Letter to the editor – Food services perspectives (TRUSU)

TRUSU and TRU share thoughts on the state of food services at the university

See also: Letter to the editor from TRU’s Glenn Read

Food options on campus are leaving students hungry for choice

When the Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union hosted its annual Student Budget Consultation last spring, students made it clear that food service on campus wasn’t good enough, and they told us why.

Students are hungry for better value, competitive prices, and quality food. For longer hours and a vibrant campus life. For dining options that range from quick coffees to class break snacks to sit-down meals. For variety in ethnic foods, dietary accommodations, and nutritional options. In short, we’re hungry for choice.

The lack of campus food choices is the result of a lack of campus food providers. The lack of providers is the result of a decision TRU has made – the decision to award multi-year food service contracts that give one company exclusive rights to sell to the whole campus![1] Each food service outlet on campus is operated by the same company – in many cases serving the same food items prepared in the same kitchens. If you aren’t satisfied, you can’t take your business elsewhere.

When you have few alternatives, the provider has little incentive to better meet your needs, even when concerns are raised. For example, when the last decade-long exclusive food contract expired in 2013, TRU hired a consultant to conduct a review. The criticisms they heard are familiar: overpriced, little variety, lacking meal options, limited hours, and poor cultural and dietary accommodations. TRU announced a new exclusive contract with promises to improve. Most of those promises have been broken. With multi-year, exclusive contracts, the only time a provider needs to respond to expectations is when they are bidding for the job.

The most effective and consistent way to better food service is to ditch our take-it-or-leave-it system and become empowered consumers with choice between competitors. Those competitors would need to strive to offer us the best menu on campus if we could vote with our wallets every day!

That’s why the Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union is launching the Hungry for Choice campaign to call on TRU to take immediate action to introduce competition to campus food services. We are looking for TRU to be innovative. There many ways to welcome independent providers with a daily stake in winning your business with bargain deals, quality food, and diverse menus. We have administrators, staff, and faculty with a wealth of experience and knowledge in service delivery, culinary arts, business, and tourism. We believe the possibilities are there.

Are you hungry for choice? Join the call. Sign the petition at trusu.ca, or visit us at the Hungry for Choice Food Truck Festival on Wednesday, September 21 at 6:00PM in the Campus Commons!

Michael Zaitlin
Student Caucus Chair
Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union

[1] The Students’ Union Building and Culinary Arts Building are the only exceptions