How to Prepare a Corporate Food Service Request for Proposal - (RFP)
By: Matt Stone – Café Services’ Vice President of Business Development
Table of Contents:
- Tips For Writing A Great Food Service RFP
- Avoid Cookie-Cutter Template Approaches to Creating Proposals
- Sample Corporate Food Service RFP Template
- Compare Apples to Apples
- Part 1: Statement of Purpose
- Part 2: Background — Corporate Food Service Environment
- Part 3: Scope of Work
- Part 4: Contract Terms and Conditions
- Part 5: Required Food Service Proposal Questions
- Part 6: Evaluation/Contract Award Timeline
- Part 7: Contacts
- The Better Your Proposal, The Better Your Results
In our 23 years as a corporate dining company, we've seen and responded to a lot of RFPs (requests for proposals). Although it takes a good deal of focus, writing one is a vital part of vendor evaluation.
A thorough, well-organized RFP brings value not only to the vendor selection process, but also to your future food service results. With an effective proposal, you improve your chances of selecting a provider that's the best fit for your business by:
- Eliminating vendors that are a poor cultural match or lack the right capabilities
- Identifying providers that understand your goals, share your values and have proven experience providing the services you need
- Gaining a deeper understanding of your own strategic goals to better position your business for success
Considering these advantages, we recommend you approach proposals as a strategic initiative involving input from representatives in all functional areas that have a stake in the company's dining service. The goal of this “team” is to identify and clearly communicate the information your RFP needs to provide and generate by:
- Setting corporate dining service goals
- Formulating the questions you need answered to get an accurate picture of bidders’ capabilities
Here’s a sample corporate food service RFP template we’ve created based on some of the more effective requests we’ve seen. Feel free to adapt it or use it as a reference. But be sure to tailor the language, information and questions to your corporate culture and service goals. This is important for avoiding getting a cookie-cutter program that’s ill-suited to your business needs and diners’ preferences.
Our customers tell us the preparation pays off. For one, it saves time on back-and-forth between your vendor selection committee and bidders. And it minimizes guesswork when comparing proposal offerings and evaluating total cost of ownership (TCO).
We recommend providing as many specifics as possible about your expectations, company, resources (financial, capital and human), and food sales and pricing.
The better the information you put into your RFP, the more accurate the information you’ll receive. And when the time comes to make a final decision, you’re more likely to choose the most capable vendor. An article by Forbes.com validates this point:
"The first step to obtaining this ideal relationship is the RFP itself, which ideally reflects the personality of the organization issuing it while providing all of the requirements for a comprehensive and fair response. Doing so ensures a mutual good fit for the vendor and the client."
It’s also important to give all bidders the same information and ask for the same level of detail in their responses. You’ll save a lot of time and make better decisions when your request generates proposals that enable you to compare apples-to-apples.
Core Parts and Questions of a Corporate Food Services RFP
With these thoughts on the table, let’s go section-by-section through a well planned RFP; taking a look at what you need to share and ask. While the number and organization of sections will vary from business to business, these are the basics.
In your Statement of Purpose, the goal is to give bidders a view of why you’re seeking proposals and what you’re looking to do. It also helps narrow the field by telling bidders up front whether or not they’re right for the job. This involves giving a brief but comprehensive overview of factors such as:
- Number of full service cafeterias, vending services and express bars to manage
- Number and types of meals served daily
- Catering requirements
- Average building population during café operating hours
- Dining service goals — e.g. controlling costs, improving variety, offering more healthy practices, etc.
Here’s an example of a Statement of Purpose adapted from a real-world corporate dining request for proposal:
“Company A is seeking proposals from qualified corporate dining management firms for the provision and management of # full service cafeterias and # vending services at # locations in City, State. Our goal is to partner with a vendor that can help us increase food service participation, and support corporate initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles and sustainable practices.
The successful vendor will be expected to provide breakfast and lunch to # diners daily and catering services as needed with offerings that include a variety of nutritious choices and regional and world cuisines made with local ingredients when possible.”
This is the part of your RFP that gives bidders an overview of your company and what it stands for, as well as the values that shape your corporate cafeteria environment. For example, if customer service excellence is a priority, you need to describe what that means so bidders know to emphasize their capabilities and philosophy around customer service in their proposals.
The background section expands on the big-picture view presented in the Statement of Purpose, by going into detail on:
- What your company does, how, where and for whom
- Corporate culture/values
- Corporate food services goals
- Diner demographics — e.g. roles, age range, ethnicity, special dietary needs and food preferences
- Company calendar
- Café hours of operation
- Functional area where dining resides
- Cafeteria equipment and small wares, including who owns it
- Kitchen and café floor plan
- Employee incentive programs and amenities (i.e. free coffee and/or snacks) offered and by whom
- Uses of café space outside dining hours
- Past year’s net sales for the café, catering and vending
- Itemized café and catering price list
In respect to these last two points — gross sales and pricing — don’t make the mistake of providing price information without corresponding sales figures, because this can result in an TCO estimate that artificially inflates revenue projections.
An example of an opening for the background section of an RFP may look like this:
“Company A serves # customers in # states. With a workforce of approximately # employees, we provide a variety of products and services. We have a full service cafeteria and vending at sites located at 1234 Main Street and 5678 Cross Street in City, State. Corporate food services reports through the Facilities department and is overseen by the TITLE of DEPARTMENT in conjunction with Company A’s facilities manager.”
Subsequent paragraphs would address the points indicated in the bullet points above and/or others that are relevant to your company and the role of corporate dining service in your business strategy.
Scope of Work is where you spell out everything your corporate food services provider will be required to do, as well as expected outcomes. This will be driven by your business goals and workforce needs and demographics.
For example, if your company employs a large population of hourly workers, you could include a clause saying bidders need to be capable of operating a cafeteria that can accommodate a high number of diners within a small window of time.
If sustainability is a focus, provide parameters for the proportion of food you want sourced from within a specific geographic area.
If you’re looking for a robust corporate catering program, give bidders details on the people who will be using these services, how often and for what types of events. For instance, if you’re expecting the vendor to cater an annual holiday party for 500, you need to indicate that in the RFP.
This where you provide all the terms and conditions of working with your business including length of contract, proof of employment and insurance requirements, and food and safety standards.
Other details to include are responsibilities for any and all tasks related to setting up, managing and sustaining a corporate dining program such as hiring, training, cleaning and equipment repairs, among others. Without these details, bidders will be unable to give you an accurate projection of costs.
Up to this point, the purpose of the RFP has been to give bidders all the information they need to put together a thorough proposal that accurately represents their capabilities and costs.
But to make accurate comparisons of different bidders’ offerings, you need to ask the same questions of every bidder and provide guidelines on how to organize and format the presentation. While questions asked will vary based on dining service goals, some basic questions to include are:
- Company background including years in business, organization chart, management bios, locations and corporate mission
- How accounts are supported — Who will be your primary point of contact and what is the reporting structure?
- Food service plans including sample café and corporate catering menus, vending product lists and healthy meal options
- Health and wellness programs
- Purchasing standards including relationships with local, regional and national suppliers
- Safety and compliance training and procedures
- Marketing and promotion support service
- Client references
To keep the vendor evaluation and selection process on track, make sure your RFP includes a timeline with due dates for proposal submissions, finalist notifications and contract award decisions. Remember also to build in time for bidders to tour your site before they submit a proposal — a reputable corporate food service provider won’t bid without seeing your site, first.
Although this may seem obvious, don’t forget to provide contact information for the people on your RFP team in charge of inquiries and submissions.
Choosing the right corporate food service company benefits your business in many ways; and publishing a well-planned RFP is an important step in the decision-making process. The better the information you put into it, the better the results you’ll get out of it. Contact us to learn more.