Thinking about moving to contract operation? Tips for a successful RFP process.
The selection process for a food service vendor in a higher education environment more closely resembles an important hiring decision than a procurement process. After all, the vendor and their employees will be interacting daily with your students, faculty and staff and likely have more touchpoints in an average semester than most of your institutional staff. As such, it is critically important that all elements of the program including offerings, marketing, communication, staff training and more align with your organization. And increasingly, it is vital that your values relating to social justice, DEIA, and other initiatives are reflected in the food service operation. Finally, making sure all of the information a vendor will require to submit a proposal is included from the outset will result in the most accurate financial offers. Our top seven tips follow:
- Communication Plan: Be sure you have communicated to faculty, staff, students and food service employees what to expect. Meet individually with food service staff to assure them they will be given an opportunity to interview with the winning bidder. Position the move as one that offers professional training and career growth opportunity within the food service vendor’s company.
- Start with Core Values: Be sure you are clear about institutional priorities and goals. If your student population is accustomed to 40% organic, make that clear. If social justice or food insecurity is a hot topic on campus, detail that in the RFP document. Ask vendors to include real-world examples of programs they will implement to align with the objectives.
- Transition Plan: Allow a minimum 6 month ramp up if moving to contract operation. Ideally, we would like the period between vendor selection and transition to be closer to a year but a full six months is the minimum. The clock starts ticking once the contract is signed; don’t assume two of the six months can be devoted to hammering out the contract.
- Form a Committee: The selection committee should be no more than 8 people and should include a mix of faculty, staff, administration and students. Be sure they understand the importance of attending all meetings and staying engaged throughout the process. It is critical that their review and varied perspectives is representative of the institutional priorities developed above.
- Provide Data: Provide as much data as you can. Sales by location, retail vs. meal-plan vs. dining dollar spends, daypart and day of the week, cover or transaction counts for the same periods, top sellers by location, existing staffing structure, wage rates, benefits levels and seniority should all be included. When in doubt, include more.
- Schedule in advance: Build the RFP schedule ahead of time. Have all bidders and committee members schedule accordingly and hold dates as soon as they have been determined.
- Tastings: Tastings are one (albeit a fun) component of a selection process. The tasting should never be the deciding factor unless two firms are truly neck and neck. The tasting should be used to find that elusive “fit” that all institutions are looking for; ask yourself what it would be like to work with the food service individuals on a daily basis. Did they provide everything that was asked of them? Were they able to accommodate any committee allergies or dietary preferences? Were they open and transparent when asked questions?
Planning the process in advance, spending the necessary time to think about goals and needs, and applying some of these “best practices” will help develop a smooth, well-run and successful process.