Viewport width =
April 28, 2008 | by  | in Features |
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Catering Chaos

A quick report into the future of food on campus

There are a lot of things more delicious than an overpriced tepid meat pie on a cold Wednesday afternoon. One would be a hot meat pie. Another would be a reasonably priced meat pie, at any temperature.

That’s a big ask. Finding a yummy morsel of lunch, at a reasonable price, with reasonable presentation is the holy grail of the hungry student consumer. Particularly so at this humble university.

Victoria University has several eateries and vittle repositories around campus. Yet none of them seem to come up to a standard worthy of the trendy, Cuba Street lurking hipsters that all Wellington youth inevitably become. We can’t get a decently priced and delicious latté. Nor can we get an inexpensive bowl of piping hot home made chicken soup, with toasted ciabatta on the side. It’s sad, and for the culinary elitists among us, it’s positively distasteful.

Surely an institution with over seventeen thousand regular hungry consumers would have seen it financially viable to provide eateries for the masses to spend money at.

The University has three primary caterers. The Eurest franchise a worldwide behemoth – run locally by the New Zealand Company KPR Catering – control No Meat Please, Vicky’s Bar and Café, and the Staff Club. The Sue family provide a large proportion of the rest, running Galleria, Orb and Uni Stop. Finally there is a smattering of private vendors: Pizza Napoli, The Kiosk in the Quad, and the Anglican Chaplaincy Café, which sells coffee and crumpets at the bottom of Kelburn parade.

So far, it sounds like a large and varied group of businesses and franchises operate here on campus. Brilliant. That should translate into friendly competition, ensuring cheaper prices and better services for students. It doesn’t.

It is undeniable that the food here is crap. There is little effort put into our lunches, the service is lousy and slow, the meals bland and banal and the presentation could give Mount Eden prison a run for its money. Students deserve better – but are currently are locked into this terrible system.

An obvious oligopoly is present between Eurest and the Sue family. The commercial catering situation appears to be working solely in the interests of parasitic companies and the students whom they purport to serve.

President Joel Cosgrove agrees. Like most students he views the food provided as despicable. He puts the market that we have at present down to economic laziness on behalf of the university. As well as the fact that the university doesn’t care about the slops that students receive. He points out that you never see Pat Walsh ordering a latté to go at the Mount Street Café. He deduces that the powers that be have no interest in student welfare and service provision; they just care about occupation rents for businesses. And from an economic sense, that’s fair enough. But the current system doesn’t have to be the only one. Victoria University is really lagging behind.

Other campuses around the country have far better facilities for student use, and Auckland, Canterbury and Lincoln have cafés provided in conjunction with their student associations. What a wonderful idea. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a great café serving student’s fare of a good quality – with a nice relaxed atmosphere.

Of course, if such a scheme was to be created here at Vic, we wouldn’t trust those in the exec to get their grubby mitts involved. They can’t even balance a budget as it is. Easy targets aside, the association, in conjunction with the VUWSA trust, has been successfully running Vic Books. This is run with VUWSA direction, but with an independent management structure and staff. The result is a great little store with 100 per cent recycling of profits for student use. There is a precedent here for well run student affiliated businesses.

“Hopefully, instead of packing up and shipping out, they change their business models — lowering prices, increasing quality, and paying more attention to service.”

Competing with Eurest and the Sue family is no easy feat. Would a VUWSA associated café be viable as a service? Joel thinks it could. He mentions the fact that unlike the commercial oligopolies present, a VUWSA affiliated café would have no profit motivation. Its focus would be meeting basic student requirements, which VUWSA would have more control over. Furthermore, like the current Vic Books arrangement, student money would stay on campus. It all sounds pretty tasty, a student café, run by experienced staffers with student direction. Yummy.

As well as Joel’s statements to Salient, grumblings have already been heard by the VUWSA executive. Our university’s catering facilities are becoming a running joke. Currently there are inquiries into the provision of food services to students as part of the development of the Campus Hub project. Joel supports this, and rightly mentions that the Campus Hub project has shown itself to be a professional initiative, moving from strength to strength.

But would the grand scheme actually be filling? The idea smells delicious, but is it half baked? Two problems arise. Firstly, Joel questions the political commitment that student politicians need to undertake. Arranging for a commercial company to operate in this fashion is a pretty major undertaking. There needs to be someone who stands behind the project and makes sure the damn thing is done properly. Student politicians are prone to resorting to bickering, flagrant wastage of student’s funds and tom-foolerly. It would be a shame to see an interesting project crushed under the weight of political egotism.

The new café would only work if it was separate from VUWSA’s political tendrils. It would need its own manager, who’d be responsible for staffing, supply and the day to day running of the premises. This is no mere bookstore-esque arrangement. Some serious logistical thought would need to be undertaken. And that’s a job that we can’t expect an already overworked VUWSA to be able to do effectively.

The term of student politicians is pretty short as it is, and by the time anything concrete is ready to roll, its election time and any sane student politician wants to get the fuck out of dodge. The Mainland cheese geezers say “good things take time.” And they do. Joel laments the fact that such a plan requires long term support – preferably from a two-term president, and we haven’t had one of those nut bars since 2000.

Secondly, VUWSA isn’t the only group who’d have to sign off the deal. There would need to be a placation of the current actors in the market, who’d kick up a stink about the threat to their business. The University would also need to be convinced of the efficacy of such a plan. But, Joel suggests that as long as the University gets their rent paid on time there shouldn’t be too many hassles.

The idea of a student café suggests that students would receive bargain priced food. Supposedly there would be groaning buffet tables of bounty, laden to breaking point with fabulous goodies from all corners of the realm. The reality is slightly more sobering. The new café would still be required to operate in a competitive market system. Whilst the profits are reinvested, the business would still need to stay afloat, and would need to balances its prices between student affordability and costs.

Eurest and the Sue family aren’t going anywhere. And they shouldn’t be. Half the point of subsidising a new entry into the market is to force these two groups to compete more actively. Hopefully, instead of packing up and shipping out, they change their business models – lowering prices, increasing quality, and paying more attention to service.

However, the high prices at our spartan eateries need to be reflected on globally. The current economic situation has put a great strain on bulk food prices. Even here in Godzone breadbasket we are not immune. Prices for basic goods have reached all time highs, and this has been evident in our produce and dairy industries. Butter prices – a good indication of New Zealand’s dairy driven export economy – have risen by eighty per cent. That’s an increase that caterers have to pass onto to consumers. To not do so would be business suicide.

So next time you are waiting in the labyrinth of confusion and claustrophobia that is the payment cue at Mount Street Bar and Café, reflect. The monopolisation of catering services at the University is diabolical. VUWSA realises there are major systemic problems, but like all political groups they can’t commit to addressing them, thanks to the large and lengthy process involved.

So we are left with two options, somehow wait for the University to break the current situation and wait for increased competition and variety – hoping to see many hands lighten the load. Or, push VUWSA to subsidise an entry into this stagnant market, and hope that too many cooks don’t spoil the broth.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

Comments (14)

Trackback URL / Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anthony says:

    I totally agree that the food choices around Victoria (Kelburn campus) are gruesome. I come from overseas and I am still puzzled about how you guys manage not to die of malnutrition. I suppose you all go home for lunch or bring your own?!

    I just had a curry lunch at that cafe in Kirk (no idea what it’s called) – it consisted of 3 tiny pieces of chicken in a large amount of awfully sweet curry sauce and some rice. $6 for a lunch that tastes like crap and leaves you hungrier than before is a sad joke. Needless to say that was my last visit there.

    Where can I get reasonable-sized portions and *healthy* food? Not the despicable crap that’s full of fat and sugar. So far, my impression is that the commercially-run food outlets around campus use the cheapest possible ingredients, selling meals at the highest possible prices with the sole aim of maximising their profits by ripping off students.

    I just hope VUWSA’s plans to change this situation will be a success.

  2. Shaun says:

    “And they do. Joel laments the fact that such a plan requires long term support – preferably from a two-term president”

    …Shameless plug?

  3. Shaun says:

    Oh also, the only thing I buy on campus are pump bottles when I lose my old one and those $1 bag of Nature Zone chips. Oh em gee are they good or what.

  4. “Where can I get reasonable-sized portions and *healthy* food?”

    The Krishnas do a $5 curry, salad and pudding lunch in the quad on tuesdays, thursdays and will soon extend to wednesdays. Personally I think it’s easily the best quality, and best value for money, on campus. But then I’m half-hippy so I’m biased.

  5. Anthony says:

    I agree with Tristan although I’m not calling myself a hippy. Good to hear they are extending to Wednesdays.

  6. As if id support another reign of the red terror. Tsk tsk Shaun, you should know better.

  7. EDIT: Tristan, the top paragraph of this article is missing! fix fix!

    /cracks whip

  8. damnnable web conversion software (must not smash computer must not smash computer)… chairs for the whipping

  9. matt the truck says:

    “The Krishnas do a $5 curry, salad and pudding lunch in the quad on tuesdays, thursdays and will soon extend to wednesdays. Personally I think it’s easily the best quality, and best value for money, on campus. But then I’m half-hippy so I’m biased.”

    Good maybe.. good on the capitalist hippies, however, what about student groups that sell food to raise money for their clubs. Would be a shame if the Krishnas got to sell food on too many days!

  10. Shaun says:

    Sorry Conrad, I actually should have stated that it was Joel going for the 2 year term and using your (column?) as advertisment, rather then stating it was you supporting it =p

  11. matt: “good on the capitalist hippies, however, what about student groups that sell food to raise money for their clubs. Would be a shame if the Krishnas got to sell food on too many days!”

    When the Krishnas have their stall in the quad it doesn’t prevent clubs from having stalls as well – sometimes there are fundraising sausage sizzles going on at the same time. However, if your point is that they’re effectively competing, then there may be cause for concern, and the answer would be to give the Krishnas an area where they can compete more against the overpriced cafe food than against other quad stalls. On the other hand, a $2 sausage sizzle is always going to be a different kettle of flesh from a $5 vegetarian curry and sides.

  12. Gibbon says:

    how about making your own fucking lunch you lazy bastards

  13. bisky risness says:

    “Student politicians are prone to resorting to bickering, flagrant wastage of student’s funds and tom-foolerly”.

    cue Shaun

    “…Shameless plug?”

  14. knobgobbler says:

    See my comment on Tristans food shortage article. Looks like the food suppliers on campus have beaten me to it. They just repackage the semen and charge exorbident rates for it.

Recent posts

  1. SWAT
  2. Ravished by the Living Embodiment of All Our University Woes
  3. New Zealand’s First Rainbow Crossing is Here (and Queer)
  4. Chloe Has a Yarn About Mental Health
  5. “Stick with Vic” Makes “Insulting” and “Upsetting” Comments
  6. Presidential Address
  7. Final Review
  8. Tears Fall, and Sea Levels Rise
  9. It’s Fall in my Heart
  10. Queer Coverage: Local, National, and International LGBTQIA+ News
Website-Cover-Photo7

Editor's Pick

This Ain’t a Scene it’s a Goddamned Arm Wrestle

: Interior – Industrial Soviet Beerhall – Night It was late November and cold as hell when I stumbled into the Zhiguli Beer Hall. I was in Moscow, about to take the trans-Mongolian rail line to Beijing, and after finding someone in my hostel who could speak English, had decided