Ten Tips for Managing a Food Services RFP for Your College or University

The spring semester is over, and you can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Or can you? Your food service contract expires next June or July. You have time – right?  You do, but getting organized now will set the stage for a successful process.

JGL manages 25 plus food service RFP’s annually across several verticals. We have gathered below best practices for managing a food services RFP in a college or university setting.

  1. Start preparing over the summer: Gather data including transaction counts, sales by month and location, square footage of café front and back of house, board plan metrics, equipment lists, etc. The more you have on hand, the less time you will need to spend gathering it once the process starts.
  2. Decide whether you are using a consultant or self-managing: The advantages of using a consultant include minimizing stress and time commitments from your staff and getting the benefits of the consultant’s industry knowledge. While there is, of course, a fee associated with a consultant, in our experience the fee is more than offset by time savings and superior financial terms.
  3. Determine the selection committee: We recommend a committee of no more than 8-10 made up of staff, faculty and students. Make sure all committee members understand the time that will be required.
  4. Assess your needs: Study the existing operation to understand where the pain points are and identify what you want to see changed. We find this is best done in an assessment process in advance of the RFP development.
  5. Consider your values: Now is a great time to incorporate mission matters including sustainability, DEIA, food insecurity and other key values into your food service operation.
  6. Identify financial expectations: If capital expenditure or a commission returns are important to your institution, be clear about that in the RFP.
  7. Calendar key dates: Determine dates for the bidders meeting, oral interviews and follow up meetings. Book the space and put calendar holds out now. Trust us on this one.
  8. Connect with potential vendors: The best response to an RFP is a result of initial groundwork. Reach out to prospective vendors, learn about their unique selling points and determine whether to invite them to the process. Vendors are much more likely to respond to an RFP when there is some existing relationship. Note: we strongly advocate sharing only the basics with potential vendors at this preliminary stage to ensure a level playing field.
  9. Draft an RFP that is rich with data: The more information you can provide about the existing operation, the better bidders will be able to develop accurate pro forma projections.
  10. Leave adequate time for oral interviews: We counsel clients to allow at least two hours to meet with each short-listed candidate. Earmarking this time allows for a rich dialogue which in turn supports the committee’s ability to recommend a top candidate.

The food service selection process for a university or college is a great opportunity to focus on ways in which food service supports students, their life on campus and retention. Follow our tips above, or better yet call us to assist, and you will be on your way to a successful process!



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