How Many Bids?

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I often get asked for contractor recommendations. I usually provide a short list of contractors that I’ve worked with in the past with success, or whose thorough work quality I’ve witnessed firsthand. When I hand over the list, the next question usually is: ‘Should I contact all of these?’

The answer is more complicated than a yes or no. Some contractors on the list only do work in certain states, some specialize in certain states. Some are headquartered far away from the project site, and would charge for travel to and fro. Some work with unions, some do not. These facts will usually filter down the list to three or four contenders that you can call and talk to about your project.  After that initial contact you should have a feel for the various companies, their ethos, timelines, and whether or not they’d be a good fit for your project.

Generally, my recommendation is to get bids from 3 contractors. Getting 3 bids allows you to make an informed decision on project costs and timelines. Plans get distributed to the contractors at the same time they are initially submitted to the city or county – the plans submitted to the contractors are called a bid set. A good and thorough contractor will take about three weeks to turn a bid around to you. By this time you are close to getting your first round of comments back from the building department (and/or health department if you’re permitting a food use). Barring any substantial comments by the departments, you should have a pretty good idea of the project costs.

I see many franchisees that go with the cheapest bid. But, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Below are some other items in the bid to consider:

  • Timelines – if a project schedule isn’t provided in the bid, ask for one. Can one of the contractors get you to your opening date a few weeks earlier that the others? Quantify your projected weekly revenue and determine if there’s a decent return.
  • Weekend work – some construction companies work weekends or have provisions for weekend work in the event of weather delays or other unforeseen delays.
  • Dedicated workers on the project – will your project have a designated onsite super? Make sure there is someone to hold accountable if your timeline extends past the projected completion date.
  • Itemized vs lump sum bids – Some contractors will categorize items as ‘lump sum’ while others will categorize that same item as an ‘each’, ‘cubic foot’ or for whatever the situation calls. If you see ‘lump sum’ on one bid and ‘each’ on another, ask questions. There could be some hidden or padded costs in the lump sum designation.
  • Equipment Install – Many times a contractor’s bid will include installation of food service equipment. Be aware that your food service company will likely have a line item in their bid for this service as well. Don’t pay for it twice!