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Live! - Opinion

This article is an opinion piece and should be taken as such. It is highly likely to be biased, but either the article itself or the ensuing discussion will probably be entertaining. Live! takes no editorial line on opinion pieces.

Catering - gits!

Aug 14 2002 18:05
Mustafa Arif
Mustafa lets off steam after College catering's latest set of outrageous price increases.
The Sir Alexander Fleming Building - home of some of the most evil caterers known to mankind.

Like many souls at College I am often forced to use Imperial's outrageously over-priced and poor-quality catering outlets. One of the less obnoxious outlets was the Cafe in the Sir Alexander Felming (SAF) building foyer.

Supposedly for the use of medical staff and students the SAF cafe has proven very popular with many non-medics. It has, in particular, developed a repuation for its paninis - miniscule, unfilling pieces of toasted bread that some people consider to offer value for money. Now College catering have come up with a new wheeze to squeeze money out of students. They have not raised prices. Instead they have merely withdrawn all "special offers". These are the "special offers" that have been running since the cafe opened - and the mainstay of all sales!

So, take a panini - the most commonly bought thing in the cafe. Up until this week you could get one with a soft drink for £2.00 (which is what everyone used to get). Now that "special offer" has been withdraw. So, on top of your £1.80 for the panini you need to spend a bargain 50p on the drink - a total price increase of 15% (which is about four times the rate of inflation). Even worse is the deal with coffee. £1 used to get you a coffee and either a doughnut or pack of freshly-baked cookies (which is almost reasonable priced). Now because this long-running "special offer" has been discontinued, its 70p for the coffee and 60p (ten times what Tesco would charge you...) for the fricking doughnut. That's an outrageous 30% price increase!!

I (unfortunately) happen to be sitting next to a Mr Oliver Pell. Mr Pedant himself believes that College catering makes a £100,000 annual loss (which if Oliver thinks is true, probably is). Apparently this includes the takings from the Southside bar, Holland Club and function catering - so one can only imagine how much money they lose on lunchtime catering.

Why are they so rubbish?? Their food is (mostly) junk. It's overpriced. If their making a loss their either incompetent or getting ripped off by their suppliers (or both). Many other Colleges around London have much better quality catering at lower prices. (In particular the Royal College of Art has a very nice cafe that seems to serve most IC people than artists.) How do they manage this? Simple. They OUTSOURCE.

In completely unrelated developments a new EPOS system has been fitted in QT (the snack bar serving stale sandwiches in the JCR). They are now asking people to provide their swipe card for, well, swiping. Apparently if you don't have your swipe card you still don't get charged the VAT, so why are they doing this? Presumably to collect marketing information. But why? What could they possbily do with it? I can't imagine them putting beer and nappies together in QT's. (Well maybe in the Holland Club...) And anyway, I bet they've forgotten to register this new system under the data protection act.

Why do we put up with this level of incompetence? A couple of decades ago the students actually boycotted College catering to force through improvements in quality. Frankly there's more chance of hell freezing then there is of a similar "campaign" being orchestrated by students at Imperial today.


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Discussion about “Catering - gits!”

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.
Aug 15 2002 10:55

Now this is something that LIVE! should start a petition about!

2. Nick   
Aug 15 2002 11:19

Well, you got to admit that the cookies in the bms are good.....

Cookies.... Mmmmm.....

3. Sam   
Aug 15 2002 11:31

Show IC card, get 10% discount.

Panini+Drink = ?2.30

Less 10% Discount = ?2.07

Old Price = ?2.00

Price Rise = ?0.07

% change = 3.5%

(or roughly inflation)

summary, they are not screwing IC residents, they are just screwing everyone else.

Aug 15 2002 11:38

Hmmm. A perennial problem this. We* considered outsourcing the Union Catering operations (calm down, Mustafa), but at the end ofthe day, we felt that no external company would come near Imperial College, London, with such huge catering losses across the board in a million years.

That said, I've never seen the attraction in the BMS cafe. It's all generic stuff, with unfriendly staff. I don't think it will be long before the Rector outsources all non-essential (i.e. non-academic) services so that he can cut his administration overheads.

* by we, I do not imply that this was official Union policy, or that any member of Union staff either supported or spoke against such a scheme...

5. k*   
Aug 15 2002 11:39

Except that the BMS doesn't have the new swipey card system thingy, so you are still going to have to pay ?2.30 for your rank pannini and can of drink.

So we ARE still being screwed :oP

Aug 15 2002 15:20

Yup, the food sucks all over in college from the cheesed up paninis to the the dull crap in the SCR and MDH. The nearest place besises the RCA to college which has food with taste is the sandwich shop. Any other places someone knows?

Aug 15 2002 15:25


I would just like to point out that my rant was about the College's lunchtime catering services - not function catering. College catering does an excellent job at functions and C&GCU have found them to be very helpful, co-operative and good value for money in organising events in recent years.

There you go Oliver, I hope your meeting with the Head of College Catering tomorrow to discuss the Imperial Engineers' Freshers' Ball goes well :-)


Aug 15 2002 16:16

I've never had a decent meal in IC. If your hungry and have a few pennies to spend, you can always eat at the Oriental Canteen, good scran at a reasonable price, and the (in)famous Bosphorus charge shy of 3 squid for a lamburger, which is 1. a damn sight more filling than a pannini and 2. Halal, an issue of a fair few students at IC. If you're really strapped for cash, as most of usually are, the sandwich shop does cheap deals after 4pm.

All in all, just don't eat in college. If we vote with our feet they'll have to sort something out. having said that the cookies in SAF are good.

Aug 15 2002 16:47

The ECCO Pizza shop with ?3/freshly made pizza in Gloucestor road isn't bad either but that's a bit of a trek from college.

Aug 15 2002 19:34

The ECCO ?3 pizza's taste of cardboard. Basic's used to be much better - until it was bastardised into the new "southside shop".

Dig out an extra ?1 and go to Ask Pizza (in the Gloucester Rd station promenade instead).

Aug 15 2002 19:37

While we're on the subject. Basics was the only College catering outlet that was any good. Why did they shut it down???

Aug 15 2002 20:06

I believe they shut down Basics cause it was making far too much profit.


13. Dan L   
Aug 15 2002 21:03

I am sure Southside shop makes loads of money considering the price it charges for stuff!

Aug 15 2002 22:15

Basics was okay for spuds, pasta and the like but as I recall, its were the pizzas that tasted like cardboard.

I think Sanela (showing my age here, really shouldn't look at this website anymore) did some kind of 'market research' on Basics for a management course - can't recall the results being very favourable.

Preferred to make pizza myself anyway...

Aug 15 2002 22:23

I hope this thread doesn't devolve into an argument about pizza (actually I wouldn't mind it) but:

Basic's pizza's were terrible (especially the vegetarian selection) and ECCO (which bizzarely is now ICCO) makes the greatest cheap pizza in the area!

Mustafa, how dare you insult my cheapo restaurant of choice!

Aug 16 2002 11:06

ECCO - pizza quality not too bad, in itself, but ridiculously thin with extremely low density of toppings.

Basics - reasonable pizza (provided you get it fresh out of the microwave...). Vegetarian selection good. Only people with disfigured taste buds ever diskliked.

Aug 16 2002 11:06

They changed the format of Basics because the vast majority of sales were take-away - the sit-down restaurant portion was a waste of space. Plus, southside shop was small, cramped, out of the way and - you guessed it - making a loss! So they combined the profit-making portion of Basics with the southside shop. I quite like it now, but that's mainly because they do those lovely chicken wings.

Aug 16 2002 11:07

Rob - you really are showing your age. No doubt you'll be mentioning Ruben next... But you still have nothing on Heeps.

Aug 16 2002 11:08

Oops! Forgot to mention that Basics was indeed making a loss pre-makeover - IIRC it was approx ?100,000 per year (this is probably the figure Oliver Pell was quoting as the total loss for College Catering).

Aug 16 2002 11:09

Yes, I too have been informed that Mr Pell was mistaken. (Shocking in itself.) The total catering loss was allegedly ?200,000. Outrageous! Outsource the lot of them!

Aug 16 2002 11:14

In defence of my integrity, I never expressed any particular confidence in the ?100k figure, only mentioned that it was something I'd heard "somewhere" once.

Aug 16 2002 11:23

What, Pell mistaken! Off with his head I say..

Back on the Pizza theme:

ECCO : Proper Italian pizza (i.e thin crust), made in an oven. But they have gone a bit more expensive now.

BASICS : This was the best place to eat in college when they had the tables set up and the Pizza wasn't bad.

23. John   
Aug 16 2002 13:00

ECCO- Has nice pizzas and gorgeous staff- shame the whole place is made of metal.

Did a bit of a study of this one. 10pm-6am it's Lords for the samosas, 6am sandwich shop for best bacon sandwich in London, but only half decent coffee place is starbucks :( but they don't mind you eating sandwich shop food first thing.

Best upmarket place for coffee, cake & sandwiches: Esquires (not open till later but you can smoke). Best to wait until 2pm to get rid of queues and get sandwich shop chicken tikka mayo baguette and walk to esquires eating. oo, and the french sandwich place in Palace Gate is pretty good for a treat.

BTW, finally lost the weight I gained at Felix making this study! Reckon I could sue Burger King...

24. enrico   
Aug 18 2002 19:04

Funny to see u people arguing about PIZZA as if you know what a good PIZZA really taste like!

Basic pizza is just good to soak up alcohol

ECCO attempt to good quality pizza is honorable but vane.

I support Oriental Canteen as best quality food around college! (Until some Chinese guy tells me better).

Nobody mentioned ICU!!! Never tried PIZZA there but u can get good quality Chili con carne on potato?s skin for ?1.50 + quite good baguettes range (still not as cheap as the Sandwich shop in Gloucester RD)

solution: Holiday to Naple (plus u get a tan)


25. Sunil   
Aug 20 2002 23:56

Oriental Canteen has not got much for vegetarians.

Most absurdly overpriced grub near college: The prize must go to the cafe in the Goethe Institut on Exhibition Road.

Best food near college is in Jakob's deli on Gloucester Road. Great dishes, salads, sandwiches and fresh bread (Ciabatta and others) out of this world. And real friendly service. Bit expensive but well worth it.

Aug 21 2002 18:23

Cor, we are motivated by ICL catering aren't we?!

Basics was okay when things were fresh, but you would always find an overcooked black potato or a very crusty pizza (with crusty toppings)... urg!

MDH catering was just silly with their 33p for a sausage, 7p for this 88p for the other. Even more fun when you could hide a hash brown under the fried bread :) the death stare either made you own up or just say you yourself "f the college"...

Still, I could talk about such other South Kensingtom delight as the Paper Tiger (each as many onions as you can: hong kong style onion, sweet and sour onion, fried spare onion, onion soup, onion fried rice... I'll try to forget about the false finger nail I found attached to my spicy fried onion wing...)

Why not just get Marks and Spencer to do your convenience food - charge em rent and that's you sorted.

Now I remember it, Basics used to serve an excellent Kosher pork curry and similarly the SCR a fine vegan lamb chilli and rice...

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