Top Ten Tips for a Successful Campus Dining Food Service RFP Process

As a consultancy that manages 25 plus RFP processes a year, we have a list of practices that we know will support a successful process (as well as some that will derail a process). We have seen many client- developed RFPs over the years and frequently find these documents are missing important information or contain onerous terms that may reduce vendor participation.

Our top 10 tips for a campus dining RFP are listed below:

  1. Allow ample time. Most college or university food service contracts expire in June or July. We recommend the process commence a minimum of one year in advance.
  2. The prep work or what we coin the “pre-RFP phase” is critically important. If this phase is not completed, the RFP may not be successful. The pre-RFP phase should identify student, faculty and staff needs with respect to the program (i.e., greater variety, new technology, more plant forward offerings, Halal or Kosher options, extended hours, additional outlets).
  3. The pre-RFP phase should also clarify institutional goals such as social justice efforts, sustainability pillars, diversity in the work force, and the like.
  4. Identify expectations regarding financial terms including the type of structure (P&L or management fee), capital expenditure requirements, and KPI’s risk/reward.
  5. The more data the RFP includes the better. Sales and transaction counts by location, check averages, existing menus and pricing, board plan rates and counts, missed meals, hours of operation, number of operating days, and other existing metrics should be shared. This will ensure the participating vendors have a solid understanding of the existing operations.
  6. Require vendors to provide pro forma supporting assumptions. You must, as an example, understand the missed meal factor used to model projections to truly understand their financial pro forma. Similarly, you need their headcount and staffing assumptions to accurately compare on an apples-to-apples basis.
  7. Give at least six – eight weeks for proposal development – particularly if capital expenditure is required.
  8. Do not simply send the RFP to an email address and assume it has been received. Take the time to have a quick dialogue in advance with each of the firms the RFP is sent to.
  9. Calendar all key dates well ahead of time and share them with the committee and all vendors. This helps to avoid last-minute scrambles. Make sure your internal committee remains the same throughout so that everyone is equipped with the same knowledge when its time to make contract award.
  10. Involve students and aim for as much transparency as possible.

Following the above steps will enable an organized and successful RFP process for campus dining.

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