How to Add Value to Your Chapter’s Food Program Without Adding Costs


Many Greeks have fond memories of rush week — it’s a time for barbecues, tie-dye, yard games, and forging bonds with future brothers and sisters. But as your house enrolls new members, the growing number of mouths to feed can squeeze an already stressed food budget.

Conducting business with a confident food distributor whose prices are always changing can be intimidating. Maybe you feel like you have to settle for whatever the distributor charges because it partners with your national organization — or simply because you have an existing relationship with that distributor.

But the fact remains: The more members you add to your food program, the lower the cost per meal should be. If your cost per meal isn’t going down, it’s time to consider your options.

Get What You Deserve

No matter the size of your chapter, your food distributor should treat you like a national account. Food distribution services aren’t cheap, so you shouldn’t settle for subpar service.

That means your distributor should proactively help you get the food you want at fair prices. And it means your distributor should be willing to provide the food you want for any occasion — if your chapter wants to eat filet mignon for breakfast every day, then your distributor should accommodate that, no questions asked.

If you think you’re not getting a fair deal, call in a third party to examine costs. Don’t take your sales rep’s word that you’re getting the best price. Distributors have the leverage and motivation to lower your prices, meet your service requirements, and keep your business — especially if you start talking to competitors.

The more money you spend, the better your service and pricing should be. If you’re buying a large quantity of an item, ask for a discount based on the increased volume. A savvy distributor will offer bulk discounts. That way, the distributor still makes money and has a satisfied customer. If your distributor won’t meet your needs, start shopping around for one who will.

Choose the Right Supplier

If you decide it’s time to find a new distributor, there are several things you need to keep in mind:

  1. Product availability
    First and foremost, know what your distributor offers. Some will provide anything from food to cleaning supplies. Others only supply select products, like seafood or beverages.
  2. Pricing
    Request and compare prices from a variety of distributors. Price shouldn’t be your only consideration, but it’s certainly important. Check out this free White Paper, Finding the Right Distributor, for more tips to save on food costs.
  3. Reputation
    Search online to learn about each candidate company. Check with the Better Business Bureau to find out whether the distributors have any unresolved complaints. Also, talk to other chapters on campus — or at the national level — to learn their thoughts on particular companies.
  4. Add-ons and tools
    A distributor isn’t just a delivery service — it’s a partner invested in chapters’ operations. Take advantage of tools, recipes, reports, and cost calculators the distributor might offer.
  5. Your chapter’s needs
    Before you sign a contract, ask important questions about just-in-time delivery services, safety standards, and administrative practices. A good supplier will be ready to answer any questions you might have and can provide advice and other support.
  6. Quantities
    needed Pay attention to inventory and usage for a month to determine how much food to order. Your distributor should be able to supply you as much — or as little — of an item as you request.

A good distributor will do what it takes to meet your needs. Sysco, for example, understands that clients want to know exactly what they’ll be receiving by seeing what meals look like unprepared. Your distributor should be willing to provide fair prices and great service, period. Anything less is a waste of your time and money. If you feel you’re not getting the best from your current distributor, start scouting for one who will keep your house fed and happy.

Brian Heider is the president of Culinary Consultants, a purchasing solutions organization that’s devoted to fraternity, sorority, and food service management companies throughout the country that operate within the college and university market. Its core business is to help increase purchasing power while providing additional service benefits that help each client’s food program flourish.