Students
Salad bar in a UG canteen. Photo by Zuzana Ľudviková

Expensive, low quality, poor variety

Beijk bites

Salad bar in a UG canteen. Photo by Zuzana Ľudviková
The university’s canteens are too expensive, don’t offer enough variety, and the quality of the food leaves a lot to be desired, a survey by UKrant distributed among students and staff reveals. Only the Food Court at Zernike gets a thumbs up.
8 June om 12:21 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 8 June 2022
om 13:27 uur.
June 8 at 12:21 PM.
Last modified on June 8, 2022
at 13:27 PM.

Door David Vorbau

8 June om 12:21 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 8 June 2022
om 13:27 uur.

By David Vorbau

June 8 at 12:21 PM.
Last modified on June 8, 2022
at 13:27 PM.

David Vorbau

‘A greasy snack for lunch every day, is that what the UG stands for?’

‘The company that runs the canteen should be told to step up its game or just leave the job to someone else who can handle it.’

Four years ago, a UKrant poll showed that 40 percent of students would rather have lunch elsewhere and half of them avoided the canteens altogether. Now, a new survey distributed among 725 students and staff members shows that the academic community in Groningen is still unhappy with the services that Beijk Catering has been providing for the university since 2018. 

Out of all respondents, 30 percent only eat at the canteens a few times a month. Another 30 percent just a few times a year. They say prices are too high, there aren’t enough healthy choices or vegan options and the canteens are still not international-friendly. 

The vast majority of students and staff prefer to get their lunch at the supermarket or bring lunch from home, even though having lunch is the most important reason people go to the canteens at all. Almost 90 percent say they use the canteen to have lunch. Socialising or relaxing is much less important. Only 13 percent use the space to study. 

High prices

Prices are named as the main problem. Both students and staff grade those with a devastating 4 and for 82 percent of respondents they’re the reason they don’t use the UG canteens. 

‘I can’t believe a simple panini that would cost fifty cents to make at home is four euros’, comments a student. Another asks: ‘Isn’t the whole point of eating at uni canteens for students to save money?’

It doesn’t have to be that way, some of them note. In countries such as Germany, university canteens are subsidised by the government and offer complete lunches for only a few euros. But even in the Netherlands, there are universities that do better. ‘As a direct comparison, Erasmus University in Rotterdam offers excellent meals at their canteen for under six euros’, one respondent says. 

Another refers to Leiden. ‘They offer whole lunches for three to four euros, as opposed to the UG with four to five euros for a sandwich.’

Grading of price

Not enough choice

However, pricing is not the only grievance. The choice of foods is disappointing to 50 percent of the respondents – students and staff members alike. They grade it a 4.8 out of 10. 

The lack of vegan and vegetarian options is especially frowned upon. ‘I find it bizarre that canteens almost only sell products with meat and/or cheese’, a student comments. Allergens are not listed and gluten-free meals are scarce, too. ‘And little consideration has been given to other diets’, another says.

The lack of healthy options is a concern too. ‘The snacks that are sold are outdated, at a university that preaches healthy ageing.’ Respondents crave ‘real’ meals, they say. ‘The UG has to realise that not everyone is fine with sandwiches for lunch and many need proper food’, says one of them. That could be curries, or pasta with fresh ingredients. 

Processed food

Tim van Zutphen, programme manager Health & Food at the UMCG, says they have a point there. He, too, feels that the canteen food should be healthier. ‘If you want to be a healthy university, canteens are a place where you can control that.’

Currently, what’s mostly on offer are sandwiches and deep-fried snacks. Especially the large supply of processed food worries him. ‘The more processed the food, the less healthy it is. There’s a lot of saturated fat and salt. All the vitamins are gone.’

The UG, as a ‘healthy ageing university’, should lead by example, he says. That would mean more fresh food, as it has the elements which are important for our health. ‘Salads should be offered in the front and the fried stuff in the back.’   

The needs of internationals should also be taken into account more. ‘Different cultures have different times and portion sizes for eating. So if you would like to accommodate that, we should offer complete meals in the canteens.’

Especially internationals feel the canteens’ opening times are extremely limiting and illogical: they miss breakfast and dining opportunities. They’d also like to be able to pay with cash. ‘You can only use a Dutch card, Visa, or Maestro, which I find super disrespectful towards new and international students’, a student says.

Grading of quality

Sustainability

And then there’s the issue of sustainability. Even though Beijk promised to be a more sustainable caterer to the university in 2018, respondents feel there is too much disposable packaging, especially when it comes to smoothies or sandwiches, where there used to be real plates and soup bowls and stainless steel cutlery ten years ago. This doesn’t fit a university that is aiming for a ‘green’ image, they say. 

Why not encourage people to bring their own reusable containers, one respondent asks. Why not pay more attention to animal welfare or deliver organic products for these high prices? 

The quality of what’s on offer isn’t great either, students and staff feel. They grade it a 5.7. ‘Truly dramatic,’ says one of them. 45 percent avoid the canteens because of this. ‘Low-quality food for way too much money.’

‘The sandwiches are, most of the time, pretty disappointing. Too expensive for what you get,’ says Carlyn, who eats her lunch at the Harmonie building with her two friends Ghazi and Nara. 

The three arts, media, and culture students chose soups and paninis. ‘We study here, so it’s easy’, Carlyn says. For sandwiches, Ghazi prefers to go to the supermarket. ‘I only come here for the soups, they are good and cheap.’ 

Food Court

Approximately three kilometres away, Dominic, Hans, and Selina are having a different experience. They’re eating burgers and wraps at the Food Court at Zernike, which consists of a collection of independent caterers from the city. ‘Restaurant level food for half the price’, rejoices Hans, maths and physics student. ‘More relaxed atmosphere, greater variety of food, and a much better price-to-quality ratio than at the normal canteens’, astronomy student Dominic says as he leans back into the lounge bench. 

Survey participants agree with them, even though prices there tend to be slightly higher than those of Beijk. ‘The food on offer in the new food court in Zernike is excellent, and you notice that hardly anyone buys food at the regular canteens anymore’, says one respondent. One staff member is withering in their judgement: ‘The caterer has a terrible concept. Fortunately, some external businesses are able to provide food in the food court, which makes up for it.’ ‘The food court at Zernike is an example of how it can be good, tasty, and fun’, another believes. 

Friendly staff

It’s not all bad news, though. Students and staff like the atmosphere and setting of the canteens, grading those with a 6.6. They like the decorations and lay-out of the rooms. Their cleanliness is appreciated, as is the friendliness of the staff members and the good service they provide. ‘The chef in our canteen is the loveliest person ever’, a student comments. 

But many respondents think it’s a shame that the UG canteens aren’t doing better, since they have so much potential. They shared their experiences at universities elsewhere, where canteens are the prime hangout spot for students. As one respondent put it: ‘Normally, everybody tends to go to the canteen when they study at university.’

How to make things better? 

  • ‘Employ students. They are willing to work late and are also more flexible.’
  • ‘Make days with themed food. Every Monday can be the veggie day. Every Tuesday international day, one week German Schnitzel, the next week burritos.’
  • ‘Adopt the ‘mess hall’ mentality. Just one or two menus a day, in a clearly defined schedule. Menus that are easy to do in bulk, good quality, and very cheap for students.’
  • ‘Undo privatisation’

EDITOR’S NOTE: UKrant asked the university and Beijk to respond a day before this article was published, but both parties said they’d need more time to prepare a statement.

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