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Live! - News

Commercial Services Chaos

Jan 24 2007 18:57
The Dark Knight
Live!'s discussion has seen an explosive thread on the state of the Union's bars. Live! investigates some of the issues with commercial services.
da Vinci's Bar

Many Live! readers will have seen the arguments about the bar in a different Live! discussion thread, but the problems with the Union's commercial services go deeper than that. Union publications are restricted by the staff-student protocol, but Live! is able to discuss the performance of the division as a whole.

Bar Restructuring

Those who frequent the Union's watering holes will have noticed a complete change in the staff and in some cases a drop in the level of service. The Union's Commercial Services division decided that the time was right to perform a restructuring, in order to improve the performance of the division. As reported in August, this led to a post of Trading Manager being created, which was eventually filled in November after the other restructuring had taken place.

A key part of the restructuring was the EPOS system, installed to improve stock control and service speed. As a consequence it was decided that the roles of the bar managers needed reviewing, as they would not be required to perform as much work with EPOS keeping track of things.

The ultimate result was members of staff in the bars and catering being offered a pay cut, redundancy, or transfer to other roles. Under employment law a consultation period took place, during which Live! was unable to report anything except what could be gleaned from information in the public domain. The three bar managers and the catering manager opted to take redundancy and have since left the Union.

Casual Staff Concerns

Student bar staff, as casual staff, have few rights under employment law and were excluded from the consultation. Live! has heard many criticisms of the way it was handled, with casual staff left out in the cold, struggling to find information on how the restructuring would affect them and their colleagues.

When the bar managers took redundancy casual staff loyal to them also left, leading to a shortage of staff which saw Sabbatical Officers pulling pints in the bar. The "family" atmosphere of the bar disintegrated, with the new trading manager left to pick up the pieces when he arrived.

With so many new staff being trained service levels appear to have taken a dive, with poorly pulled or under-filled pints still common. Training is still taking place so this looks set to improve in time.


The new EPOS tills

The new EPOS system, hurriedly installed before the start of the year, has proven problematic - it is prone to crashing, does not talk to the credit card machine correctly (amounts must be entered by hand) and there are reported problems with transactions being lost when the cash register is open.

The whole system appears to have been poorly thought out, with no communication between the systems on either side of the building. The central server cost several times more than the "low hundreds" the executive committee was originally told it would cost and is not backed up. It is also believed that the system is unlikely to be compatible with a College move to cashless smartcard payments, as the costs of making it compatible with both Union and College systems would be too high.

The Deputy President (Finance & Services) was unable to comment on much of the content in this article, but has stated that he was "not made aware of some deviations in the cost of the EPOS system from those [he] presented to the Executive Committee".


The period just before the start of the year was described as the "best time" to install the new EPOS system, with the next opportunity being over Easter. However, shortly after the Union committed money from the Beit redevelopment - rather than trading profits - to EPOS, a restructuring was announced. The question to be asked is: was the EPOS implementation rushed in order to push through a restructuring this year, or was it a natural consequence of the new system? The system has been described as full of bugs and the Sabbatical Officers have also been critical of it after their stints in the bar. One Live! source commented that the system was designed for a shop, not for a bar.

Service levels are expected to improve as the casual staff become more experienced, with bugs in the EPOS system also due to be fixed. Moving to electronic sales and stock control is undoubtedly a good thing in the long run, however the manner of its introduction had a lot of room for improvement and perhaps more careful thought.


The online regalia shop - you too can buy an Imperial College Weather Station

While the bars are making good profits, the Union's retail side is having financial problems. The walkway shop lost over £7,000 last year and the online regalia shop is faring even worse. Thought to have cost around £22,000 to develop, the online regalia shop has had £26,000 of stock written off over the last few years, having been sat around in storage since the launch in 2003. The write-offs also attracted criticism from the Union's auditors.

The amount seemingly thrown away on the online shop is almost the same as NUS affiliation - indeed, with affiliation set to drop next year the cost is about the same.

As these losses are an operational issue for the Commercial Services division, the Deputy President (Finance & Services) felt unable to comment on them.

In Conclusion

There have been many changes recently, so it is a difficult time for many people involved. Positive things are afoot however, with the introduction of chips under the new trading manager and a new wine list, including better house wines, in the pipeline. A permanent (and hence cheaper) ale is set to be introduced in the near future. The atmosphere behind the bar is said to be good, with a better working relationship between the Sabbatical Officers and the management.

The retail side is still a concern, with the walkway shop making an effective loss - the online regalia shop in particular looks like a liability.

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Discussion about “Commercial Services Chaos”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Jan 24 2007 19:51

Any ideas as to which ale they're going to have on permanently?

2. jess   
Jan 24 2007 20:29

the reason john couldn't do chips effectively before is because there is a planning permission issue with getting a vent from a deep fat fryer in the catering area in da vincis. the new product may be a result of the chips being cooked upstairs. we always wanted chips. chips chips. i'm going to email stuart about toast now. cheers.

3. jess   
Jan 24 2007 20:37

i forgot to agree that the epos system is a good idea for stock control, in the end, but from my experiences was difficult to use, the touch screens didnt seem tough enough for a bar (they're going to get JD on them and break, mark my words) and on one of them the drawer doesn't close properly, because of how it sits on the bar. and they're top heavy, and likely to fall off the surface when the cash drawers are opened when a bit full of change. not practical!!! oh, and the whole thing runs on windows which any imperial geek will tell you is a bit shoddy.

ie, i dont think they were very well thought out.

the original idea was to have them set into the bottom bar but it was going to cost too much to cut the bar to make them fit, and from my experience (we all know i have loads) in the bar, p***ed up students would have poured snakebite over them in about 30 seconds past opening.

if we had not affiliated to the NUS i would have suggested that the ale would have been a youngs ale, as that is what is supposed to be put through the pumps, as they supplied them. however now i am not so sure as its likely that with the NUS came a supply change... they have a trading agreement to get cheap alcohol (we used to have one with TUCO to get ours so cheap)

any questions?

Jan 24 2007 22:44

I'm not going to get too involved in this debate as I have promised Felix that I would write a comment for them in a few weeks time.

Quick factual point though - even though we are joining NUS, we have chosen not to join NUSSL so we are staying with TUCO.

Jan 25 2007 00:39

I can't make specific remarks about EPOS and union bars, I've never worked for bars and I've never used the system the union has, just the IBM system used within college.

All new systems, EPOS or otherwise will be 'difficult' to use when they are introduced especially for established staff. I don't mean any offence to Jess or anyone else but I just think for the point of debate it should be taken into account that in general you are always more satisfied with the system you started with.. As for the units being top heavy that is a simple issue to solve for any practical person with a few screws and brackets.

As for not withstanding JD, it may be nasty to say this but with the current postition the only way that would happen would be a clutz behind the bar because it would actually be quite an accomplishment for a punter to accidently spill any liquid on the units.

I will support all previous Catering managers however because it was always my understanding that ventilation prevented heavy frying and therefore it is the redevelopment rather than the recent restructuring that is allowing chip frying.

6. jess   
Jan 25 2007 02:32

actually [email protected] i'm a bit of a gadget freak, i love new stuff. i was looking forward to epos tills, i've used one in my previous jobs at a bar and a restaurant and they worked well. but its been implemented wrong at the union, and the tills arent up to the day-to-day of the bar, in my opinion.

everyone, at some point, becomes a klutz at one time or another, especially at 0:45 when you have been working since 16:45 and there are still 50 drunk students hassling you for whatever it is that is still on offer. accidents happen behind the bar, things get spilled and although simon spent a lot of time reorganising the optics so they were not hanging directly over the brand spanking new tills, someone, at some point is going to either spill something accidentally or have the "clever" idea of moving the till to clean behind it and forget to move it back. and it will get stuff on it. and it will break.

them being top heavy may be easy to solve but has anyone done anything about it yet? (apart from me sticking stuff underneath to stop them moving forwards so much before i left, which i think has been removed now...)

7. jess   
Jan 25 2007 02:35

oh, and with the new info from john, i would hazard a guess that the new perma-ale would be a youngs bitter, its pretty much the cheapest available on the tuco agreement (hence it being ale of choice for the chaps, 22s, links dinners and RSM bar nights) and would probably be even cheaper if bought in larger volumes. however it isnt very nice ;)

Jan 25 2007 09:22

Being a fomer IC student I have considered buying regalia from the Union Shop online (mine from the "good old days" is now a bit worn") however I have noticed how expensive it is. Maybe if the prices were more realistic more items would be purchased?

Jan 25 2007 10:26

"It is also believed that the system is unlikely to be compatible with a College move to cashless smartcard payments, as the costs of making it compatible with both Union and College systems would be too high."

"Ms Bedford stated that Hit Solution can interface with the potential cashless system the college is planning to adapt." - Executive Minutes (

ummm interesting....

Also I believe the stock write off for the online shop is £26K for this year and £13K for the previous year which is nearly £40K

Jan 25 2007 10:59

The executive committee were told it was likely to be compatible, however college seem to think it will cost too much for them to have a system compatible with the union's tills - we've seen some interesting documents.

11. mez   
Jan 25 2007 14:36

£40k...... wow thats a lot of money to be 'throwing away'.

in a totally separate question:

who was in charge of losing that?

*treading the SSP line carefully*

Jan 25 2007 14:48

It's all under commercial services - the shop is the retail arm.

Looking at might help answer your question, but of course it can't be answered here.

Failing that, drop an email to John Collins ([email protected]).

13. jess   
Jan 25 2007 16:49

the house wines were great before, by the way.

for cooking, that is

Jan 25 2007 17:24

The pervasiveness of free mulled wine over christmas was not a co-incidence!

Jan 25 2007 19:19

When you inhale just before you sip mulled wine, it should not makes your eyes water and irritate your mucus membranes.

That said, it was free.

Jan 25 2007 21:48

A funny story: On the first day of one of the new bar manager, I ordered a snakebite no black and got a carlsberg with blackcurrant! I look forward to the speedy training of the casual staff by this new 'experienced' managers.

17. jess   
Jan 26 2007 01:18

of course a real snakebite should be made with old rosie and lowie pils, none of that weak carlsthorn s**t they get out of the taps in that bar ;)

18. Sam   
Jan 26 2007 23:18

Back in the days when I felt like punishing my liver in that manner, the above combination of Old Rosie and Lowie (or Staropramen if you were in Southside) was called a Black Mamba, on the basis that it's bite was absolutely lethal.

Do people actually like the taste of that stuff?

19. jess   
Jan 27 2007 00:53

i know some people who did...

it makes this really interesting sediment, apparently its the best bit

20. Jon   
Jan 27 2007 10:50

Interesting choice not to use the same system as the college then... The epos tills in Southside/Harringtons are very resiliant to having spirits spilt on them, and have nice big buttons.

21. ?-=   
Jan 31 2007 22:52

I've been in the union newsagent before when the tills have been "rebooting" - seems to take ages. Will the bar have the same problems and close for 5 minutes every now and again?

22. mez   
Feb 04 2007 12:18

The bar did, still does and will continue to have those problems with crashing and rebooting.

Thankfully it is quite easy to reboot by double clicking on the icon at the center of the desktop. Your last drinks order is lost, but not the whole days takings. Which is a relief.

Thats the machine's fault, nothing to do with staff or managers. Absolutely nothing they can do about it. Write to [email protected]$ to complain.

It is just a little embarassing and awkward when you have to tell the customer that the till has crashed. Unless you have an absolute asshole for a customer, then they usually smile and laugh about it.

More thought should have been put into buying the tills in the first place instead of lumbering the new managers and 'relatively ' new bar staff with them. But oh well, s**t happens. Dodgy intel leads to wars in Iraq.

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