, so you can stock up without much worry that you’re unwisely spending your budget.

Feel free to ask to sample a product as well as compare various cuts of meat, and don’t be afraid to try more mainstream brands. We often think that more well-known household names are the more expensive items, but that’s not always the case. Suppliers may also have some product suggestions that fit your budget, so come prepared with some questions to ask.

Where to save and where to splurge

The goal for most caterers is to save, save, save, but believe it or not, there’s a lot to be said for splurging on certain items as well. Think about your specialty and what clients often come to you for. If you offer high-quality protein in your menu, you can consider splurging in that area, but perhaps saving on your side dishes or condiments to balance the costs. For us, our splurge is seafood, as you can’t go wrong buying fresh, wild-caught food items.

One of the best things you can do is research your distributors and ensure that you’re only dealing with the most reputable on the market. You may be getting a good deal with a particular supplier, but visiting their warehouse may sway you otherwise if they aren’t coming by the ingredients honestly and ethically. Building good relationships with local suppliers may also allow for some flexibility on pricing.

Quality should be your priority over everything else, but there are many ways you can strategize to save money and negotiate pricing. Doing your market research and understanding seasonality of food items is half the battle!


Clint Elkins is the VP of Sales of SB Value, a group purchasing program designed to reduce catering, kitchen and food-service costs by leveraging the collective buying power of thousands of companies.


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