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Catering system reviewed – ideas invited

Catering system reviewed – ideas invited

Photographer:Fotograaf: Observant at the Food for Thought Roadshows

MAASTRICHT. What is Maastricht University's catering going to look like in the future? Will  there be lots of small and large university restaurants, will local businesses be given an opportunity, will you still be able to buy a ' kroket ' or will the selection be purely vegetarian or even vegan; these types of questions were asked in a series of meetings with students and members of staff over the past year.

These meetings, called Roadshows Food for Thought, were organised with the aim of giving the UM audience its own say this time. In the past, it was the university that set up a number of demands for the caterer to meet, the contract was put up for public tender and resulted in a long-term contract with a - usually large - catering company. Albron is such a company, operating in a large number of educational institutes. But the average student or employee played hardly any role in the process. The (soon to leave) director of Facility Services (FS), Erwin Kuil, decided last year that this needed to change. Another reason was that client satisfaction about Albron had been under par for a very long time; it wasn’t until this had improved that it was decided to extend the contract with Albron until the end of 2020. But we now need to think about what to do after that.

Kuil and other responsible decided to approach things differently: from the bottom up, take stock of what people in the faculties and service departments want, then see if you can make that happen. At the roadshows - there have now been eight at different locations within the UM - the question was completely open: give us all your wishes regarding catering. A university restaurant in your building? A greater selection of healthy food? Cheaper sandwiches? Only vegetarian or vegan? With a turnout of nearly thirty participants each time, divided equally among students and staff, the stock-taking has not been completed yet, says contract manager Mark Anneveldt. We will hold a number of short public meetings in October allowing anybody from the UM to come and speak in more detail with the members of the ‘Food and Beverage Project Group’ about their wishes. The first one is on 8 October at the city centre university library. Anneveldt refers to it as narrowing down to specifics. Because if we are only going to offer sustainably produced and healthy food, or only top-quality coffee, then it might become more expensive. Is that what you want?

The question is also whether everything is possible. No, says Anneveldt, there are always restrictions. There is a lot of legislation regarding food and there are likely to be financial limitations too. Anneveldt: “That depends on the UM's policy. Are they prepared to subsidise, like in Germany, where universities heavily subsidise meals? That money then doesn't go to education or research. Should the result be to break even, should we make a profit? The latter is the case at the moment.”

So not everything is possible? No, he thinks that subsidies like in Germany are not an option. Nor will there be a restaurant in every building. Another wish that was expressed regularly was to have more local small businesses that could offer customers a varied selection. Because not every faculty has the same preferences. “That is certainly possible,” says Anneveldt, “the University of Amsterdam has a system like that. To streamline such an option and not have numerous contracts to arrange, an overall party in the form of a ‘managing agent’ would have to be set up. This could be a company like Albron, it could also be done by the university itself.”

Small businesses have a greater chance because of the new tendering law that favours the big businesses less. And it is also possible that we don't have to put out a public tender, as FS director Kuil recently speculated in the project’s steering committee. You could make spaces available free of charge and choose the business for that space.

One thing is clear; we are not there yet. The project group is going to visit institutes and businesses in the Netherlands and abroad in the coming months to check out how they have organised things. After all, you don't need to reinvent the wheel and we still have a year before a potential tender should be put out. 

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