Career Spotlight: Food Service Representatives

More than just selling carrots and hamburgers

Big Mexican style salad with tortilla strips
Jackie Alpers / Moment / Getty Images

Dining is a huge industry. People around the world love going out to eat whether in their hometowns or while on vacation. Supplying restaurants, resorts and hotels the food products they need has created an entire sales industry.

If you are interested in a sales job in the food service industry, the more you know about the industry, the better and more prepared you will be.

Where to Look for a Position

In most cities, there are businesses that focus on providing restaurants the food and supplies they need.

Whether a business focuses on pizzerias, upscale restaurants, local hotels and resorts or any combination, these businesses need sales professionals to establish and maintain relationships. In other words, food service businesses need people to sell to other businesses in the food service industry.

Contacting any local food service supplier in your area as well as any national or regional food service supplier is where those interested in selling for this industry should begin their search. While a specialized degree in the restaurant management or experience in the industry will always put you above your competition, these are usually not a requirement for most entry or mid-level sales jobs. A strong work ethic, the ability to create and expand relationships and the faculties to understand the product line are all that is needed.

What to Expect

For those taking an entry level sales position, you should expect to spend most of your time prospecting for new business.

This means visiting local eateries and discussing your product line and pricing levels with purchasing managers and owners. You'll find that most have long established relationships with their current vendor and may be very reluctant to change. You will need to understand that quality and reliability are hugely important for your prospects.

Switching to a new vendor because they are a few pennies less expensive is not enough reason to take the risk and switch from a vendor with whom they are happy.

You will need to create a compelling reason to get someone to switch to you. Whether it is deep discounts, quality and delivering guarantees or a unique product that no one else sells, you should expect to have your sales skills tested.

For new businesses or those who are unhappy with their current vendor, sales are often made or lost on price, selection and rapport. One of the golden rules of sales is that a customer who likes you will find a reason to buy from you. Conversely, they will find a reason not to buy from someone they do not like. If you lack rapport building skills, you should begin improving your sales skills with this area.

Compensation Plans

While not always based solely on commission, many entry-level positions in the food service industry are commission based. That means that you may have no salary at all. You get paid only for performance. The more you sell, the more you earn.

If a business offers you a comp plan that includes a mix of salary and commission, you should expect the salary to be on the low side and for your entire package to be heavily weighted on commissions.

The food service industry is a highly competitive market that can be very price driven. If an employee needs to discount the cost of goods supplied to their customers in order to establish or maintain a customer, they won't have a lot of room to pay out high commissions to their sales reps.

Long Term or Short Term Position?

Many new to sales who secure employment in the food service industry use the position as a sales career starter. Once they've proven that they can sell in a competitive industry, they look for sales positions in more profitable or financially rewarding industries. This is not to say that a talented sales professional should not view the food service industry as a potential career position. In fact, a sales professional who secures a position with a large regional or national food service supplier can not only make a substantial income but can also be rewarded with numerous fringe benefits.

These can include travel, profit sharing and attractive retirement packages. As in every sales position, the better you do, the better you do!

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