University

Grumbles about coffee and food

Expensive muffins and small cups

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Students and staff are complaining about the prices charged in the cafeterias by new catering company Beijk: these are higher, while the food portions are smaller. Last year, the university promised the prices would stay ‘practically the same’.
By Thereza Langeler / Photo by Marre Meijerink / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

‘The excellent salad bar at the Bernoulliborg had small salads for EUR 2.30 and large ones for three. Now the small one costs EUR 3 and the large one is EUR 5. I think I’ll start bringing my own lunch to work’, someone commented on the UK’s Facebook page.

Someone else remarked that the price of a sausage roll went from EUR 1.65 to EUR 2.25, and a frikandel roll went from EUR 1.80 to EUR 2.25 as well. People are also complaining about the muffins: the RUG charged EUR 1.50 for them, while Beijk charges EUR 2.25.

‘A can of coke was only 85 cents, now they’re charging us EUR 1.10 for coke with sugar and one euro for coke with artificial sweetener’, someone complained. One Bernoullliborg visitor says that a cup of tea there is now EUR 1.80, when it used to cost only eighty cents. Another complaint that keeps recurring: the price of coffee (EUR 1.10) has stayed the same, but the drink now comes in a smaller cup.

Even the rewards cards, which give people a free cup after they’ve bought eight, aren’t enough to dull the blow. ‘We used to get eleven full cups for ten euros, and now we only get nine, less full cups, for EUR 8.80. Percentage-wise, that’s more than even inflation can account for…’ one person wrote.

Last university

Starting this January, all RUG restaurants and coffee bars are operated by catering company Beijk, from Leek. Until then, the RUG was the last Dutch university to operate its own cafeterias. But staff and students’ desires had changed to such an extent that the university was unable to meet their demands, the services department says. And so they hired an external catering company.

A new look, a different product range, sustainable, healthy, the RUG said of the upgrade the cafeterias would undergo. In November, the services department told the UK that people would not have to pay more: ‘We know that especially students are frugal, so the prices will stay much the same.’ Catering company Beijk said the same at the time.

But the complaints started rolling in as soon as the very first week. Dissatisfied customers mainly note that the products have become much more expensive, while the portions have become smaller. At the RUG Food & Drinks Facebook page, one person wrote: ‘I can’t afford a lunch for EUR 5.50 as a student. The whole point of the university restaurant should be that it’s cheap, so students can grab a quick lunch in between their lectures. Unfortunately, I have to say I’m not coming back unless you bring back the old prices.’ Ever since Beijk took over, the Food & Drinks page has been flooded with complaints.

Coffee and muffins

Cafeteria employees can confirm the changes. ’The product line as a whole has clearly become more expensive’, says Henk Criens, who works at the cafeteria in the Nijenborgh at Zernike. He regularly overhears students remarking on it, especially on the price of coffee and muffins.

On Tuesday, Gabriella Dobos, a student from Sweden, even launched a petition to showcase the students’ dissatisfaction. ’All my friends have been talking about the new cafeterias, but I never heard anyone say anything positive’, she explains. ‘The prices were already quite high for most students’ liking, and an increase just doesn’t help.’

Dobos is personally affronted by the disappearance of a discount on soup or coffee if you bring your own mug. ‘Instead, they have introduced more disposable cups and bowls. This, to me, posed the biggest controversy for a university that claims to be sustainable.’

Basic range

So what’s the deal? It depends on which products you’re comparing, the RUG’s services department says. ‘During our tendering process, we told all interested parties that they needed to have a basic range, with accessible prices’, Jaap Rademaker with Food & Drinks says. ‘This range is currently available across all our locations.’

Rademaker drew up an overview of the Beijk prices versus the RUG prices, which you can find here. Looking at ‘basic range’, (such as cheese slices, packs of butter, slices of bread, soup), it’s clear that these currently cost the same, or even less. The earlier announcement about ‘prices staying practically the same’ was actually in reference to these products, Rademaker emphasises.

But articles such as soda, muffins, fried food, and candy, have clearly become more expensive. This was a conscious decision, Rademaker explains. ‘The idea was to raise the prices on the unhealthy products.’

Luxury range

But this does not explain away all price increases: why, for instance, has tea become more expensive? Why are the pre-made sandwiches more expensive? Why are the (fruit) salads more expensive? ‘In addition to the basic range, Beijk also offers a luxury range’, Rademaker explains. ‘And that does mean there have been some price hikes. The sandwiches that we sold at EUR 2.95, they sell for three euros.’ It makes for a difficult comparison, he says. ‘Some of the products they sell are simply different, or consist of different ingredients.’

All in all, it does mean that people pay more in the new cafeterias. The services department and Beijk have caught on to the fact that students and staff are unhappy with this. This week, they started offering sandwiches that are in between the basic and luxury ranges. ‘But they still come with fancy toppings, such as Brie or steak tartare.’

Beijk has also listened to the complaints about the salad bars. Salads will again be served in their former containers rather than plastic cups, and the EUR 5 salad will disappear. Instead, they will offer a small salad for EUR 2.50. And the cappuccino cups will also get bigger again. ’The way customers see it, a smaller cup means they get less’, according to Rademaker.

To the brim

The size of the regular, EUR 1.10 coffee cups, however, will not change. The current cups, which hold 180 millilitres, are a common size, says Rademaker. The former RUG cups, which held 200 millilitres, were extra large. ‘But the amount of coffee you get is barely less than before’, he adds, ‘because the RUG cups were never filled to the brim.’

It’s also a matter of perception, Food & Drinks says. ‘People who have bought their sandwich at EUR 2.95 for years can perceive the new price of three euros as an extreme shock. But if you truly compare the prices to each other, they’re not all that different. I guess it’s all about what you make of it. I don’t think a nickel is all that much more expensive.’

Rademaker says the prices that Beijk charges are in conformity with the market, something the RUG prices hadn’t been for quite a while. ‘We were purchasing products at much too high a price. We hadn’t charged for inflation for quite a while, since we were banking on the fact that a commercial company was going to take over soon anyway. But a catering company can’t do that. They have to earn a living.’

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