How to choose the best coffee supplier for your coffee shop or restaurant
Whether you’re just planning to open your first coffee shop, or you’ve been in the business for years but considering switching coffee suppliers, it’s important you do your research. After all, you might have the perfect setting, the very best commercial coffee machine, and superlative barista skills, but if your coffee is sub-par, your business will suffer.
And while great quality coffee is of paramount importance, it’s not the only consideration you need to bear in mind. Price, of course, makes a difference to profitability. But a cheap coffee supplier may mean a compromise on quality. Worse yet, it may mean a compromise on reliability. Because no matter how delicious the coffee, and how healthy the price point is for your margins, if it doesn’t get delivered when it’s promised, you’re in trouble.
Google is, of course, your friend when you need a new coffee supplier. But bear this in mind: the vast majority of internet searchers look no further than the first page. Many investigate no further than the first handful of results on the first page. Don’t be like most people. Because being good at search engine optimisation doesn’t guarantee a coffee supplier is good at supplying the best coffee for your business.
The coffee taste test
Taste is your starting point. Ideally, the suppliers you talk with will be only too pleased to bring you to their premises, perhaps even offer a tasting at the roastery itself. Sometimes you need to balance that thorough but time-consuming evaluation with a little pragmatism, however. At the very minimum, ask for a sample from any supplier you approach. If a free sample isn’t on its way to you, they’re probably not the business for you. Wait until you have a handful of samples from different suppliers, then run those samples through the espresso machine in your coffee shop. You want real-world tasting here, and if you’re already open and have regular customers, you might even consider publicising a coffee tasting event. Good PR, and the invaluable views of your target audience.
Find out more about the supplier
How long have they been in business? What did they do before? What are their personal coffee preferences? What are their views on Fairtrade coffee and sustainability? What’s the origin of each coffee they supply? Can you find out more about the plantations they come from? Can they add value to their service with extras, such as barista training, promotional materials, newsletters, eco-friendly takeaway cups or all the syrups you can use to offer customers a more diverse coffee taste experience? If all these questions satisfy you, it might be time to haggle on the price as much as you dare. But don’t let price wins blind you to the quality of the delivery and support service.
Seek out the opinions of each supplier’s coffee shop customers
A reputable coffee supplier will be only too happy to give you the details of a few existing customers. Contact them directly to find out about the service they’ve received. Just one thing – don’t talk to coffee shops about prices if you think you’ve scored a good deal. If you think the price is steep, on the other hand, you might want to find out whether there’s wiggle room.