Bid Consultants: Does Your Client Want a Hospitality Partner Or Vendor?

Congratulations! You’re starting a new client engagement. Your client hired you and your firm to help navigate the bid process and find the best-fit hospitality management company to manage dining services. Now, the real work begins.

They want a coffee shop and smoothie bar. Grab-and-go options for employees to enjoy on breaks. Meal kits to take home at the end of each day are a must. They care about nutrition, sustainability, and innovative dining trends. Their needs and desires are extensive, and finding the right food service provider is critical. The stakes are high, and your name is attached to how well the whole process unfolds. No pressure, right? Before you decide which hospitality management companies to invite to participate in the bid process, consider asking your client this question:

Do you want a hospitality partner or a vendor?

The answer will guide how you proceed and with which hospitality management companies you will need to engage.

Differences Between a Hospitality Partner and Vendor Relationship

The terms are often used interchangeably, even though they infer different meanings. While there is value in selecting either a vendor or a partner, it’s worth understanding the distinct differences so that you can narrow the field of hospitality management companies invited to bid.

There is a significant difference between the terms “partner” and “vendor.” “Partner” denotes a firm that will transparently walk with them and advise on the best options to meet the client’s culture. “Vendor” suggests a transactional arrangement to achieve a desired outcome. As a consultant, when you hear your client say “partner vs. vendor,” you might immediately start evaluating potential partners based on expertise, the region they serve, or their size, but don’t forget about their varying approaches to dining.

Either choice can be beneficial, but knowing up front which type of relationship is best suited for your client will save you—and them—time, expense, and frustration in the future.

Think in terms of building a house. You can hire a production builder that builds a community of homes based on a set library of floor plans. (You pick one, and they get to work.) Think of that experience versus working with a custom builder who creates one-of-a-kind homes; no finish is too fancy and no floorplan off limits. You can choose where your budget goes, and the builder employs their expertise to guide you along the way as you make a home completely personalized to you, together. Neither type of builder is substandard; they’re just different. But knowing up front which type of relationship is best suited for your client matters immensely.

How Does Your Client Know if They Want a Hospitality Partner or Vendor?

Your client may prefer a turn-key experience. They may not necessarily want a lot of collaboration or personalization; “plug and play” is acceptable for them. This is the definition of a vendor at its root. Success in the dining program means they want a transactional experience and not to have to engage in the details of their dining program more than necessary.

What about a partner, then?

“A partner works to understand the client’s unique culture,” says Chuck Melchiori, Vice President and founding member at Creative Dining. “They have the maturity to listen and the courage to learn. A partner is proud to take on your client’s brand, and they are willing to be adaptable and vulnerable to build a relationship.”

Our definition of building a successful dining program starts with your client’s customers: their employees, students, or residents. As a hospitality partner, we like to build dining programs that aren’t rigid, programmatic, and templated like you may find in a traditional vendor relationship. We uncover intel from your client’s customers and then build menus, determine programming, price points, limited time offers and promotions based on their needs by applying professional hospitality practices.

Here is our partnership mix:

Partners like Creative Dining ask customers behavioral dining questions like,

“What are your dining patterns?”
“Describe your favorite dining outlet.”
“What is your most memorable dining experience?”
“What would you expect to pay for a meal?”
“What is your preferred method of payment?”

Partners ask key culture questions.

“How do you celebrate success?”
“What is the dress code here?”
“Describe your social gatherings and events.”
“How do you perceive dining within your community?”
“Do you have a food bank that employees could access in a crisis?”

At Creative Dining, we want customers to have a seamless experience, to identify with our client’s culture, not ours. To that end, we rarely incorporate Creative Dining-branded signage or uniforms. Instead, we take on our client’s brand and culture because we believe dining is an extension of them and what makes them unique.

Our consultative approach leads to personalized dining programs and rich, collaborative partnerships with your client. A partnership provides all the flexibility and scalability of an entire expert team combined with alignment of success factors and KPIs and a relationship of working together toward a shared vision. Your client’s dining program success is our success.

Know that there is validity in helping your client choose a vendor OR a partner, but it all comes down to the type of relationship they want. And if your client wants a hospitality partner that is flexible and transparent? We’d jump at the chance to be invited to the table.

Interested in learning more about what Creative Dining Services has to offer? Contact us.

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