aramarkTrent community members will be able to examine the university’s foodservice Request for Proposals (RFP) significantly earlier than expected. Last week Arthur reported the long-awaited document, which outlines the guiding criteria for the contract bidding process, would be released “within the next month or two.” However, Trent’s associate vice president student, Nona Robinson, clarified in a follow-up interview on October 2, that the RFP would in fact be made available by the university’s Foodservice Review Committee within the next week.

Robinson said it is important the university release its RFP as soon as possible in order to give prospective bidders enough time to build strong proposals. “We want providers to have a reasonably long time to respond,” she explained. “We want [them] to say: ‘okay, this is what [Trent] wants, let’s bring our best ideas together and make this work.’”

In addition to speeding up the release of the document, more details have since emerged concerning how the Foodservice Review Committee intends to structure the RFP process. Speaking on this subject last week, Trent Central Student Association President Ben Perry noted that the Foodservice Review Committee has decided to proceed using an alternative form of RFP called a “Request for Innovative Solutions.” This fact was later confirmed by Robinson, who explained the committee felt a traditional RFP would be overly restrictive and therefore unable to provide the solutions needed to adequately transform Trent`s foodservice.

“What [the Foodservice Review Committee] is interested in is seeing what sort of areas people bring expertise and energy and creativity to,” she remarked, “and [the Request for Innovative Solutions model] will allow us to do a little bit of horsetrading in order to get to the point where we feel like we’re getting as good a provider as possible.”

The idea of the university using a “Request for Innovative Solutions” rather than a traditionally structured Request For Proposals can be traced back to the recent foodservice report authored by third-party consultant Mark Murdoch. According to Murdoch’s report, a copy of which can be found online at trentarthur.ca, the Request for Innovative Solutions process allows bidders to “propose unique models and plans that are reflective of their best work,” instead of simply going down a list of requirements and checking off what they can or cannot do.

However, the report cautions that such a model also has its difficulties. Since the university is requiring each company to develop their own creative solutions the process will be more complex and the responses will be “more challenging to assess.” Indeed, Tessa Nasca, a student representative on the Foodservice Review Committee stated that a scoring criteria for the proposals has not yet been established.

However, Robinson is confident that proceeding with the Request for Innovative Solutions process is the right path for the university to take at this time. She noted that of primary concern for the administration is ensuring that the new contract is one that facilitates a “collaborative relationship” between university and provider, one that allows the parties to “work together on any sort of issue that might arise.”

This will almost certainly mean the enactment of several important recommendations from Mr. Murdoch’s report, including the establishment of a dedicated point-person (called a “foodservice champion”) who would be responsible for the management of foodservice operations as well as the creation of a permanent multi-stakeholder committee focused on “the delivery and enhancement of the foodservice program.”

With the RFP to be released within the week, both Robinson and Nasca believe that the Trent community can expect a document that reflects the feedback received in last year`s lengthy consultation process. Robinson explained that all of the relevant reports and documentation from the consultation, including the TCSA’s Raw Deal, OPIRG Peterborough’s foodservice recommendations, the fsStrategy report, and the new report by Murdoch, will be available to prospective bidders alongside the RFP in order to help them better understand the university’s unique situation and desires.

The university administration is expected to set a date in late November or early December as its submission deadline and Robinson noted the university currently expects proposals from numerous operators of varying sizes and strengths. She explained, in addition to the bid proposals, the Foodservice Review Committee will require companies to submit a list of references and contacts from past work.

She also revealed that although the Foodservice Review Committee will be responsible for doing the initial proposal evaluations, once the bidding process has been narrowed down to a shortlist the selected companies will be invited to Symons Campus to hold public presentations with both the committee and the community. “We will use those presentations as a means of taking [the shortlist] to our lead contender,” said Robinson.