Important considerations for RFPs

General requirements for RFPs

Contracts for food service at federal facilities begin with an issuance of a request for proposal (RFP). The RFP usually describes the level and quality of food service expected for a specific location. The RFP process and the content of the RFP can vary among government agencies. At a minimum, an RFP describes the services needed, the performance requirements that must be met, instructions for the technical proposal, and evaluation factors for the award.

Federal government RFPs include a performance work statement (or PWS) that summarizes the work that needs to be done for a contract. At a minimum, a PWS includes a scope of work (description of services), performance requirements, vendor quality assurance, and other applicable documents. 

It’s important to tailor the RFP to focus on the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities. Modifying the following RFP components accordingly helps ensure the vendor will provide and promote healthier foods and beverages through its food service operation. 

Note that for federal government agencies, the Randolph-Sheppard Act may apply to certain facilities, requiring that priority be given to blind vendors to operate those facilities. The Randolph-Sheppard Act requires a contract for cafeterias. All other concessions, vending machines, and self-service facilities require a permit. More details about the Act are provided in our Randolph-Sheppard Act and Permits section.

Scope of work for RFPs

RFPs often begin with an introductory section that describes the nature of the services sought by the government agency, and it is often called “Background Information,” or “Scope of Work.” The introduction is an opportunity to explain the general purpose of the RFP and emphasize the specific purpose of the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities.

The purpose of the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities is to provide specific standards for food and nutrition; facility efficiency, environmental support, and community development; food safety; and behavioral design for food service in federal facilities. The standards included in the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities are designed to ensure the following:

  • Healthier foods and beverages are available and promoted at federal facilities 
  • Environmentally responsible practices are employed in federal food service venues, and communities are economically supported through local food sourcing
  • Food safety procedures are followed to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses  

Scope of Work: Sample Language for the RFP

[The government agency] is requesting proposals from experienced, socially responsible food service vendors to do the following:

  • Deliver affordable healthier foods and beverages 
  • Maintain operations following environmentally responsible practices and support communities economically through local food sourcing
  • Follow food safety procedures to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses 
  • Use behavioral design strategies to encourage the selection of healthier foods and beverages 

[The government agency] wants to ensure that staff and members of the public can make healthier and informed food and beverage choices. The vendor shall meet or exceed the standards included in the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, which include 1) Food and Nutrition Standards; 2) Facility Efficiency, Environmental Support, and Community Development Standards; and 3) Food Safety Standards. The agency recommends that the vendor implement the Behavioral Design Standards to encourage the selection of healthier foods and beverages. 

The vendor should ensure that the services provided will continue to meet the highest standards of consumer satisfaction; provide an innovative nutrition program that makes available and encourages the selection of healthier foods and beverages; conduct environmentally responsible practices in federal food service venues; and support communities economically through local food sourcing. 

Performance requirements for the RFP

Performance requirements lay out what is to be accomplished under the contract and the acceptable quality levels.  By incorporating the provisions of the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities in the technical or performance requirements of the RFP, government agencies can determine which vendor is most qualified to meet or exceed the requirements. 

The activities included in the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities are described as “Standard” and “Innovative.” The standard criteria are considered minimum standards and should be required in RFPs and contracts. The agency can choose which additional standards at the innovative criteria level that it wants to implement based on the food service operation’s ability and goals. 

  • Standard criteria are considered widely achievable in the food service industry. Implementation at the standard level is expected. 
  • Innovative criteria promote exceptional performance in various areas of food service. Implementation at the innovative level is encouraged.

The performance or technical requirements are usually grouped together into the following sections of the RFP:

  • Innovative food and wellness program
  • Facility efficiency and sustainability program 
  • Food safety and sanitation program 
  • Management philosophy and personnel
  • Corporate capacity 

As we've recommended previously, the performance requirements in these sections should be tailored to include the provisions of the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities.

Implement an innovative food and wellness program

The requirements for an innovative food and wellness program are designed to increase the availability and variety of healthier foods and beverages and to promote the sale of these healthier options. This type of program also requires vendors to provide calorie and nutrition information at the point of choice for foods to encourage individuals to make informed decisions about what they consume. 

At a minimum, the RFP must require the vendor to implement the food and nutrition standards at the standard criteria level for each type of food offered in their food service operation. This section of the RFP can be tailored to include the following: 1) requirements related to food and nutrition standards and 2) recommendations related to behavioral design standards. If the RFP is for concessions that serve prepared foods, it may include additional requirements related to menus. If the RFP is for vending machines and self-service facilities, it may include additional requirements related to the products offered and promoted.

Requirements for facility efficiency and sustainability

A facility efficiency and sustainability program for food service consists of the following: 

  • Environmentally responsible practices that reduce environmental impact and increase energy efficiency 
  • Strategies to reduce food waste 
  • Strategies that support agriculture and rural economic development for local and regional food systems and conservation of natural resources 

To align with the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, this section of the RFP should be tailored to include the standards for facility efficiency, environmental support, and community development.

Sample Language for the RFP

The vendor should describe his or her company’s ability to follow the standards for facility efficiency, environmental support, and community development included in the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities. The vendor should explain how his or her company will incorporate the Facility Efficiency, Environmental Support, and Community Development Standards from the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities.

Requirements for food safety and sanitation

A food safety and sanitation program includes requirements related to serving quality food under clean and sanitary conditions. To align with the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, this section of the RFP should be tailored to include specific food safety standards, including standards from the Food and Drug Administration’s most recently published Food Code. It should also include standards that identify managerial practices, employee practices, and general food preparation practices that go beyond what is described in the Food Code and that, when implemented, may further reduce the risk of foodborne illness in food service operations. 

The food safety standards included in the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities apply to concessions (such as cafeterias, cafés, and grills) where food is prepared and sold or served. They also apply to merchandising and vending operations that offer foods that require temperature control in order to be safe for consumption. The standards are not intended to apply to operations that offer only prepackaged foods that do not require temperature control in order to be safe for consumption, as the Food Code is not intended to apply to these operations.

Sample Language for the RFP

The vendor shall serve quality food under clean and sanitary conditions in accordance with the Food Safety Standards in the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, which are based on the Food and Drug Administration’s most recently published Food Code. [Note: This language may need to be amended to reflect the relevant state food code if the contract is being issued by a state agency.

Requirements for management philosophy and personnel

The management philosophy and personnel section of the RFP should include requirements related to the vendor initiating and maintaining an innovative nutrition and wellness program. It should also describe the personnel and supervision needed to meet the requirements of the RFP related to nutrition and wellness. The section should ask the vendor how he or she plans to develop and maintain a relationship with the government agency to ensure healthier foods and beverages are provided.

The sample language for these requirements has been taken from RFPs and contracts in the field. These are samples only; the language must be modified to meet the context.

Sample Language for the RFP – Management Philosophy

The vendor should describe his or her company’s capacity to address the following:

  • The development of an innovative food and wellness program that results in improved health and well-being for the employees served by the vendor for the duration of the contract, as demonstrated by measurable outcomes. 
  • The vendor’s approach, experience, and programs/procedures that work toward a comprehensive nutrition and wellness program.
  • The vendor’s plans for effective staffing and management that will support an innovative food and wellness program, including information that demonstrates the vendor’s understanding and management of the performance requirements.
  • Ability to foster a collaborative relationship with [the government agency] and work closely with appropriate government staff, such as facility/building managers; food program or food service facility managers; dietitians/nutritionists; and public health agency or wellness office staff to ensure that healthier foods and beverages are provided. 

Requirements for corporate capacity

The corporate capacity section of the RFP requires the vendor to provide information, references, and supporting documents that demonstrate his or her company’s ability to successfully meet or exceed the performance requirements of this contract. The vendor should be prepared to report on nutrition information and sales data and monitor the implementation of standards to help the government agency evaluate the success of its nutrition and wellness efforts.

These processes can also help government staff understand sales patterns, spot problem areas, and identify opportunities for growth. Nutrition information and sales data, for example, can show which types of healthier products are popular. Monitoring can show whether the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities are being successfully implemented. This section of the RFP should be tailored to include the requirements related reporting and monitoring. 

Sample Language for the RFP

The vendor should describe his or her company’s capacity to address the following:

  • The vendor should establish a system for reporting and monitoring to help [the government agency] not only track the vendor’s compliance but consider ways to improve healthy food procurement. Vendor should describe how his or her company provides the following information: 
    • Monthly [or weekly] operating statements
    • Monthly sales data for all items sold
    • A comparison of sales for healthier and less healthy food and beverage items
  • The vendor shall provide a plan that explains his or her company will work with [the government agency] staff to monitor the implementation of the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, the service levels, menus, sales of foods and beverages, and marketing programs, as well as any other relevant items. The plan should include the frequency of monitoring and the forms that will be used.