Advice On Writing Catering Tender Specifications

With procurement support and training for schools, academies and Trusts diminishing, I have decided to try and plug the gap in this blog, and related webinar, by looking at how you can write a fit for purpose specification to help you run your tender processes more efficiently and effectively.   In the second of my series of four blogs on writing tender specifications, I am focusing on detailed issues around catering.

For information on more general hints and tips then please take a few minutes to read “General Advice on Writing Tender Specifications.” So moving on to the specifics ……

We often see details that are missed in catering tenders which, while niche and may not be applicable to everyone, are still important to mention. If they are applicable to you, then it is essential you include them in your specification.

Are you a hub kitchen? If you are then you need to include details of delivery. If you have a hub kitchen then you, or your contractor, may be delivering meals to smaller primary schools local to you, that do not have kitchen facilities or are not big enough to have a full service. It’s really important to capture that information, but also to check whether the incumbent supplier would take the ‘delivered in service’ contract with them.

Very often people have to make a best guess at this, as in our experience there are no legal agreements with these delivery services which means there are risks. For example, what would happen with deliveries if there is an issue at the hub kitchen? Who would be responsible for ensuring food is delivered?  What about health and safety for these deliveries – what if a child is ill from eating food that’s been delivered from your school?

Write down in the specification what the risks are and who is responsible. This means that people bidding for the contract will be aware of what is required.

Write down a really detailed description of how meal ordering is currently undertaken and do not leave anything out. Some of the key questions to answer are:

  • Is it done online? What system is being used and does it need to be replaced if a new contractor is successful?
  • What are the cut off times for meal ordering? 
  • Is it possible for children to order, if they don’t have money on their account? How overdrawn do you allow them to go? What’s the process for that? 
  • Who is responsible for the till system if you have one? Who is responsible for the maintenance, upkeep and associated costs?
  • Who provides, maintains and pays for any cashless system that you have?
  • If you’re in a primary setting do pupils order meals online in advance, or are they ordered via registration in the morning?

All of this information is really critical for the bidders to avoid teething problems when the new contract comes in. The more information you can give them, the more informed they are, then the more geared up they will be to meet your requirements on day one and the smoother that process will be.

How are food allergies dealt with? Some schools require people to fill in forms on SIMs or forms that the contractor provides on their website or perhaps it is dealt with by the school office. Include how people know at the counter whether children have allergies. In a secondary school setting it is not so much of an issue as, usually, the students are responsible enough to let people know. However, in a primary setting, do you have a coin system? Do children wear a coloured band? Do you have pictures of the children in the kitchen for the catering team to refer to? This is all useful information.

A full breakdown of the annual sales revenue. Ideally the bidders need a full academic year, so that they can see the current revenue from start to finish, including peaks and troughs. The more detail the better and break it down, for example, to numbers of Free School Meals (FSM), Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) (if that’s applicable), hospitality spend, staff paid meals, staff duty meals, KS2 paid meals, paid meals in secondary schools and so on.

Who’s responsible for the cleaning? Is this the catering contractor, the school or the schools cleaning contractor? What happens just after lunch service in the kitchens and servery as well as the dining hall? Who is responsible for deep cleans and does this include specialist areas such as vents and ducting.

DBS and safeguarding requirements. Be very clear on your requirements. Most schools require an enhanced DBS to be in place and the safeguarding is generally provided by the contractor. However, if you want them to do your own school specific safeguarding training, you should make them aware of that. 

Who is responsible for maintaining equipment? Often schools like to push that responsibility back to the contractor. We tend to recommend that you put the responsibility on the contractor to tell you if maintenance is required and you maintain control of that budget. If you set a budget and give them, for example, £2000 a year for equipment maintenance, they will probably spend it. You will often not know what it’s been spent on or if you have had value for money. It could be that they’re repairing the same item of equipment multiple times, whereas, actually, you’d be better off investing in a new piece of equipment. It could even be that the catering team haven’t been trained properly, and that they’re actually causing the damage themselves. In addition, if they do not spend the money, it is highly unlikely they will return it to you or that you will notice.  That’s why we recommend you keep control of the budget yourself.

And finally…….

Give yourself plenty of time. If you are running a PCR compliant tender, allow yourself six months, for the tender itself, and three months to prepare for it. 

If you are running a lower threshold tender, i.e. below the PCR threshold, then allow at least three months to run the tender and three months to prepare. While the running of the tender might be simpler, writing the specification will be just as complex as a PCR compliant tender. I hope you find this helpful. Don’t forget to listen to my webinar on this subject which covers off the general as well as the specific detail on writing a specification. It also contains some very relevant questions about the process and upcoming legislative changes that will affect

Sign up to get our


Our weekly procurement briefings just for schools and MATs are packed with advice to help you save money. Simply pop your details in below and we’ll send you our newsletter every week.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Need assistance?

Our friendly Executive Assistant, Plum Garland is here to help. Call today: 01256 213242

Not feeling chatty? Email us at