Being a food farmer / producer is tough work, and the nature of selling to chefs and their long hours and the difficult communication cycles that come with their jobs verifiably adds another layer of complexity.
It’s easy to understand how, when you’ve worked hard to land a great restaurant account and then work even harder to deliver quality product consistently (by literally growing or making the ingredient yourself), that it can be easy to FREAK OUT or just feel really sad (and also a bit panicky) when unexpectedly one day your fastest growing, favorite, consistent paying restaurant account… calls to break up.
And the truth of the matter is… break-ups happen.
With that reality in mind, we’ve compiled five ways to prepare, so you don’t have to worry, panic or otherwise FREAK OUT when you lose a restaurant account.
#1 Get your mindset right.
Remember that during the best of times especially, this reality can (and will) happen to even the best producers in the best restaurant / chef relationships. Many factors can contribute to such a change: a scaling business, tighter margins, rising employee costs, lower ticket averages, a change in customer ordering patterns, an investor’s daughter started a business doing the same thing as you… These are a few among a dozen other reasons can lead to a producer / restaurant breakup. Many of which, unfortunately, are completely outside of your control. It’s important to know it can happen… to anyone.
#2 Be prepared to minimize your exposure to break-ups by always being in the customer retention business.
Communicate frequently with your chef – and all of the chefs in the kitchen, for that matter. Take time to go beyond small talk and build a real relationship.
Find out how your product is doing, what dishes it’s used in and how those dishes are performing.
Ask if you can help promote the dish by sending an email or social post to your followers – and then do it – and make sure they see it. Then do it again. And again. In short, look for ways to help them sell more of your product.
Also, make them feel appreciated and valuable. Because they are. Give them free swag at least every couple of months – anything from baseball hats to stickers are a sign that you value their business – and them personally.
Write thank you notes and share in your own handwriting (however terrible it may be) just how valuable their business is to your business. Say thank you.
If you don’t do your own deliveries, make a point to CALL and let them hear your voice saying thank you and checking on the quality and timeliness of the delivery. In general, if they’re a regular customer, we recommend that you make a habit of checking in on them and their business at least once a month.
#3 Sell to survive.
If you KNOW that you’re going to have customer attrition, but you don’t know when and where it will happen, that fact should motivate you to double down on your sales efforts. While the loss of a restaurant account may break your heart, it will break your heart far less if it doesn’t threaten the survival of your own business. Never put your business at risk by assuming that your customers will be forever loyal.
Sell to sustain your business first, and then sell some more to grow your business. You’re never selling solely to grow your business. If you’re not selling, you’re dying.
#4 Always have an active list of leads that you’re working.
Write prospective restaurant accounts on a sheet of paper, type it in a Google doc or Evernote or just send yourself an email. But whatever you do, have it in a form that you can access anytime, anywhere. Then make sure that you call, text, email or drop by several of those leads Every. Single. Day. Make working your list a HABIT that is as important as caring for your crops, animals or processing facility. This list should feature new-to-you restaurants that you have zero contact with as well as places that you know, have sampled and just haven’t said yes… yet.
If a prospective restaurant account hasn’t said yes yet, keep asking until you get a yes or a no. Remember, on AVERAGE, it takes nearly a dozen touch points to get a chef to make a move towards a new ingredient. A DOZEN. If you call, text, and email everyday, it might ONLY take you a couple of weeks (in an ideal world free of major holidays, food festivals or vacations) to get to phase one of their consideration. Know the facts and don’t get discouraged – and keep working that list!
Did I mention that you must remember that breakups happen?
If you’ll follow these five pieces of advice, you won’t need to freak out or even break stride when you lose a restaurant account. Yes, you’ll be sad – and that’s okay. We’re in this business because we love serving people and having personal relationships, and break-ups hurt. But with proper mindset and planning, they do not have to cause anxiety and financial difficulty for your business.
>> Want to know more about selling your product to restaurants? Check out our e-book called “How to Sell to Restaurants” for 11 easy-to-implement ideas addressing how to sell your farm to table or artisan made ingredient to chefs.