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When proposals are submitted, the company’s evaluation team has a formidable task—reading and analyzing from two to six documents that can run to 200 pages or more.

“I look for realistic responses and truthful numbers,” says Health Services’ Ventura, “not ‘we can run it on a P&L’ when the requirements of the operation dictate a subsidy.  The proposal should offer fresh, healthful food and an efficient operating model.”

This is the point where a selection process can bog down. The members of the evaluation team can quickly discount proposals that miss the mark—they don’t meet the company’s requirements or have unrealistic financial projections. But what to do with the others, which can seem to be very similar? Team members have other priorities related to their main jobs and often put off meetings and decisions about how to proceed. This is important, but they have projects to manage, meetings to attend, reports to prepare and e-mails to answer. The proposers are often left hanging, wondering what’s happening.

“I solicit feedback from the client on the response and prepare my team for presentations, site visits and tastings,” say Welsh, in the interim between submitting the proposal and learning what the next step will be.

Occasionally, the decision-maker will pick a company on the strength of the proposal and a few telephone conferences with the contractor. This is more likely when cost is the overriding factor in the selection.

More often, the most responsive proposers will be asked to attend an interview or even make a formal presentation, complete with PowerPoint shows, elaborate food displays and tastings. When cost isn’t the most important consideration, here’s where the contractor wins or loses.

The contractor’s delegation is headed by the sales representative and includes one or more executives (the more important the contract, the higher the level of executive), the regional vice president, district manager and support personnel, including an executive chef in a spotless white uniform.

The client often will want to meet the candidate’s on-site manager, but the contractor may be reluctant to present one.  A qualified, already-employed manager isn’t readily available, or the time lag between award and startup date is so long (as in the case of a facility still under construction) that the promised manager may not be available when expected.

When contractors under consideration seem evenly matched, the decision-makers can have a difficult time choosing.

In one instance, a large company that was moving to new offices had to choose between its longtime contractor and the contractor’s principal rival.

Both companies were subjected to intensive interviews. The incumbent’s regional vice president had been transferred to this city only a few weeks before and fumbled answers to some questions about its operations at other, similar companies in the area. Responses by its rival were smooth, confident and complete, but some interviewers still favored the incumbent, whose on-site manager, executive chef and district manager were well liked and competent.

After the incumbent’s interview was over, the company’s chief financial officer, who had said little during the session, spoke up: “Their oatmeal is too runny.”

The other company was awarded the contract.

Tom MacDermott, FCSI, is President of Clarion Group, a consulting organization specializing in dining and hospitality services.