The reopening of the restaurant in the Minnaert building in 2017. Photo: Hans van Leeuwen

Seven UU restaurants to disappear around summer 2020

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Utrecht University is closing seven of its nineteen restaurants. Two of the city centre restaurants will close, one on the international campus, and four in the Science Park. “There are more locations than we can make a profit at.”

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The locations will close in the summer of next year at the latest. The canteens closing in De Uithof are spread throughout the campus. At Veterinary Medicine, the canteen in the Androclus building will close. In the Science corner, the recently renovated restaurant in the Minnaert building. Goliath, in the David de Wied building, will also close. And the small kiosk in the Administration building will once again disappear.

In the city centre, the restaurants closing are the restaurant at the Janskerkhof in the Faculty of Law building, and the small food place next to Lodewijk in the University Library. On the International Campus, one of the two dining options of the Dining Hall will close – the university has opted to keep Jazzmans (in Dutch, ed) open.

There are several reasons that led to a thorough analysis of the university’s food facilities, says Merijn Smelt of the Facilty Service Centre. “We’ve asked employees and students in workshops what kind of facilities they want, and what they expect of restaurants. We also want to become more sustainable, lead by example in that aspect. We’ve also looked at the finances from the viewpoint of the new housing plan. Finally, we’ll have to look for a new caterer in a few months, because our current contract with Sodexo is nearing its end (in Dutch, ed.).”

“Analyses we’ve done, have shown that there are too many locations,” Smelt says. “There are more locations than there’s money to be earned. To remain attractive to caterers, we’ll have to change. Discussions with caterers show that at the moment, we’re not an attractive partner.”

A caterer has to be able to innovate, Smelt says. “This is possible in the Educatorium, but you can’t implement innovations in the same way at small locations.” Customers also want change, he says. “The workshops with employees and students show that they often feel the food offer in restaurants is too broad. Sometimes, they don’t understand the menu: ‘Why would a plastic-wrapped slice of cheese be right next to lavish sandwiches?’ we heard someone ask. Those who eat in a company restaurant, want something special. We can take a cheese sandwich to work from home, they say.”

The fragmentation also doesn’t contribute to an optimal business model. “Some restaurants are doing well, but no caterer is eager to run a small location that serves only coffee or a cup of soup and a hard-boiled egg,” he says.

The plan is to give caterers in the upcoming tender more freedom. “At the moment, Sodexo has to comply with a long list of requirements. It has to offer certain basic products, for instance, and the menu has to be fairly similar at different locations. We want to give the caterer more freedom to align the menu with what employees and students at a certain location want.”

Smelt is expecting some disappointed reactions from employees and students. “The kiosk in the Administration Building has been closed before, but reopened at the request of employees. Unfortunately, keeping it open is no longer feasible.” And larger numbers of students and employees will have to go to smaller restaurants, which might cause some grumbling, Smelt thinks. At Veterinary Medicine, for example, the Androclus restaurant will close, while the smaller Madame Jeannette will remain open. The same is true for the Minnaert building, where the large canteen will close, while Jazzmans remains. “But the kiosk in the Koningsberger building will remain open, as will the larger restaurant in the Vening Meinesz building.”

Smelt doesn’t think the closing of two establishments in the city centre will cause a lot of unrest. “The most-sold product in the Janskerkhof restaurant is coffee. That’s not something you have to keep your restaurant open for. Plus, Lodewijk will remain open, and there are plenty of places in the city centre near the university buildings where you can go for food and drinks. When the renovation of Achter St Pieter 200 is completed, there’ll also be a restaurant there.”

What will happen to the freed-up space isn’t known yet. “In some buildings, the restaurant space will be used for meetings. That remains a possibility.”

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