While I'm thinking about the food and drink industry in particular, it's quite a wide ranging question to anyone who is in business. The butchers, bakers and wholesale merchants who supply the food that you cook or sell on; the fishermen and farmers who labour, often in arduous and dangerous conditions, to land or grow the stuff; the small artisan producers, trying to get on to the second rung selling their cheeses or chutneys or whatever?
Big businesses in general, and supermarket chains in particular, have a very poor reputation. The complete inequality in bargaining power results in horrendously one sided contracts. Horror stories are heard daily. An insistence, for example on buying the entire crop, then returning unsold sections of it without pay. Or deciding to have a two for one offer, the subsidy for that offer being deducted from the contract price. Not good. And when you do get paid it can be 90 days on, while you have to pay your bills and juggle your overdraft in the meantime.
But let's assume there's a more level playing field. How much loyalty is there? The answer is, it depends. While some businesses will change at the drop of a hat because a rival undercuts you by £1 (read Andrew Whitley's experience of selling his bread to supermarkets), there is more loyalty than you might think. Personal contact is the glue.
Well that was fine, but was severely put to the test when COVID kicked in. No customers for your restaurant, no need to buy from suppliers. That's when you find out who your friends are. In addition to their takeaway service during The Great Plague, Craig and Vikki Wood at The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry operated a regular, and hugely popular, "lobster supper" promotion, with carry out lobster and chips. This meant that their lobster suppliers, Ross and Tina Coventry, could stay in business.
Despite that, the Coventrys haven't had the easiest of times. Their
boat, the Tina Louise, is moored at Methil. In November they were targeted by thieves, losing £4500 of shellfish. That's bad enough but real disaster has just struck. In the early hours of 28 July, a hooded man was caught on CCTV drilling holes below the boat's waterline. Tina Louise lies submerged. Tina, Ross and their young son face ruin. But they reckoned without Vikki and Craig.
As a restaurateur, do you shrug and find a new lobster supplier? Well Vikki has set up a JustGiving page to help them out. This brilliant gesture has already seen support from far and wide. Total strangers have chipped in, and there have been generous donations too from restaurateurs Martin Wishart, and Fred Berkmiller of L'escargot Bleu.
Last week I was a bit down beat. A story like this restores one's faith. To access the JustGiving page, click on the link. If you want to donate, great. And why not show your appreciation to Vikki by booking a table at The Wee Restaurant? Or, best of all, why not do both?