Managing Your Restaurant Supply Chain in the Winter

The warm days of summer have given way to the crisp days of fall. In the not to distant future, meteorologists will be discussing arctic blasts, whiteouts, and blizzards that have left motorists stranded.

So, what does a restauranteur do when one of those stranded trucks is carrying their much-needed supply of fresh food? What contingencies are in place when rain-drenched California leads to a gap in the supply chain when it comes to fresh fruit, tomatoes, and artichokes?

If those in charge of operations haven’t bothered to look ahead, managers will find themselves apologizing to numerous unsatisfied customers and owners will find their profits falling.

While weather is hardly predictable, you can be certain that supply chains will be affected at some point in time by the coming winter. According to Resilinc’s Supply Chain Annual Report, 2018 saw global supply chain disruptions increase by 36 percent, in many cases due to extreme weather events.

Here are the steps you can take now in order to weather (pun intended) the storms ahead.

The Contingency Plan

Take an in-depth look at your needed supplies and the items on your menu that are most susceptible to a disruption in the supply chain. Then, develop a plan that takes into account weather variables that the winter season brings and find options when it comes to both supply and demand. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Here are five points you’ll want to consider when developing your backup plan.


Accept the scenario that, at some point in the years or months ahead, products and ingredients that are key to your menu will be unavailable. Winter months can particularly disrupt those that have based their business model on the farm-to-table concept with a focus on sustainability and supply chain transparency. Locally sourced produce, meat, and seafood can be difficult to substitute when faced with a winter weather event.

On the other hand, produce derived from national suppliers can travel, on average, about 1,500 miles before arriving at its destination, making them more susceptible to weather-related events related to travel.

For these reasons, it’s important to develop long-term, strategic partnerships with both primary and secondary suppliers—both national and local. Look for suppliers located in different areas or those with varying growing techniques such as the use of greenhouses, warmed by the sun, or hothouses, heated by artificial sources.

After updating your supplier list, take a look at substitutions within your menu. When the summer of 2019 saw an avocado shortage that led to a 129 percent increase in pricing, some restaurants banned the delectable fruit altogether, switching out items such as guacamole with a cheese and bean-based dip or a “mockamole” made with green veggies and peas. Others chose to fool the public with “fake” guacamole made with calabacita, a Mexican summer squash. Probably not the best choice. 

Weather Alerts

Get a map out and pinpoint where all your key supplier’s manufacturing locations originate. Then, set up weather alerts for the areas that will most impact your supply chain. Once you have this visual in place, it’s much easier to find alternative suppliers in areas that would not be affected by the same weather events. The Business Continuity Institute (BCI) found that almost 70 percent of businesses did not have full visibility of their supply chain. Make sure that you fall into the 30 percent that do.

Build a Team

Being proactive requires developing a qualified team that is ready and trained to step up to the plate when a restaurant’s supply chain is threatened. Your supply chain management team should include disaster response—with each member understanding their role in managing and helping the organization through a disaster or weather-related event. One member may take the lead in contacting suppliers on the substitution list while another may procure space for protecting perishables should the disaster strike close to home.


Technology offers tremendous support in this area. Centrally storing all procurement data optimizes a restaurant’s ability to respond to supply chain disruption, particularly those with multiple locations. According to the BCI, organizations with technology embedded into their supply chain are much likelier to have business continuity arrangements.

Supplier management software can help a restaurant maintain real-time visibility into their supply chain.

Third Party Consultants

Another avenue that restaurants are turning to is working with third-party consultants that help them develop a supply chain that can stay ahead of weather-related opportunities and challenges. Consolidated Concepts specializes in streamlining the supply chain for multiunit brands through the use of technology, partnerships, and procurement specialists.  

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