The purchasing process is an essential part of every food service operation. All competent cooks should be skilled in buying the appropriate ingredients, in accurate amounts, at the right time, and at the best price.
Every kitchen operation has different purchasing procedures. But there is one rule that should always be followed:
- Buy only as much as it is anticipated will be needed until the next delivery.
This will ensure that foods stay fresh and will create a high inventory turnover. All foods deteriorate in time, some more quickly than others. It is the job of the purchaser to ensure that only those quantities that will be used immediately or in the near future are purchased.
Sources of supply vary considerably from location to location. Large cities have a greater number and variety of suppliers than do small towns and isolated communities. Purchasers should establish contact with available suppliers such as wholesalers, local producers and packers, retailers, cooperative associations, and food importers. In most instances, the person in charge of buying will contact several suppliers to obtain the necessary foods. Some wholesalers diversify their product lines in order to meet all food-related kitchen needs.
Food products are obtained from various sources of supply. For example, a packing house supplies meat and meat products, while a food wholesaler supplies dry goods. Once business is established with a supplier, all transactions should be well documented and kept readily available on file.
There are two major food categories: perishables and non-perishables.
Perishable items include fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and shellfish, fresh meats, poultry, and dairy products. As a rule, perishables are bought frequently to ensure freshness. Frozen foods, such as vegetables, fish and meat products, have a longer lifespan and can be ordered less frequently and stored in a freezer.
Non-perishable items include dry goods, flour, cereals, and miscellaneous items such as olives, pickles, and other condiments. These can be ordered on a weekly or monthly basis.
Keep in mind that just because something does not go bad isn’t a reason to buy it in quantities larger than you need. Every item in your inventory is equal to a dollar amount that you could be saving or spending on something else. Consider that a case of 1000 sheets of parchment paper may cost $250. If you have a case and a half sitting in your inventory, but only use a few sheets a day, that is a lot of money sitting in your storeroom.
Factors That Impact Prices
Food products in particular fluctuate in price over the year, due to many factors:
- Seasonality: When food is in season, there is more of it available in the local food supply, bringing prices down. Additionally, foods in season are usually of higher quality and have longer shelf life than those that are out of season and need to be transported long distances to market.
- Weather: Severe weather can have a huge impact on the cost of food. Drought, flooding, and unseasonable frost have all affected major produce-supplying areas of the world in recent years, causing a rise in prices for many items.
- Costs of transportation: If the cost of fuel or transportation rises, so does the cost of food that needs to travel to market.
- Commodity prices: A number of foods are traded on the commodity market, such as meats and grains. These prices fluctuate as buyers who trade in these products in large volumes buy and sell, much like the stock market.
Before purchasing any food items, ask the following questions.
- When is the item to be used?
- Which supplier has the best price and the best quality? Where an item is purchased should be determined by the price and the quality of the available supplies. When ordering supplies, it is advisable to get prices from at least three sources, then purchase from the supplier who quotes the best price for comparable quality.
- When will the item be delivered? Depending on the distance of the food service establishment from the supplier, delivery may take hours or days. Remember, it is extremely difficult to maintain food quality and consistency if you do not know when your order will be delivered. For this reason, menu planning and a running inventory are two of the most important aspects of purchasing procedures.
Meat, seafood, poultry, processed fruits and vegetables, and fresh fruits and vegetables can be ordered under different specifications. For example,
- Meats can be ordered by grade, cut, weight/thickness, fat limitation, age, whether fresh or frozen, and type of packaging.
- Seafood can be ordered by type (e.g., fin fish/shellfish), species, market form, condition, grade, place of origin, whether fresh or frozen, count, size, and packaging,
- Poultry can be ordered by type, grade, class (e.g., broiler, fryer), style (e.g., breasts, wings), size, whether fresh or frozen, and packaging.
- Processed fruits and vegetables can be ordered by grade (sometimes), variety, packaging size and type, drained weight, count per case, packing medium, and whether canned or frozen.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables can be ordered by grade (sometimes), variety, size, weight per container, growing area, and count per container,
Figure 4 shows an example of a purchasing specification sheet that might be kept in a commercial kitchen or receiving area.
|Beef||Grade||Weight, Size, and Cut Specifications|
|Prime rib||Grade AA||7 kg, fully trimmed|
|New York strip||Grade AAA||6 kg, bone out, fully trimmed, max. 15 cm width, min. 5 cm depth|
|Tenderloin||Grade AAA||3 kg, fully trimmed to silverside|
|Roast sirloin||Grade A||7 kg, boneless butt|
|Short loins||Grade AAA||6 kg, fully trimmed, 5 cm from eye|
|Pork||Grade||Weight, Size, and Cut Specifications|
|Pork leg||Fresh—Canada #1||6 kg, oven ready, lean|
|Pork loin||Fresh—Canada #1||5-6 kg, trimmed, lean|
|Ham||6-8 kg, fully cooked, lean, bone in|
|Poultry||Grade||Weight, Size, and Cut Specifications|
|Chicken—Frying||Fancy, Eviscerated||1.5 kg, always fresh|
|Turkey||Fancy, Eviscerated||9-13 kg|
|Lamb||Grade||Weight, Size, and Cut Specifications|
|Lamb loin||3-5 kg, bone in|
|2-3 kg, trimmed with all fat removed|
|Seafood||Grade||Weight, Size, and Cut Specifications|
Figure 4: Purchasing specifications
Some restaurants and hotels, particularly those belonging to chains, will have contracts in place for the purchasing of all products or for certain items. This may mean that the property can only purchase from a specific supplier, but in return it will have negotiated set pricing for the duration of the contract. This has advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, the contract price remains stable and the job of managing food costs becomes more consistent since there are no price fluctuations. On the negative side, contract buying takes away the opportunity to compare prices between suppliers and take advantage of specials that may be offered.
The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) has specifications for food labelling, packaging, an so forth: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/eng/1299092387033/1299093490225
These books are great resources for purchase specifications:
The Visual Food Lover’s Guide: Includes essential information on how to buy, prepare, and store over 1000 types of food
In most kitchens, purchasing and ordering are done by the chef and sous-chefs, although in larger hotels there may be purchasing departments assigned this responsibility. Most kitchens will have a list of suppliers, contacts, delivery dates and schedules, and order sheets with par stock levels to make purchasing easier. For a special function or event, such as a banquet, it may also be necessary to determine the required supplies for that function alone.
Production Control Chart
To calculate the quantities of food items to be ordered for any size banquet, a portion control chart must be consulted first. Most establishments will have a portion control chart similar to the one shown in Figure 5. The chart indicates the portions to be used per person for any given menu item.
|Food Item||Menu Item||Portion Size|
|Shrimp||Shrimp cocktail||80 g (2.82 oz.)|
|Lemon||Shrimp cocktail||1 wedge (6/lemon)|
|Cocktail sauce||Shrimp cocktail||60 mL (2.11 oz.)|
|Head lettuce||Tossed salad||1/4 head|
|Tomato||Tossed salad||1/2 each|
|Dressing||Tossed salad||60 mL (2.11 oz.)|
|Prime rib, raw, trimmed ready||Prime rib||500 g (17.6 oz.)|
|Potato||Baked potato||1 each (100 count)|
|Green beans||Green beans||80 g (2.82 oz.)|
|Carrots||Carrots||80 g (2.82 oz.)|
|Strawberries||Fresh strawberries||100 g (3.52 oz.)|
|Whipping cream||Berries and cream||60 mL (2.11 oz.)|
|Coffee||Coffee||500 g (17.6 oz.) for 75 people|
|Coffee cream||Coffee||60 mL (2.11 oz.)|
Figure 5: Portion control chart
One use for a portion control chart is to estimate the quantity of major ingredients and supplies needed to produce a predicted number of menu servings.
You need to prepare shrimp cocktails and prime rib for a 100-person banquet. Using the portion control chart in Figure 5, you can quickly determine what amounts of major ingredients (Figure 6).
|Required Servings||Amount to Order|
|100 x 80 g shrimp||8000 g or 8 kg (17.6 lbs.) shrimp|
|100 x 1 wedge of lemon||100 wedges = 17 lemons (6 wedges per lemon)|
|100 x 1/4 head of lettuce||25 heads lettuce|
|100 x 500 g prime rib raw oven ready||50 kg (110 lbs.) prime rib|
Figure 6: Calculating purchase amounts
Purchase Order Chart with Par Levels
The primary purpose for using a purchasing standard is to ensure that sufficient quantities of all food are on hand to meet daily requirements. To establish and maintain these standards, food inventory must become a daily routine. Having set par levels (the amount you should have on hand to get through to the next order) will help in this regard.
There are three main things you need to know:
- Amount required (par level)
- Amount on hand
- Amount to order
To find the amount to order, subtract the amount on hand from the amount required (Figure 7). In some cases, you may have to order a minimum amount based on the package size, so will need to round your quantity up (such as the whole tub of garlic and full cases of mushrooms, apples, and lettuce in Figure 7).
|Meats||Amount Required (Par Level)||Amount on Hand||Amount to Order||Actual Order|
||10 kg||2 kg||8 kg||8 kg|
||20 kg||5 kg||15 kg||15 kg|
||10 kg||–||10 kg||10 kg|
||5 kg||500 g||4.5 kg||4.5 kg|
||10 kg||3 kg||7 kg||7 kg|
|Fish||Amount Required (Par Level)||Amount on Hand||Amount to Order||Actual Order|
||25 kg||5 kg||20 kg||20 kg|
|Vegetables||Amount Required (Par Level)||Amount on Hand||Amount to Order||Actual Order|
||2 kg tub||250 g||1.750 kg||2 kg tub|
||5 kg case||500 g||4.5 kg||5 kg case|
||2 cases (24/case)||12 (1/2 case)||1 1/2 cases||2 cases|
|Fruits||Amount Required (Par Level)||Amount on Hand||Amount to Order||Actual Order|
||2 cases||1/2 case||1 1/2 cases||2 cases|
||10 kg||–||10 kg|
||1 case||2 cases||–||–|
Figure 7: Purchase order chart
Integrating these par levels into your regular ordering sheets or your ordering system will make it very easy to manage inventory coming in.
More and more suppliers are moving to online ordering systems, which have current prices, case sizes, and often your purchase history available to you when placing an order. Online ordering can often be more convenient as the person placing the order does not have to make call into an order desk during regular office hours.