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Comments - Christine Parkinson on the Credit Crunch

Published:  13 January, 2009

Times may be tough, but the only way you'll get through 2009 in one piece is by being straight with your supplier, however bad the news, argues Hakkasan's Christine Parkinson.

You're a restaurateur. You sell wine. If your wine supplier cuts off your supply you'll be running a BYO. That's the dilemma facing cash-stricken restaurants up and down the country in 2009 as the credit crunch takes hold. The painful irony is that both restaurant and supplier are more likely to go under if they stop doing business with each other. Unfortunately, covers will drop at many bars and restaurants, leading to payment difficulties. The words 'your account is on stop' will be repeated so often that a parrot could man the phone lines. You can hardly blame suppliers for being jittery: it's bad enough not getting paid when a customer becomes bankrupt, but it's so much worse if they owe an extra three months' money.

The point here is that the whole supplier/customer relationship is rooted in trust. When a truck pulls up outside with your 20 cases of wine on board, it's only there because J Bloggs Wine Merchant trusts you to pay at the end of the month. Whether you are a sommelier, manager or proprietor, one of your priorities this year is going to be maintaining that trust. The old line 'the cheque is in the post' is just won't do: trust starts with honesty.

It's a very human response to pretend everything is fine and to conceal any problems. If you do that with your suppliers, unfortunately, they will certainly stop trusting you. Scary as it sounds, picking up the phone and admitting you can't pay right now is absolutely the best thing to do. Say truthfully when, and how much, you can pay. Agree to speak regularly and keep them informed. Above all, be honest. The strong likelihood is that your suppliers will keep delivering your wine - as long as you keep them informed.

In the same spirit of truthfulness, it's also time to be straight regarding how much, if any, business you will be doing with your suppliers this year. If you are selling less wine, you probably need fewer suppliers. When you've decided which merchants to drop, get on the phone and tell them. Just as with love affairs, breaking up is never easy, but you'll get a miserable reputation if you let sales reps chase after you when they could be busy selling to someone who actually wants to buy.

Likewise if you plan to delist certain wines, send that email and let your sales rep know. It's your list, and if a particular wine isn't working any more then it's got to go. But at least your supplier can get on with the business of selling it to someone else. Equally, if you're planning to list some new wines, be clear about what samples you want to taste. With times this hard why should you expect 20 sample bottles when you're only going to list one? Play fair and your suppliers will be much more inclined to help in what is going to be a damned difficult year.

There are no fairy godmothers, and your problems won't go away, but a dose of up-front integrity will get you a far more positive response than you might have expected. Most importantly, your wine list won't turn into a pumpkin by next weekend.

Times may be tough, but the only way you'll get through 2009 in one piece is by being straight with your supplier, however bad the news, argues Hakkasan's Christine Parkinson