The high wire of ordering

A chef or kitchen manager has to juggle their many other daily tasks and also order fresh products and dry goods and front-of-the-house supplies. Sometimes deliveries don’t go as planned. Then, it’s up to that person who’s in charge of ordering to call their purveyors and ask for corrections that will (hopefully) arrive in time to make service happen successfully.

In addition to just ordering the supplies that get used on a regular basis, whoever’s placing orders also has to decide how much produce and proteins to request for planned specials and cross his or her fingers that those items are received in good condition and in the right quantities.

Chefs and kitchen managers can’t be at a restaurant 24 hours a day. Often, they place their orders in the late afternoon or evening via the internet, and those orders are delivered before they start their next workday, to be received by the early morning workers at the restaurant. Technology both helps and can hurt in this regard. While we no longer have to check off every item on every single multiple-case shipment, thanks to bar-code labels and computer-generated invoices, mistakes can still be made.

A delivery driver might be able to give you the heads up that the case of fresh corn that chef ordered isn’t on the truck, or will be coming later in the day. But if the wrong label got slapped on a case of ketchup in the warehouse, you could end up with a case of maple syrup instead.

So, let’s say some morning a kitchen employee signs for an order that’s delivered at 8 a.m. When it’s finally discovered that you have a case of maple syrup, instead of ketchup or balsamic vinegar, you call your sales rep. Maybe that sales rep is at a corporate sales meeting or a food show or having lunch at a restaurant that orders twice the product you do a week, and you leave a voice mail, but don’t get a call back for hours. A really good sales rep will hustle and drive to the warehouse, or borrow from another restaurant nearby, and make that stuff appear, but it’s stressful waiting to see if it can happen today. Especially if you’re out of, or nearly out of, that product that you need so badly.

Then, there’s the quality and quantity of fresh produce and proteins to consider. Yes, I signed for a case of broccoli, but when we opened it up later, some of it was yellowed, and we can’t use it for tonight’s special. How quickly can it be replaced? Or: I ordered 10 pounds of yellowfin tuna, but you sent me 30 pounds. Can you come and pick up the other 20 pounds? We could freeze it, but it wouldn’t ever be the same, and we don’t want to pay for it.

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After that a kitchen manager or chef has to keep up with the invoice adjustments. A rep will tell you they’ll credit you for that case of maple syrup or those 20 pounds of extra tuna, and most of the time they do. But you have to keep track of those credits, those pick-ups, those replacements. It can be practically a full-time job just to keep the billing straight, make sure you got your incorrect or substandard products replaced and picked up and that billing adjustments were made. Otherwise, you’ll end up with 20 pounds of yellowfin tuna dying in a lowboy freezer, never having been credited your money back, food cost going to hell in a hand basket.

We in the industry cherish a fantastic sales rep. They take care of us, replace, pick up, make special trips and go to the ends of the Earth to provide quality service. In an industry this big, mistakes will be made, but the sales reps who take special care of us are irreplaceable. Without them, kitchen managers and chefs would spend three days a week just managing all these calls for help and billing adjustments.

It’s fairly easy to order stuff. It’s not as easy to have a skilled staff on both ends — purveyors and restaurant workers — to ensure that product comes in exactly right and in a timely manner.

Let’s have a round of applause for everyone who contributes to the process so you can have a pleasant restaurant meal! •

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.

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