Cafeterias and restaurants are prominent on college campuses. The largest university cafeteria designed for use by staff, students and visitors is generally the most visited component of a university. It is also a place where students and faculty can take their visitors for a quick coffee break or a lunchtime visit. A well-designed central cafeteria, perhaps housed in the student centre, contributes to the functional efficiency of the university. Because here lunchtime can be combined with a visit to the bank, post office and bookshop together with a friendly exchange of words with colleagues, fellow students, visitors, staff and lecturers who may be visiting the same building in the same time. Universities where such centers are not common would do well to plan for it on their campuses.
As mentioned, the ideal location for a university’s central cafeteria is the student center. The student center building containing the cafeteria, together with the administration building, can easily be conceived as the two largest buildings on a university campus due to their central and essential functions. Both of these buildings must be accessible by academic departments as well as by outsiders and vehicles. Therefore, their location in the university in conjunction with the parking lots and the university avenue must be incorporated into the master plan. The best location for a student center on a campus is close to the administration building but towards the student housing area. It must also be close to University Boulevard and the visitors’ parking lot. The building should be surrounded by lawns and gardens containing benches for seating.
The university canteen has to be spacious not only because of the high number of visitors, but also because ideally the distance between the tables should be much greater than in a normal restaurant. Students often use these tables to read or complete an assignment along with a snack, lunch or dinner. The acoustic design of a university canteen should be such as to minimize the noise level. Using non-reflective wall coverings and providing sections of the café that can be open to their surroundings during peak times takes care of this need. Music can never be allowed inside a university cafeteria for the same reason. Other soundproofed sections of the student center may be designed to allow for music.
It can be said that a university canteen needs to serve nutritious food at subsidized rates. Its main clients are students, who earn no members of society. Two different models of management of these canteens prevail. In the first, the university awards a contract to a private restaurateur. In the second, the university runs its own catering department and manages the canteen by hiring the required staff. Both models have inherent limitations. When services are contracted out to a private restaurateur, they gain a secure and bonded clientele without having to face open market competition. This can, and often does, lead to deterioration in the quality of food and service. Although the contracts are for limited periods of time, university food contractors tend to stick around for various reasons.
On the other hand, when a university runs its own canteen, we end up with a similar problem to what state-owned enterprises face. Staff secure in employment but indifferent to profits can lead to an expensive establishment providing poor service. A new solution to the problem is to provide a series of small kitchens – five or six – instead of just one large one. These kitchens are then rented out to separate caterers or restaurants serving different types of food. The maintenance and cleaning of the premises as well as billing are entrusted to personnel hired by the University. A common biller charges the appropriate amounts for food from several meters. The practice is to provide a plastic tray and cutlery at the entrance to the food bank enclosure. After the desired foods have been procured in the corral, a customer proceeds to billing in much the same way as billing in a supermarket. The billing of food products is done at the exit of this enclosure. Billing done on a computer easily segregates and divides the proceeds among the different restaurateurs. A separate counter for hot and cold drinks (requiring minimal effort to prepare) is kept under the direct control of the university department. The resulting profits help maintain the cafeteria.
A clause in the contract with the restaurateurs ensures that the restaurateur with the fewest cumulative sales (i.e. the least popular) will not have their contract renewed in the following year. Poor restaurateurs thus last a year, while a good one can stay in university forever. This system introduces competition between restaurateurs and provides for constant improvement. The best of restaurateurs can be sure of long contracts, while the poor would quickly change. The fact that the university supplies space, cutlery, services and part of the staff to manage the canteen automatically introduces a subsidy measure which can translate into lower costs. In this competitive system, the university does not need to control costs as an expensive catering service will generally not be popular with students. Some basic rules must be specified in this food court, such as the number of items each restaurateur can prepare.
A campus without a good cafeteria is barren.