Student catering: How the university has adapted


Charlotte Lear speaks with the Catering and Hospitality team here at York to find out how the University has been supporting students this term

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Image by @uoyeatshopdrink

By Charlotte Lear

Undoubtedly, this autumn term has been difficult for both students and staff alike. With so many students continuously in and out of isolation, paired with increasingly severe government restrictions, the student support system has been more important than ever. York Commercial Services providing free food and added catering support has been akin to opening a box of Celebrations and finding that the ones left are not just boring Bountys.

Over social media and in-person, the staff behind the University of York’s Eat, Shop and Drink branch have been going the extra mile in supporting students through uncertain times. With free food hampers and breakfast sandwiches, competitions and sustainability incentives, they have shown that students are not alone in the struggle to navigate the murky waters of a winter lockdown.

I spoke to the Deputy of Catering and Hospitality, Arnaud Rustan, and Catering Support Manager, Stacy Gatfield to gather more information about what they have been up to over the term...

Beginning with the first lockdown, Arnaud and Stacy both made a point that due to uncertainty and imposed restrictions it was hard to keep any food outlets open; luckily Deliveroo was on hand to aid the transition. They said, “we looked at other ways of being able to still deliver a service. Deliveroo was a great platform for us, and although we had a lot of orders from students, we had a lot from the public as well. We were very busy during the first lockdown, supporting the NHS by packing lunches, delivering surplus food for staff and supporting local food banks. We kept our teams very busy!”

On the relaxation of lockdown, they said, “we had a lot to consider. We expected that the demand on campus would be less than normal, therefore we worked on reducing our menus in order to reduce waste but still provide the campus favourites.” This also had an impact on the way in which they ensured a Covid-secure environment, stating that, “we had to ensure that all staff received new training so they were able to serve customers at a safe social distance, whilst also social distancing with other staff. We spent a lot of time ensuring we had the correct signs and systems in place in our outlets so that it was easy for students and staff to follow whilst still making the experience enjoyable.”

When asked about how they supported students through self-isolation they said, “We very much had to adapt, and quickly! We started off just ensuring the students who stayed on campus for the first lockdown were still getting their catered accommodation meals.” This evolved as time went on as, “we then realised we could provide this as a service to all students, with the meal packages. We also wanted to offer a range of options, and this is when the Nisa team got involved to offer the lunch meal-deal package. These packages were only available to isolating and quarantining students, so we wanted to ensure we were still able to offer something to all students. This is when we teamed up with Uber Eats to offer Nisa food deliveries to all of campus.”

Their outreach was incredibly expansive and favourable reviews were flying in: “we saw a lot of engagement with students and parents on twitter, thanking us for offering the food packages”. Due to this social media response they were allowed to evolve this process as “we also saw a student saying they were going to donate any of their surplus food to a local food bank. We then explored the option of making this easy for them, and encouraging others to do the same. Very quickly we had four food-donation points, and most of them have been filled! We will be donating the items to YourCafe, a local community café committed to tackling food waste.”

The spurt in demand for new and easy student recipes, due to not being able to eat-out, inspired the team to support students through easy at-home ways to enjoy food. They said that, “before we introduced the goodie bags, we wanted to give students something to do whilst in isolation. We decided to create UoY Chef Hacks, a channel where our executive head chef shares his favourite, easy recipes. The recipes range from chocolate cake in a microwave, to a vegan curry. We also ensured that all ingredients for the dishes can be bought from the Nisa stores on campus, making it even easier for students to recreate their own!”

Most recently, borne out of the second lockdown, the team established a campaign with the hashtag #UoYLockdownLoot which has been a huge success in cheering students up, as we can see from the social media response. About this they said, “The original request came straight from the vice-chancellor, Charlie Jeffery. The University is committed to making sure that students are able to enjoy campus life, and it’s clear that it has been a lot harder for students this year due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic, so we wanted to look for ways to keep students entertained during the second lockdown. York Commercial Services is a subsidiary company, responsible for looking after the commercial services on campus and so we teamed-up to pull together goodie bags full of items we could get from our Nisa Stores, Merchandise Store, our Design and Print department and the Catering outlets. We are also working closely with the colleges to provide a Christmas-themed goodie bag next week. It’s been great to see the reaction of students and we hope it has made the second lockdown just a little bit better!”

A significant consequence of the pandemic has been an increase in the demand for single-use products, which is understandable with regards to hygiene and safety. York Commercial Services and the University have taken significant steps in recent years to adhere to a greener ethos across their services, so I asked them how they have had to adapt. They said: “we are still offering YorCup and bring-your-own cup, but by using a contactless coffee service we can deliver this in a Covid-secure way. Sales of YorCup have declined but this was expected due to campus being a lot quieter this year, and with most of our outlets being forced to close. For example, we’ve sold 63 cups from the start of term to 19 November, whereas we sold 805 YorCups in the same period last year.

Single-use cup recycling bins have been brought in to help offset the environmental impact due to the increase in single use hot drink cups. Cups are then recycled to make other products such as notebooks etc. These bins were purchased using money from the latte levy. We did plan to purchase these, but we did it much quicker than planned in order to offset the increase in single-use plastic caused by Covid-19.

We are hoping to reintroduce 'bring your own container' in the new term for catered and college meal students wishing to take their meals away, and we are currently exploring the best Covid Secure way in which to do this.”