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Comprehensive Review of Food Service at Northwestern

Food Service Invitation to Bid Timeline

Award Announcement

After an extensive evaluation and considerable collaboration with all units responsible for food service on campus, the contract has been awarded to Compass Group. We would like to thank both Aramark and Sodexo for their strong partnership with Northwestern over the last several years.

Award Recommendation Process

This was a lengthy, comprehensive, thoughtful, and fair process. We received strong proposals from Compass, Aramark, and Sodexo. The award recommendation was based on a best-value assessment of the following key aspects of each vendor's proposal: creativity of proposed food service concepts, quality of the food, experience of the leadership team and key personnel, operational capabilities, proposed menus and pricing, campus-wide technology solutions, commitment to sustainability and business diversity, and value of their proposed financial package.

Compass Group demonstrated their capabilities and commitment to deliver. They scored highest on all key steps in the process, including how it conducted its focus group, quality of their initial proposal, evaluation committee presentation, tasting event, site visit, and best and final offer. It proposed a corporate-level relationship to facilitate implementation of a creative, custom, Northwestern-specific solution that will deliver a premier, campus-wide, best-in-class food service program that leverages each of their individual units indicated below:

The proposal from Compass Group was based on enhancing the sense of community and creating an optimal campus experience for students, faculty, and staff. It was informed by the UREC report and Northwestern's innovative approach to the residential experience. In addition to the Compass Group being an optimal organizational fit, we expect them to deliver a food service program that will truly set Northwestern apart from other universities, one that reflects the following:

Next Steps

The primary next step is existing employee recruitment. We know that engaging the existing employees will ensure continuity of service and limit business disruption. We know the sensitivity of this type of transition so their first priority is to engage the incumbent service provider staff. Our first goal is to relieve any anxiety the existing associates have related to employment. Compass will ask 100 percent of the incumbent hourly associates to join them and be part of their mission and vision to deliver great food and service at Northwestern, giving them the opportunity to maintain their pay, benefits, and seniority.

The transition will take place over the summer and more information will be forthcoming.

Learn more


Food service is a major factor in creating an optimal campus experience and a sense of community.  Current food service agreements on campus all expire at the same time, giving the University a chance to review and reimagine its food service strategy. In an effort to continue improving the overall quality of life for those attending and working at Northwestern University, we are excited to begin the process of evaluating dining options. This includes services that range from campus dining/meal plans and conference center support services to catering and concessions at athletics events and vending.

Aiming to create a University-wide, high-quality food and dining experience, the review will be led by Procurement and Payment Services, who will issue a formal Invitation to Bid to solicit proposals from food service firms interested in competing for the contract. The process will be driven by an enterprise-wide food service strategy that prioritizes excellent food, optimized services, creative meal plans, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness for Northwestern and its customers.

Department and school stakeholders involved include Student Affairs, the Kellogg School of Management, the Department of Athletics and Recreation, the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, the McCormick School of Engineering, Auxiliary Services, and SustainNU.

The extensive process will also include input from many other primary stakeholders, including students, faculty, and staff, at various points during the process.

Read more about this bid on the Northwestern Now news article>>

What is an Invitation to Bid?

An Invitation to Bid (ITB) is a request for proposals issued by an entity (in this case Northwestern) interested in the procurement of a product or service needed by the organization (in this case food service) to potential suppliers. It is a competitive bid process that includes requirements, scope of work, and terms. Bidders are expected to submit proposals that address the needs of the University and provides Northwestern with what it needs to make the most informed decision as to which vendor will deliver the best value to the University.

The entire process consists of pre-bid meeting activities (e.g. campus tours, stakeholder meetings), a question-and-answer period, proposal clarifications, finalist presentations, site visits, best and final offer, final negotiation, and potential taste tests.

How long does an ITB take?

A traditional ITB process may take between 3 and 6 months to complete. However, due to the complexities associated with an extensive and strategic contract such as enterprise-wide food service, the University has planned for a 12-18 month process.

The goal is to establish a comprehensive new contract beginning in the fall quarter of 2018.

What were the process steps for this ITB?

The formal Invitation to Bid (ITB) for University-wide Food Service was issued on September 29, 2017.

The extensive bid process began October 2017 with a pre-bid meeting to inform the bidders of Northwestern's needs. After the pre-bid meeting, several activities followed, including: 

  • A tour of all food service locations was given on both campuses.
  • A survey was completed by the Northwestern community.
  • Students, faculty, and staff were involved in focus groups.

The purpose of the pre-bid activities was to inform the bidders so they were able to submit a proposal that best meets the needs of the University, students, faculty, and staff. 

Proposals were received on December 4, 2017 and various evaluation activities occurred following submission:

  • The Northwestern evaluation committee met regularly to review the proposals.
  • Finalist presentations were given by three Food Service providers to the Northwestern evaluation committee during the week of February 5, 2018.
  • During finalist presentations, the Food Service providers also hosted a presentation and tasting event for Northwestern students, faculty, and staff representatives. A feedback form was completed by participants.
  • Northwestern evaluation committee representatives traveled to peer institutions for site visits during the week of February 12, 2018.

Best and final offers were received.

All of the bidders made a commitment to ensure 100% of incumbent hourly associates are invited to join them and continue their employment on Northwestern's campus if they are awarded the contract, giving them the opportunity to maintain their current pay, benefits, and seniority.

The Northwestern evaluation committee continues to meet regularly, and the contract has been awarded to Compass Group.

 Tasting photo Tasting photo 3 Tasting photo

Presentation & Tasting event photos

Contact information

If you have any questions about this bid, please contact Sheila Watkins, Procurement Administrator, at 847.491.8125 or