The ABCs of School Catering Services Procurement

Good value, nutritious, and tasty food is the fuel that keeps students thriving in school. Procuring school catering services may seem like a straightforward task, but it involves complex considerations that need careful planning to ensure a successful contract. 

In this guide, we’ll take you through the essential steps of procuring catering services for your school, from pre-procurement considerations to ongoing contract management. 

Pre-Procurement Considerations: The Foundation of Success

Procuring school catering services requires thorough groundwork to ensure that your school’s unique needs are met. Here’s a breakdown of the essential pre-procurement considerations: 

  • User Feedback: Begin by surveying current users, including students, parents, and staff, to understand what’s working well, what needs improvement, and what they’d like to see in the catering service. This feedback will shape your procurement specifications and supplier selection. 
  • Alternative Procurement Solutions: Before diving into a bespoke procurement process, explore existing agreements that might suit your needs. Frameworks and Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS) provide compliant solutions with pre-vetted suppliers, simplifying the procurement process. 
  • Framework Arrangements: Frameworks offer approved and compliant solutions for catering services. While a further competition process may be required, it eliminates the need for a full procurement process, saving time and effort. 
  • DPS: Dynamic Purchasing Systems operate similarly to frameworks but allow new suppliers to join at any time. Education Buying’s Catering DPS streamlines the process, making it fully compliant with Public Contract Regulations 2015 and eliminating the need for a full tender process. 
  • Collaboration: Consider collaborating with neighbouring schools or educational networks to leverage collective purchasing power, making your offer more attractive to potential suppliers. 
  • Understanding Your Current Contract: Dive into the details of your current catering contract to answer key questions: 
  • When does your contract expire? 
  • Are you tied into the contract, and can it be terminated? 
  • What are the current usage figures for students, staff, and visitors? 
  • Do you have existing food supply contracts that need to be considered? 

Give Yourself Time to Reprocure: A Key to Success

Procuring school catering services is a comprehensive process that may take six to nine months to complete. To ensure a smooth transition and uninterrupted service, consider the best time to commence a catering contract, ideally at the start of the school year or after a significant holiday period. 

TUPE Considerations: Protecting Your Staff

Determine if Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment (TUPE) regulations apply to your existing kitchen and staff. During the termination notice to your incumbent supplier, request details of staff subject to TUPE transfer. This information is crucial for potential suppliers during the tender stage. 

Additional Considerations: Beyond the Menu

There are various factors to consider before going out to tender, such as equipment ownership, kitchen utilities, existing food supply contracts, and more. Ensuring a smooth transition requires careful planning. 

Preparing Your Specification: The Blueprint for Success

Your catering specification should align with your objectives, whether it’s cost savings, improved services, or menu variety. Here’s what to include in your specification: 

  • Nutrition Requirements: Consult nutrition guidelines from trusted sources to set standards for your specification. 
  • Menus: Request a menu as part of the quality response from potential suppliers. Specify the minimum requirements, such as a choice of hot meals, desserts, fruit, and salad. 
  • Contract Duration: Consider a contract duration of 3 to 5 years, including break clauses for flexibility. 
  • Cost Control: Include a price ceiling for the “price per meal” and consult with parents. Ensure the cost ceiling is realistic and proportionate. 
  • Special Requirements: Address dietary, allergen, religious, and holiday festival requirements. 
  • Additional Service Needs: If your school offers breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, or special events, ensure they are included and costed for. 
  • Social Value: Consider the social, economic, and environmental impact of the catering service, including the source of food, curriculum contributions, work experience opportunities, and eco-friendly practices. 
  • Health and Safety: Prioritise health and safety standards, including pest control, COSHH, and training requirements. 

The Tender Stage and Evaluation: Selecting the Right Partner

Give potential suppliers ample time to complete and submit their tender. Offer site visits by appointment and establish clear award criteria for evaluation. The balance between cost and quality should be carefully considered. The evaluation process should include a review of proposed menus, cost breakdowns, and agreement on key performance indicators (KPIs). 

The Contract: A Pact for Success

After awarding the tender, a formal contract should be signed between both parties. Transitioning services should be carefully planned, allowing for the transfer of staff if TUPE regulations apply. 

Ongoing Contract Management: Ensuring Quality

Regular contract review meetings should occur, focusing on KPIs and service quality. Both you and the supplier should ensure that contractual obligations are met, including operational standards, quality, and innovation. 


Procuring catering services for your school is a multifaceted process, requiring meticulous planning and attention to detail. By following these steps and utilising the resources available through Education Buying, you can ensure a successful catering contract that meets the unique needs of your school community.