Opinion: The importance of proper commercial catering facilities tendering

Simon Dibbs crop
Marshall Catering Equipment's Simon Dibbs errs on the side of caution when specifying medium or heavy duty appliances.

Simon Dibbs, project manager at Marshall Catering Equipment, argues that detailed specifications are a must to enable a fair tender process:

For far too long now commercial catering facilities have been a ‘black hole’ for main contractors and clients alike, with limited design, specification and integration into the scheme undertaken pre-tender. The design and specification of these facilities is an intricate process and requires a specialist with appropriate experience and knowledge to assist traditional project teams and caterers with the design of the facility. In most cases the commercial catering facility is the most sophisticated area of the entire project, due to highly complex machinery, design of bespoke items, and termination of hundreds of electrical and plumbing services, before we even consider the design of the commercial kitchen ventilation systems.

I have been asked to tender for hundreds of projects over my 14 years in the industry. The quality of tender packages that have landed on my desk vary widely. From the sublime (with fully detailed and appropriately scaled layout drawings, with clear and concise bill of quantities/schedule of works) to the ridiculous (with ‘indicative kitchen drawing’ which has clearly been given no thought and a ‘spec’ that simply states ‘dishwasher’, ‘oven’ etc).

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The purpose of competitive tendering is to obtain quotations and appoint a contractor to undertake the works; this should be done so on a detailed specification where prices can be compared on a like-for-like basis and not left up to the discretion/integrity of the tenderer. With such broad ‘descriptions’ of equipment and no provision of a design brief or layout drawing, my question is how can a main contractor or indeed client make an appropriate appointment for the project? The answer in my eyes is that they cannot.

When I tender a job such as this I always err on the side of caution and offer what I’d consider to be medium or heavy duty appliances because I don’t want to create problems for the client or myself moving forward. I would estimate that my success rate on schemes such as this is around 10%, leading me to the conclusion that there are companies out there taking more risks on equipment spec in such circumstances, which is at the expense of the end user. This is also evident to me during site visits to quote for replacement equipment. I’ve been to so many sites shortly after full refurbishments in order to replace items which have clearly been mis-specified.

As part of the tendering process, tenderers should be required to provide a certificate of ‘bona fide tendering’. This confirms that the bid submitted is above board, spec compliant and fit for purpose; however this is not possible without the provision of appropriate tender enquiry documentation to base a bid on.

What I am trying to achieve is the understanding that appointment of a competent commercial catering facility designer in most instances is just as important as appointment of any other consultant on the scheme. This is because so many other packages/trades tasks depend upon the spec of the commercial catering facility. It’s not simply the capital cost of the catering equipment package that should be considered, it’s the overall cost of all packages together; a well-designed catering facility with careful consideration given to layout can reduce costs in the builders and mechanical and electrical packages. In addition, if consideration is given to ongoing maintenance costs, equipment running costs and product lifecycles, there can be real money savings achieved, thus making an appropriately specified facility the most cost effective long term.

When I prepare tender documentation I always aim to work hand in hand with the client to understand their requirements and prepare an appropriate design brief that becomes the foundation of all other tender documentation. We prepare a full and concise schedule of works – this way we are protecting the client from a sub-standard installation. This is the only way for the client to end up with a facility that is fit for purpose, has appropriate energy efficiency and life expectancy. Without appropriate tender enquiry documentation it cannot be a fair tender process.

Tags : Industry Expertmarshall catering equipmentopinionvoice of the industry
Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

1 Comment

  1. I agree, the catering equipment tender package should always be clear, concise and developed through close consultation with the client. Ideally, it would also be prepared by an independent design consultancy that has no affiliation with any manufacturer so that the process is completely impartial. Even now after years in this industry, we still work within professional teams that do not appreciate or understand the complexity of a commercial kitchen. PM`s and Architects with no prior experience of a commercial installation, equate it to a domestic installation and it is only when they start to see some of the costs and services required, that they begin to appreciate what is involved.

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