Can Restaurants Buy From Grocery Stores? (5 Facts Revealed)


Restaurants work together with various vendors to always have food supplies for their food. Sometimes customers do not even know what they have on their plates, and they may wonder where the groceries come from. You have probably seen many times that restaurants take food from grocery stores and wondered if it is a common practice.

Restaurants can buy from grocery stores. Smaller restaurants buy grocery store items, especially if they run out of some supplies, while restaurant chains do not, because they have their regular suppliers. They must prepare food with quality ingredients coming from the same source. 

All restaurants have their suppliers and it is a normal thing for some restaurants to buy from grocery stores for many reasons. However, many of them have suppliers and they buy from grocery stores only if they have to. You are in the right place to find out whether restaurants can always buy from grocery stores, which items they usually need from these stores, and can restaurants sell grocery items.

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Where Do Restaurants Buy Their Food?

Restaurant food suppliers sell their products directly to restaurants. They are usually local farmers or wholesale vendors. A restaurant supplier’s function is to give restaurants an opportunity to buy products at a lower price to increase profit margins. When choosing food suppliers, restaurants consider delivery schedule, cost, and quality. 

Different restaurants need different suppliers, and there is not always one solution. It all depends on the type of food you serve, your sale, size, and other factors.

The first suppliers that restaurants can buy food from are full-line suppliers. The most common names related to them are Sysco and US Foods. They have everything, from frozen food and ingredients to cleaning supplies and desserts. They deliver goods via truck once a week to smaller and two-three times per week to larger operations. Restaurants can order food online or over the phone.

The advantage of full-line suppliers is that there is an enormous selection of products you can choose from. Even if they do not have products needed for a restaurant, they will locate it. Also, there is a substitution for products that are not available. Another good thing is that you can buy in bulks and get various discounts.

Restaurants should always have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, regardless of whether it is a vegan or some other restaurant. Restaurants combine different ways and methods to get these products. They usually opt for local suppliers or nearby stores and other restaurants, particularly those that prioritize organic meals, frequently buy these items from local farmer markets.

When it comes to meat, some restaurants source their beef, pork, and poultry from local farms, while others buy them from larger companies. These companies have connections with farms and butchers who make meat ready for restaurants. Besides, these companies have the resources to invest in proper food safety.

However, there are numerous benefits to obtaining meat directly from farmers or smaller suppliers, and that is why restaurants rather choose them as suppliers. Restaurants can develop relationships and obtain the freshest, highest-quality meat while also supporting their local economy.

Restaurants heavily rely on local butchers to source fresh cuts of meat and educate themselves on where the meat came from, similar to working with farmers and shopping at local markets. Butchers work with livestock farmers with whom they have developed relationships. They are a reliable source of information about every piece of meat you require for your menu or special events. Butchers cooperate with a restaurant to develop a menu that includes high-quality meat.

Restaurants also get food from local food markets for locally sourced ingredients. Farmers working at local markets save their best crops for restaurants whose presence there became frequent. Restaurants handpick their ingredients and get in contact with farmers who produce their food.

One type of supplier not mentioned is grocery stores. In addition to so many supplier choices, from wholesalers to local markets, many wonder if restaurants need to visit grocery stores to buy food. Keep reading because you will find out more about it in the next section.

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Do Restaurants Buy from Grocery Stores?

You are probably wondering what they do in restaurants when they run out of salads, spices, or anything else to prepare meals and whether they immediately run to a nearby grocery store to get it all. 

Of course, restaurants can buy from grocery stores, as long as it is just things needed to prepare meals, such as frozen food. However, most restaurants choose to buy bulk from wholesalers or farmers if they want organic and healthy food because buying from grocery stores is not cost-effective. 

Restaurant Depot is the most common name you will hear about food sourcing. It is a chain of supply stores dedicated solely to large batch supplies for restaurants. You must have a membership to join, and once you have one, you can get food and drinks at a significant discount. Even though almost every restaurant has a membership in at least one depot-style warehouse, sometimes restaurants do not opt for that option to get all of their food.

Restaurants do not have to get their items from the warehouse, but from anywhere, as long as they can prove that the ingredients are safe for use as food. Smaller restaurants frequently use local produce and buy additives in smaller quantities from smaller suppliers. This means that some of their ingredients may come from nearby grocery stores.

Larger restaurants or restaurant chains buy in bulk, so they buy from larger wholesalers to get the best prices and consolidate delivery costs. Popular restaurant chains as KFC do not get their supplies from anywhere else than their distributor.

Smaller restaurants occasionally go to grocery stores for supplies. Larger chains rarely do that because they want to keep customers happy and keep the consistency of experience. Larger companies, such as McDonald’s, control supply for their restaurant and ingredients they use for their food from the same supplier, usually McDonald’s distribution warehouse. If they run out of something, they will cross it from the menu.

Because purchasing at a supermarket or grocery store is more expensive than purchasing from a wholesaler, the majority of restaurants buy significant quantities of ingredients from wholesalers.

It is important to note that restaurants cannot just go and grab the things they need from the grocery store. Restaurants have to purchase their food items from a licensed distributor. If a restaurant is a franchise, then it has more limitations. In that case, they only have to buy from certain brands.

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Why Do Restaurants Buy From Grocery Stores?

One of the reasons restaurants buy from the grocery store is emergency. Sometimes their delivery from their regular supplier is late or missing, and they need to find a solution. In that case, they would go to the grocery store and buy the items they need. It is not always desirable as prices at grocery stores are higher than restaurants pay to their supplier.

Restaurants also buy from grocery stores because of the quantity they use. Sometimes they use a small number of items for their meals, and they go to grocery stores to get it because it is better than throwing out the entire case of supplies that have expired.

Family-run restaurants buy from grocery stores all the time, especially if there are many stores nearby. It is easier for them, and they cannot make their customers wait for their delivery to arrive. 

I was on vacation with my family once, and we went to a fast-food restaurant for a hamburger. They ran out of a salad, and they went to the grocery store across the street to buy a salad for our hamburgers. Some restaurants would not do that, but the fact is that this is the most common reason why restaurants go to grocery stores. It can save the situation at the last minute.

Aside from these reasons, many restaurants do not have the habit of taking food from grocery stores. This increases the costs, and they will not earn much from the sale of their dishes. Of course, grocery stores are a life-saver in exceptional situations, but restaurants rely more on their suppliers because they can buy in bulk and lower prices.

What Products Can a Restaurant Buy From a Grocery Store?

As I mentioned before, it is excellent for a restaurant to buy from the grocery store, as long as it is of the same quality. Basic products such as ketchup and flour (except specialty like 00) are acceptable. However, a restaurant would not buy meat from a grocery store, and the quality of meat served in their local is rarely available in one. They would usually turn to a local butcher or specialty shop to get it. 

Also, a restaurant can buy seafood from both the grocery store and restaurant wholesaler if the quality is the same as the one they offer. 

A restaurant, especially a small one, can also buy some spices from a grocery store, such as salt. However, if a restaurant serves exotic food, they may import ingredients and find a supplier specializing in it.

Another thing restaurants can buy from the grocery store is vegetables. They usually have a contract with their distributor, but sometimes they have to run to the store to get it before their supply arrives. 

A smaller restaurant can get bread from grocery stores for their meals and eggs. Sauces are also on the list, especially if some fast-food restaurants do not make their own.

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Can a Restaurant Sell Grocery Items?

Since the situation with the coronavirus has been hard on restaurants in the previous period, many restaurants have started selling grocery items in their facilities. Probably some have encountered this for the first time, but it is actually possible. It is a new practice, and many restaurants have tried it.

It is a chance for customers to pick up a few necessities without dealing with crowded stores. While local supermarkets may be out of some supplies, local restaurants are likely to have it as they have different supply chains than grocery stores.

When people eat less in restaurants, then they mainly order more from grocery stores. Sometimes the goal is to solve the problem of food stocks. Some grocery stores cannot, for example, put vast amounts of flour on the shelf, while restaurants can provide it and pack it for customers. Products intended for restaurants find new customers, and sometimes this is a big challenge, so restaurants also sell these products online.

If restaurants want to sell grocery items, they have to comply with some rules. The first rule is that all items should be on the menu, including non-food items. Also, restaurants have to provide items for customers via delivery, drive-thru, or over-the-counter. A restaurant may not open packaged meat and repackage it. They have to sell individual packages with proper labels.

One of the largest restaurant suppliers, Sysco, is helping restaurants selling groceries and advise them on various aspects. Sysco has inventory and products to help restaurants meet the demand and needs of customers and provide them with everything that grocery stores lack or cannot provide at the moment.

Restaurants can also organize boxes of produce to pick up, and customers need to call to check which groceries are available.

This would not have become a restaurant practice had it not been for the pandemic. However, they had to come up with alternative solutions to provide additional revenue. It does not mean that restaurants and grocery stores are competitors, but they work together to help customers. 

What some grocery stores may not have at some point, the restaurant will surely have it on its list. Or, if some customers cannot wait in lines or still want larger quantities of items from various vendors, they can come to the restaurant and buy them.

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Omar Abdalla

I’m the owner of JRS and while I love working in a busy restaurant, I also enjoy more peaceful and relaxed cookouts at home.

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