Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Why I am not a Guild Associate Member

In March, responding to an all-staff email from the University of Western Australia Guild President, Tom Antoniazzi, I wrote:

Dear Tom:

Thank you for the invitation to become a Guild Associate Member. I would very much like to support the UWA Student Guild to make UWA the best. However, I must decline your kind invitation as, unfortunately, over the last 33 years (!) I have never had a positive experience with Guild Catering; the quality of the coffee is poor, and the food is below average. And I am unlikely to make that much use of the other discounted services offered.

By way of comparison, I am a regular visitor to other campuses—in 2009-2010 I visited Curtin, Woolongong, Newcastle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney Universities—and on all these campuses I could find good food and excellent coffee. The reason is simple: these Universities have permitted franchises to run the food and drink outlets on campus. And each of these franchises survives or not depending on their quality and price.

I realise that the Guild wants to provide on-campus discounts to students, and I support this endeavour. However, a single monolithic organisation, such as Guild Catering, cannot provide the same quality or range as a collection of franchises. The cost of franchises is, I suspect, much less than that of running Guild Catering, and the Guild would benefit from the franchise fees. And the price to students is likely to be no more than it is presently. But the quality would go up, enticing students to stay on campus. The Guild could try to control pricing, but this is unlikely to be required as students would vote with their feet anyway.

Like a large number of students, I get my coffee from Neds, Barretts, or Rocket Fuel, and I buy lunch from the food stalls at Broadway Fair, or one of the many excellent cafes along Broadway or Hampden Road. I was at Broadway Fair today and I estimate that more than 500 students would have purchased their lunch from one of stalls there. Wouldn't it be preferable to have these students eat on campus?

I received no response from Tom. Then, in the May 24-30 issue of the Western Suburbs Weekly, there was the an article by Nick Brant titled Lack of food options leaves a bad taste. It is worth quoting this article in full:

University of WA students will not see a change in the type of catering on campus despite recent criticism of food prices. The Student ‍Guild regulates food outlets on campus. Law Arts student Anthony Spagnolo said the ‍Guild‍’‍s policy allowed them to increase the price of food whenever they wanted. “The ‍Guild‍’‍s food policy hurts students because the ‍Guild can set the prices at whatever they want and what they’ve done with that power is raise prices whenever they need extra cash,” Mr Spagnolo said. “I think the Student ‍Guild should start to allow other types of food besides ‍Guild food to be sold on campus to compete with the ‍Guild outlets.”

Student ‍Guild president Tom Antoniazzi said students had supported Guild-owned cafes for years. “Deregulation would mean the students would lose choices and student money would be going into large, multinational fast food chains and not back to students,” Mr Antoniazzi said. “It allows us to invest the money that we spend back into important student representation, like welfare support, advocacy and representation.”

But Mr Spagnolo said in the past, the ‍Guild had been able to invest in the student body through other sources of income. “Services are important for students but they can fund those services with their traditional sources of revenue,” he said.

Students have not supported Guild-owned cafes for years. They just didn't have other choices. Now they do. And, clearly, deregulation would mean increased choice. The Guild should re-visit this issue before more students vote with their feet and move off campus.

Disclosure: the author is an employee of the University, and the views expressed are those of the author and not those of the University.

8 comments:

  1. For the 3.5 years I have been a Business School student at UWA, I have never been impressed once with the standard and the prices of the food at the Guild Village, The Tav, Reid Library or Hackett Hall. I do acknowledge they have tried to improve things with the Biz School and Sci Lib cafes but it doesn't go anywhere near good enough (An exception applies to the rocky road slice though).

    The many times I've been to either Curtin or Murdoch and eaten the food there makes me wonder how come the best university in the state cannot have the best facilities, catering included? As long the Guild has complete control over the catering, we will not see any improvements whatsoever and rather spend our extremely hard earned dollars at Broadway Fair, La Galette de France, Chili's or G-Fun. Lift your game!

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  2. Oh Paul Abbott, if only you realised how much of a hero you are on Facebook right now. This post is getting linked like no tomorrow...

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  3. Paul, you are a hero among suffering UWA students for pointing this out.

    I still have to do honours here before I can leave, and I dread the thought of having to spend another year suffering the costs and quality of guild food, or the inconvenience of having to walk too far to get at best decent food.

    The science library cafe is a joke. Organic food is a concept which spits in the face of all the scientific progress made in agriculture over the decades. Moreover, the "science" cafe stocks 'biodynamic' drinks. A quick look at the Wikipedia page for 'biodynamic agriculture' yields...

    "Weeds are combated (besides the usual mechanical methods) by collecting seeds from the weeds and burning them above a wooden flame that was kindled by the weeds. The ashes from the seeds are then spread on the fields, then lightly sprayed with the clear urine of a sterile cow (the urine should be exposed to the full moon for six hours), this is intended to block the influence from the full moon on the particular weed and make it infertile."

    And, more offensively...

    "these [biodynamic agricultural] preparations transferred supernatural terrestrial and cosmic "forces" into the soil."

    What is a university with a heavy science research focus doing selling products (at the science library no less) associated with such nonsense?

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  4. Good on you Paul, I've spent time on several other campuses, namely Murdoch and Curtin, they have franchised food courts, and they provide good food at decent prices.

    I am quite disappointed with the lack of franchised food outlets on UWAs campus and the resultant lower quality of food, which results in my friends and I eating at Broadway Fair quite often.

    As far as I see, there is no practical benefit for not having food franchises on campus.

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  5. Can you imagine being able to get a good coffee & cake at the Reid library coffee shop? Wow!

    I don't want to be over critical of the guild catering. Considering there is no competition on campus, they do an ok job. But they try to be all things to all people, and do none of it well. Compare this to Barrett's, where you get bread, sweet pastries, pre-made rolls, coffee. No pies, toasted sandwiches, curries, etc. Just stick to what they do well.

    There are enough eateries on campus to allow specialisation and excellence.

    BTW, the take-away salads at Ned's are fantastic (and good value for money), but you need to get there before they run out.

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  6. The Guild correspondence with Rocket Fuel is most interesting: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=220368667982552&set=a.220368664649219.61272.220087174677368&type=1&ref=nf

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  7. The independent coffee outlet the Guild launched has been a resounding success this year:

    http://uwa-guild.tumblr.com/post/30304558532/this-years-council-was-the-first-ever-to

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