How to Select the Right Cafeteria Management Partner for Your Company

Reaching the decision that your place of business needs to outsource all of part of your food or cafeteria management service is just the beginning of a process that culminates in your company's selection of a true partner. Your decision will be a critical one, not only in terms of budget, but more importantly because your food service provider will directly represent your company to your employees as well as guests that may be customers, vendors or local dignitaries. The cafeteria management firm is the very face of the company every time somebody uses company facilities to dine.

A thoughtful and systematic approach to choosing the right cafeteria food provider for your company will yield the best results.  Described below is an evaluation process to help your company select a cafeteria management firm for your company. Cafe Services, Inc. understands that you'll consider several options, yet we know that we can provide a  solution for your company that matches your quality standards and budget requirements.

MA Cafeteria Management CompanyAt the outset of the selection process, you must first evaluate and define what exactly you are looking for. Is your company seeking solely consultative services and advice or are you looking for a more diverse, fully integrated partner who goes far beyond consulting to planning, budgeting, all food sourcing, menu development and serving. In order to end with a healthy mutually beneficial relationship, both the hiring institution and cafeteria management company must be on the exact same page in terms of deliverables and cost.  Ultimately, at the time of selection, these need to be contractually agreed on.

Selecting A Cafeteria Management CompanyAfter a small selection committee agrees on the priorities and tasks that it wishes to engage an external food service provider to perform, then the actual search process begins.

1. Due Diligence. The committee begins to assess the marketplace to find a strong cross-section of service providers who at least at this point appear to have to the qualifications of a good partner.  Cafeteria Management companies are available in various sizes and levels of expertise. You should be looking for one that shares some, if not all, of the services your company is looking for. The preferred vendors should definitely have current expertise working for other clients that are similar to your company.  For example: if you are in a corporate institutional setting, you likely would not want to engage or even interview a provider specializing in just hospital settings.  If you have multi-location needs then speaking with vendors who serve only single location companies is probably counterproductive.  If one of your own corporate priorities is healthy and nutritional eating, then you should stay away from food service providers who seem to evaluate their service only by price. Geographic proximity is obviously also critical.

2. Prepare Request for Proposal. After narrowing down the list of potential candidates to a reasonable number, usually between 3-5, your committee needs to prepare a formal Request for Proposal, or RFP. The RFP is the document that the selected vendors will respond to and which you'll evaluate comprehensively. It should be as detailed as possible in describing your company and the characteristics your are looking for in a Cafeteria Management partner. It should detail in a precise way, the types of services you're seeking, any special needs  you may have in diet or schedule, budget parameters, and size and scope of your food service needs. It is expected that each respondent answer each question you ask in the RFP, as well as responding to any unique scenarios you've described. It is important that you request a list of references from existing clients of the provider. These would be individuals you can speak with about their own experience with the provider.  

3. Determine Finalists.  In most instances, despite the good job you may have done in the Due Diligence phase, not all those from the RFP list will actually respond. Don't take it personally. It could be conflict of interest, staffing problems at that exact moment, bad alignment of budget objectives or any one of a number of things. What you are seeking during this phase  is to end up with a fairly small number of RFP finalists. Three is a good number. They should be those whose overall response to the RFP most directly mirrors your own priorities.  The RFP should have demonstrated a clear understanding of what you're seeking as well as their own expertise. Their references should be capable of touting the clients' own happiness with the cafeteria management company. After you've thoroughly evaluated all of the RFPs and determined three finalists, those chosen should be invited to prepare and deliver a face-to-face presentation to your selection committee.

4. Onsite Visit. Once the three finalists have been selected, schedule a site visit to a vendor account that closely represents your company's criteria in terms of employee population, demographics, budget and layout of the dining area. This is the perfect opportunity to both sample their offerings and see the vendor's employees and programs in action.

5. Presentation. Each of the three finalists are invited to "pitch" their wares to your selection committee. The presentations should be scheduled close together depending on schedules. Each should last approximately  90 minutes including time for discussion and/or questions and answers. Some hiring companies like to structure the presentation by providing the finalists with one or two "scenarios" that they each must address, while others are more flexible and will allow the vendors to present in a way that they think will allow them to focus on their strengths and weaknesses. It is your decision.  We at Cafe Services prefer to do our presentations at our client's facility just after the onsite visit. We believe this approach is much more effective than sitting in a corporate conference room doing the typical boring power point presentation with all the accompanying blank stares.

6. Selection.  At the end of the Presentation phase, your selection committee has the only vote that matters. No doubt each of the finalists who presented to you will have demonstrated certain strengths and perhaps areas that you think need to be improved on. But you can choose only one to be the best long-term partner for your company.   All things considered, given complete equality, select the group that you get along with best. The one where there's a chemistry match.  That's the one who is most likely to be a great partner.

7. Contract. Following the presentations and your selection of the "winner,"  the hiring company and your new Food Service partner need to reach contractual agreement on each point raised during the course of the process to ensure agreement on the principles, costs and deliverables you each have committed to. The contract should be clear and understandable so that debate and dissension are minimized. If you follow this process, you'll be gratified at the quality of your new food service partner, and will not regret the time your company has invested in the evaluation and selection process. Cafe Services will work with you at each step during the evaluation process to provide a dining solution that meets your criteria and budget.