About the Request for Proposals Toolkit
Request for Proposals (RFPs) are a major opportunity for changing the food your campus is ordering, because they are the clearest time when the university community can dictate to food service companies what is expected from them, and what type of food they need to be serving on your campus. RFPs happen pretty infrequently, so when they come, they’re important to seize. They’re an opportunity to make sustainability and local purchasing an actual contractual requirement for your campuses food service providers.
Most universities don’t run their dining halls and cafeterias themselves, instead they hire in food service companies – Aramark, Sodexo, and Compass are the big three used on most campuses in North America, but there are smaller local companies too. When a university hires in a company to provide food on their campus, they usually go through a Request for Proposal process. RFPs are basically the job offers that universities send out, when they want to hire a food service company. They outline what they need– the amount of people that need to be fed, the infrastructure (e.g. the physical dining halls and kitchens) that they have, or that need to be built, and how long they want to hire the company for. They also outline what qualifications the company needs to have, what other characteristics they’re looking for, and how the companies will apply. Then companies respond– instead of sending in resumes and CVs, they send in official bids. The university then reviews these bids against the hiring criteria that it set, and narrow down the list of applicants to the ones they think have the best bids. Usually there is some more back and forth here– universities will ask the top applicants come in for an “interview”, and the food service company will bring a team to present their pitch, and talk over more details. Eventually the university decides on one company’s bid, and signs a formal agreement with that company. Just like an employment contract for a person, the employment agreement that a food service provider signs with the university is usually just the job description, turned into a formal contract that both parties sign. So, if you want to influence how your food service provider runs the dining halls on campus and what food they serve, getting your goals into their job description from the very beginning is a powerful way to do it. And that’s why it’s so useful to be involved in the RFP process.
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