Areas to consider when sourcing catering

There are so many different options to consider when choosing a new catering services provider as you are buying both a service and product. Food trends and student requirements are always changing and you want a service provider that can be responsive to your needs. Crescent Purchasing Consortium shares some tips

Choosing a catering provider that best suits your requirements will not only provide your students and staff with delicious food and fantastic service, but there is also potential to save money and generate a return on investment. The right catering procurement choice can give you the opportunity to reinvest the savings made into learning and make potential savings that could equate to jobs.

The benefits of a successful outsourced catering service can be brilliant for your institution. Often a new catering provider will review your current food outlet space and as part of the offer, invest money to update your facilities to provide an area for your students that increases dwell time and service use.

Timing is key

When you’re looking for a new catering provider, timing is crucial. Many institutions plan to start their new catering contracts from the start of the academic year but due to the volume of education institutions wanting to start at this time, the demand on providers is huge, so their time to respond to bids is limited as is their capacity to start a new service in September. Starting your contract at another time of year will mean that more providers will have the time to prepare an offer and tailor it to your needs.

Remember to leave plenty of time for the procurement process, best practice is to notify providers at least three weeks before you issue your invitation to tender. Following this, allow a minimum of four weeks for providers to return with their service offer. Then, plan three to four weeks to evaluate and award the contract plus allow the successful provider time to prepare the service before the start date. It is important to allow at least three months to complete the full procurement process.

The catering procurement process

Preparing your tender document is vitally important as it is your ‘shop window’. Make the content as attractive as possible to encourage interest in your institution. Contractors love to work with establishments that are enthusiastic about the opportunity and are more likely to respond. Detail your current service and support with menus, pricing, opening hours, staffing and vending arrangements. Don’t be afraid to include photos as this will really bring your tender document to life. Include your current sales data for all outlets but don’t disclose your budget expectations in this section, let the provider make the offer. Footfall data would also be useful together with data on student numbers including those that regularly receive free meals.

Providers may want to visit your institution and meet you. This is an ideal opportunity for them to get an understanding of your establishment and your location. Providers will review your financial status to determine the risk of investing. A good credit score means they are more likely to bid and invest in your institution’s catering facility.

Safety for schools

A safe and secure way to submit your catering tender is via a purchasing consortium deal such as the CPC catering deal. The CPC deal is free to use and is set up to provide a safe way for educational institutions to issue tenders and receive bids. It is designed to protect members from signing contracts that have unfair terms and conditions. They also remove the worry of getting tied into contracts that are more beneficial to the provider than the institution. Deal suppliers are subject to thorough checks and are monitored to ensure they can provide a quality service. Deals are designed to put you in control of the buying process, so that you can buy the service that is right for your establishment, rather than being sold an unsuitable service.

Specialist catering help

With so many different aspects to consider when taking on a new catering contract, using a catering specialist such as Tenet Education Services can be extremely beneficial. Experts in education procurement, Tenet have a specialist catering team who are devoted to the industry and understand the market place. With a combined commercial experience of over 90 years, Tenet’s team can really help you get the most out of your tender and they have a record of ensuring institutions receive a return rather than paying a subsidy. Catering specialists can run the tender on your behalf, saving you both time and money. Tenet are experts in the field and have a deep understanding of the market and will use this knowledge to ensure you get a quality service for the right price.

Be aware that using a catering specialist comes with a cost attached, Tenet’s fees are transparent, but not all catering specialists are the same. Some services look to be free of cost but you should ensure that you review the full terms of your contract when using a catering procurement specialist. Some ‘free services’ result in a charge to the supplier that is always inevitably passed back to the educational establishment in the agreed deal. Hidden costs of five per cent of the contract value are not uncommon and could mean you may end up paying significantly more in the long run.

Manage your relationship

Now that you have a new contract in place and a new provider, it is important to build a relationship with them to maintain a strong performance and quality service for your students. Having open and regular communication with your provider will help to continually improve the service, understand your needs and avoid disputes. Keeping open communication throughout the contract could bring savings and benefit both you and your supplier. A catering specialist will offer contract management services should you wish to retain their support throughout the contract term.

Crescent Purchasing Consortium (CPC) is owned and run by the education sector and provides specialist advice to its members on how to obtain best value for money.

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