UM looking for a new caterer in 2020
MAASTRICHT. The contract with Maastricht University’s current caterer Albron will expire in 2020. A new tendering process would usually involve project teams and steering groups, but this time Facility Services want to take a different approach. The entire university community will get to have its say during ‘roadshows’, and Observant will be permitted to sit in on all meetings.
Late last year, Facility Services (FS) director Erwin Kuil approached Observant with a proposal. The university needed to hire a new catering service, he said, and FS wanted to tackle the tender differently this time. Find out what users really want, and redesign the catering accordingly. More local suppliers? Different products? More cafeterias? A tailored solution for every location? Everything is up for negotiation. The first step, Kuil went on, would be to gauge opinions throughout the institution by mean of ‘roadshows’ for the faculties and service centres. Was Observant interested in tagging along during the Food and Beverage Procurement project? Full transparency would be guaranteed (except when there are clearly commercial interests at stake) and we would be free to do what we wanted with it.
The answer was a resounding yes. How often do you get the chance to observe such a process up close, to look behind the scenes and publish whatever you want about it? A tender like this is not small fry: it involves contracts worth several million euros, and it goes to the very heart of UM’s image and appeal. Because nothing – nothing – is subject to complaint as much as the coffee or the price of sandwiches.
And so two editors attended the first roadshow, the meetings of the project group that preceded it and the meetings thereafter. And we will continue to do so, and to report on the process in this newspaper.
30 January, School of Business and Economics. The project team is busy preparing the first roadshow. Around midday, they will install themselves somewhere in the law faculty, which has the honour of being visited first, armed with flipcharts, pens, post-its, bar tables and of course lunch. The plan is to lure people in with free food. “Are there vegetarian options?” asks student member Rob van der Horst. Project leader Mark Anneveldt quips: “No, we’re doing spare ribs.” He is kidding. Students and staff have been invited to the event via the newsletter, Facebook and posters hung in the faculties. The team wants them to think as far out of the box as possible. If they could pick anything at all, what would their ideal caterer look like? The reality check (is it affordable? Is it possible on location?) will come later, in the second round.
5 February, Faculty of Law. Downstairs, by the back entrance, a corner has been created with screens and bar tables. Anneveldt hangs up the programme for the afternoon; handwritten, in what verges on calligraphy. “My wife made it last night, she’s a teacher.” Participants trickle in, take a sandwich and cluster around the tables. The project team members spread out; each of them will lead one group.
At table 1 it is immediately clear that free food makes good bait. It was the main reason the students showed up today. But they also have a thing or two to say about the catering. Soon there is a lively discussion about how good the coffee really needs to be (“It’s about the caffeine, right?”) and how much one is willing to pay for it. Next door, table 2 is discussing how to nudge people to eat healthily, and whether attempting to do so is desirable at all. At the third table, there is grumbling about the banqueting – the provision of food and drinks for receptions and meetings – but much praise for the canteen at the drama academy: “Fresh and cheap.” A recurring theme is the desire for a more extensive eating area at the law faculty itself and options for hot meals, “or even just soup”. For that, law students currently have to leave the building.
Each group records all its points and at the end of the session hangs up the sheet of paper so everyone can read it. Now the participants can use post-its to highlight the points they find most important. This turns out to be enlightening. Although every group has come up with an idea involving sustainability, none of them make it into the top three. What does? Good value for money, a larger eating area and affordable healthy options, such as cheap fruit.
Two days later, during the evaluation, the project team looks back on a job well done. “I usually sit in a small office in Dub 30”, says senior purchasing officer Emiel Mulkens. “This got me out and about amongst the people.” “But two hours is too long”, says Gido Boere, facility manager for the inner city. Next time, they plan to make the discussions more focused. Some groups lingered on the same topic for too long, participants couldn’t help making comparisons with the current caterer, and not all ideas were written down. The team also needs to get a hold of the lecture schedule, Van der Horst says. “Because of that we missed a whole batch of students.”
Late February, SBE. The project group is meeting in a small downstairs room, the annex to Boere’s office. There is just enough room for five people. The participants’ laptops are squeezed onto the table; meetings here are paperless.
The first main item on the agenda is the rollout of more roadshows. Anneveldt gets the ball rolling: he and Gido “updated the facility managers yesterday and got them on board with the process.” A whole range of topics is discussed: who to invite, how to create support among the building managers so that a space can be made available, posters hung and so on. A series of dates are chosen, from April to June, for the roadshows in different locations. “When are the exams?” someone asks student member Rob van der Horst. All hands will be needed on deck to lead groups and help out. “The week before the first roadshow.” Boere winks: “Won’t you need a week to recover after your exams?” It’s fine, Van der Horst grins.
The week after that they are due to appear at the SBE, but Boere has a day at the Efteling theme park. “Change management, hospitality training, apparently they’re good at that there”, he laughs. Thursday instead of Tuesday, then. For Anneveldt, the penny drops: his diary says ‘Ascension Day’ in English. “Oh, is that Hemelvaartsdag? Thank you, I never knew what that was.”
At one point they were planning on holding a separate sustainability roadshow. Anneveldt: “Does it need to be separate? What are you going to acquire from that?” Acquire – it’s a word he uses often. Usually in the sense of acquiring information. It is decided that the topic will be adequately covered in the normal sessions, and they will also talk to the Green Office and the FS’s own sustainability adviser.
The agenda item ‘roadshow vending machines’ turns out to concern the coffee machines. They won’t be coming, but there is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed. They’re a hassle to use – tokens, complaints, they’re wedged in inconvenient corners – “and then you get coffee pads showing up all over the place.”
How do you feel about food?
This procurement campaign involves not only a project group that does the heavy lifting, but also a ‘steering group’ composed of people from somewhat higher echelons at UM. The two groups are yet to be acquainted. The date has been set and a few questions decided on for the introductions: ‘How do you feel about food?’ ‘What would put you on cloud nine when it comes to food at UM?’ The same questions that are asked at the roadshows.
The prosaic Anneveldt plays down the gravity of the situation: “We’ll sit there, go through the agenda, talk a bit – and hey presto, we’re acquainted.”
The agenda item ‘market consultation’ means checking out what the neighbours are doing: sister institutions and a number of companies and organisations. How do they go about a tendering process like this one, how do they organise their catering? Mulkens is the point man here: he either has the contacts already or will make them, and then visits will be arranged to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Twente, Eindhoven. And Hasselt and Aachen. “Doesn’t Utrecht have an interesting concept too? I acquired that from the literature”, Anneveldt says. Eventually they come up with a list of thirteen institutions, including companies – including Google. That was Boere’s suggestion. “Do we find Google interesting? Because we have an in.” He knows someone who works there. No, not in California, in Amsterdam. Anneveldt knows that people there “get good food for free. And the boss is Dutch.”
“It’s quite a list”, Anneveldt says.
Boere: “That’ll keep us out of mischief for a while.”
“There’ll be a new Student Project Team by then”, says student Van der Horst. “Do you want to keep me on?”
Boere chuckles. “We three will talk about that in a bit.”
Wammes Bos and Cleo Freriks
The main players, the members of the FS project group: first and foremost, project leader Mark Anneveldt. Leads the meetings with a firm hand and plenty of humour. Not averse to modern management jargon. Then there is Gido Boere, facility manager for the inner city, and Emiel Mulkens, senior purchasing officer responsible for tenders. And finally, Rob van der Horst, law student and deputy leader of the Student Project Team. After the summer he will be succeeded by another member of the SPT.