RFP vs. RFI

While some directors like Lesh, Obbink, and Girard have initiated vending programs on their own, others find that outsourcing the vending contract makes more sense. That was the case for Kathy Lazor, foodservice director in Montgomery County, MD, one of the country's largest districts, when she decided to take on vending.

“When I wanted to prepare my initial RFP for vending, I began with my procurement department,” Lazor says. “But even though we're a pretty large district, my procurement people didn't know where to start. Vending requires specialized programs and knowledge. One of the first things we did was go to other districts and get RFPs they had already used for this purpose.”

Still, Lazor had already determined that Montgomery was going to go with a full-service contractor for vending. What if a district hasn't made up its mind about what services they want to contract for and what they want to take in house? One approach is to issue a Request for Information (RFI) in lieu of an RFP. A district can put out a very general set of requirements inidcating what the district wants to achieve, and requesting that vendors offer creative responses to help decide the district determine the best approach.

“It's a lot less binding,” says Obbink. “You can go to the market and ask what's out there without committing to any one approach. You're also not bound to award a contract. On the other hand, you are indicating that a contract may be in the cards and that your are receptive to strong proposals that can be customized to meet your needs.”