The tender process for catering follows a similar process to buying many goods and services. It’s a detailed process and adequate time needs to be allowed, around three to four months is usual.

Clients may choose to engage with a catering consultant. The Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) is the trade body for catering consultants. The process and stages are broadly similar though they may be in a different order. Clients work with a catering consultant because it can reduce the amount of time they spend on the tender project and the consultant can provide specialist knowledge that the client may not have


  1. Pre-qualification questionnaire process (PQQ)
  2. Invitation to tender (ITT)
  3. Contractor’s visit to client site
  4. Tender document
  5. Visits to shortlisted catering contractor’s sites
  6. Final presentation

1. Pre-qualification process

A pre-qualification questionnaire should set out a series of questions for potential tenderers to answer regarding their level of experience, geographical spread, who they currently cater for and their financial detail (last three audited accounts) and liability insurance. The answers to these questions should enable the client to produce a short-list of suppliers that most closely fit the client’s business and catering requirements. Short-listed suppliers are then invited to tender for the contract.

2. Invitation to tender (ITT)

Upon review of the PQQ, the client will typically create a shortlist of caterers to submit a full proposal. Typically, four or five caterers will submit full proposals.

 The ITT should include;

  • General background to the company
  • Overview of the catering services
  • The reason for tendering the service
  • Evaluation criteria
  • Timetable
  • Response format required
  • Contract type
  • Service(s) specification
  • Current volumes
  • Costs to be included and not included
  • How TUPE will be handled
  • A list of questions / requirements to respond to
  • Proposed contract
  • Scope for a non-compliant/alternative proposal
  • Spreadsheets for completion: shopping basket, cost and sales analyses, labour schedule and costs, mobilisation costs, management fee.

3. Contractor’s visit to client site

The client invites all bidders to a briefing which outlines their catering objectives and includes a tour of the facilities, both back and front of house.

Contractors are given an opportunity to:

View the facilities, equipment, services and standards required, test their understanding of the tender document with a Q and A session and get an insight into the client company’s ethos and culture.

4. Tender document

Tenders are often submitted in both hard and soft copy formats and some clients and consultants choose to use a procurement portal to assist in the evaluation of tenders. The contractor’s response should include:

  • Sample menus for each service
  • Method statements for staff dining, beverages, vending and hospitality
  • Description of support resources, i.e. marketing, training, development, H&S etc.
  • Mobilisation plan
  • Supply chain information
  • People: Organogram, job descriptions, training
  • Specific company policies
  • Service innovation
  • Alternative proposal if appropriate
  • What differentiates the contractor

It’s best practice if a range of stakeholders are involved in the evaluation process of the final stages (5 and 6). Ideally procurement, executive management, facilities management, hospitality user, HR wellness professional and customer representatives.

 5. Site visits to shortlisted contractor’s sites

Following evaluation of the tender document, visits to the shortlisted contractor’s sites should be arranged. The purpose is to see the bidder’s catering in real life. It’s important to focus on the menus, food presentation, customer service, merchandising and marketing materials and the managerial style.

The operations manager should be at the site visit; they will be your main point of contact should the contractor be successful. You need to feel that you could forge a good working relationship with them. It is also good to request to meet the site client for a private conversation about the contractor.

6. Presentation

The final presentation is the opportunity for the contractor to bring their tender proposal to life. A presentation brief of client expectations should be provided to all shortlisted contractors with details of the client’s attendees. Adequate time should be given for a detailed presentation and an allowance for the contractor to set up prior to their presentation. Leave time between presentations so that the stakeholders have an opportunity to complete a detailed evaluation.

Download our guide to tendering a catering contact here

Expert advice

To share best practice, we have developed bartlett mitchell’s expert guides for workplace and contract catering. Download the pdf guide to How to tender a catering contract or read our expert guide on how to develop a contract catering strategy 


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