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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 25. 25th September 1974

The Cafe Peril

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The Cafe Peril

Last Wednesday morning, two senior inspectors from the Health Department paid a surprise visit to the University cafeteria. They checked carefully through the downstairs kitchen and the middle floor restaurant studying the general standard of hygiene. Then they threatened to close them both down immediately. Eventually, they were persuaded to come back at 10 o'clock the next morning, to give the caterers a chance to improve the place. All afternoon and Wednesday night, catering and cleaning staff worked to clean up the kitchens, and they were able to stay open the next day.

Graham Jordan, the catering manager probably knew such a visit was coming, yet very few students had any idea of the real condition of the cafeteria. Practically no information has come from the executive, who employ the catering staff. The only mention of the cafeteria in SRC minutes concerned the recent food price rises. Jordan was even reluctant to let the news of the threatened closing-down be made public.

The questions the executive must answer are: how did the cafeteria reach its present condition, why weren't students kept properly informed of this, and what will the executive do about it?

To make the present situation clearer it's worthwhile going into the history of the cafeteria's downfall.

The running of all catering facilities is the responsibility of the Union Management Committee through their catering sub-committee. This is chaired ex-officio by the studass president, and includes the managing secretary Byron Buick-Constable, the catering manager, Graham Jordan, and a majority of student members.

Photo of students cleaning the student union kitchen

Students cleaning up the down-stairs kitchen.

Photo of student cleaning the student union kitchen ceiling

Graham Jordan cleaning up his mess. Wednesday morning.

This year, the frequent meetings of the committee have been preoccupied with the fact that the university catering facilities have been incurring an ever-increasing overall loss, amounting to about $20,000 in the first six months.

This money has to come out of the Building Fund, and is therefore hampering the building of new student amenities such as the gym extension. It is not necessary to run an essential service like the cafeteria at a profit, but a loss as large as this is far more than the students' association can afford.

The loss is accounted for on a superficial level by the 50% drop in overall turnover from catering since 1972. The committee blames this drop partly on a mysterious "change in student eating habits". There is a little truth in this attitude however, since it appears more students live at home or prefer to spend a little more and run down town to a pub for lunch.

Buick-Constable's solution has been to continually cut-back staff and services. Early in the year he employed 18 full-time staff. This has now been reduced to seven. The coffee bar has been closed down indefinitely, the cafeteria has stopped selling hot food and drinks, and the restaurant has reduced its opening hours.

Yet these measures have not been effective in reducing the losses. Fewer and fewer students are now regularly eating in the cafeteria or the restaurant. The complaints book is full of objections to prices and quality of the food, and the general condition of the place. These complaints have been levelled at the cafeteria for years, and there seems no way round them. But Jordan's belt-tightening measures seem to have heightened the problem. The recent cleaning crisis is another result of the cutbacks since the smaller number of staff have not had time for proper cleaning.

Jordan himself works\hard, (60-80 hours a week) to keep the service operating, but the staff shortage at the beginning of the year meant he was forced to spend much of his time on ordinary cleaning and cooking duties. He could not pay enough attention to the administration, and consequently did not have a clear idea of cafeteria finances. The size of the loss was only determined in the last few months when cut-backs came too late to be effective.

Byron Buick-Constable had ordered these changes without being sufficiently aware of the staff situation. However, next year he seems prepared to spend a larger proportion of the union budget — half of which comes from the university and half from the students' association — on the catering services.

For years, student meals have been produced at a loss. Lately the loss has been too great to be covered by profits from the shop and outside catering. The only solution is for a fund to be made available, perhaps a subsidy from student fees, to enable major changes in the equipment, design, and organisation of catering facilities.