Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ensure Your Food Service Operating Contract Protects Your Interests

The managers of corporate and campus food services and related hospitality services often make a mistake when they outsource these services by accepting the vendor’s "standard contract." Based on our experience, we recommend that you don’t accept this contract. It’s one-sided and not in your favor.

This isn’t the same situation as renting a car or buying a computer program where your options are take it or leave it. A food service contract, worth from several hundred thousand to many millions of dollars in sales, is much more important to the vendor than an individual customer is to a car rental company.

When we’re helping a Clarion Group client select a food service operator, we turn the tables and present the vendor with our "standard contract." We draft the contract in collaboration with our client’s attorney to ensure it’s fair to the vendor, but clearly delineates the vendor’s responsibilities and fully protects our client’s interests.

We’ve developed our contract format over two decades of food service consulting and adapt it to each client’s specific circumstances. Then we negotiate the final terms and conditions with the vendor, with our client’s participation and final approval.

Food service operating agreements used to be simple two- or three-page documents, but changing times and circumstances in the food service industry, government regulations and other factors have dictated that these agreements be much more detailed.

Important points to be included in a food service management contract, often omitted in the contractor’s proposed form:
  • The vendor’s responsibilities should be clearly defined and the vendor should agree to perform its services to a high standard, defined as clearly as possible.
  • The vendor should be an independent contractor, solely responsible for its employees and for its actions and not able to act as an agent for the client company. (If the vendor makes purchases or other commitments as the client’s agent, the client can be held liable for the vendor’s unpaid debts or other commitments.)
  • The vendor has sole responsibility for the food it serves, from the farm field to the diner’s plate. Its program for ensuring the food it serves is wholesome, healthy and safe for consumption should be clearly described in the operating contract.
  • Financial terms should be unambiguous, including the contractor’s responsibility for producing accurate operating statements promptly and providing satisfactory supporting material for its claims for reimbursement of costs. A contractor can produce financial statements within 10 days of an accounting period’s end date.
  • Contractors receive rebate payments from their vendors, which they keep as additional income and do not disclose to clients. We have negotiated for our clients to receive a share of these rebates.
  • The contract should be enforceable in your home state, not the vendor’s.
These are just highlights of the terms a food service contract should include. In our role as consultants, we level the playing field for our clients in their dealings with food service contractors because we know the players, their tactics and objectives. We ensure our clients have comprehensive, fair and enforceable contracts to guide their relations with their on-site service operators.

To learn how Clarion Group can ensure the operating agreement with your current or future food service contractor can be both fair to both you and the operator and fully protect your interests, contact us at or call Tom Mac Dermott, president, at 603/642-8011.