Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Association. Volume 40, Number 3. March 14, 1977.
The cafe at the moment is directly run by the Students Association. Up til 1973 we sublet it to outside caterers on a contract basis and look a fixed percentage of the turnover. Thus any losses it made were no concern of the Association (generally, except in 1973, the private caterers had made a profit anyway).
However in 1974 we took over direct running of the cafe, employing our own catering manager. From then on any losses it made were on the shoulders of the Association. But it's important to realise that the cafe has never been subsidized. This means that it has always been budgeted to be a self supporting business. Otherwise it would have been too much a drain on Students Association funds.
When in fact it made a loss; $20,000 in 1975 that grew to an accumulated loss of $50,000 by July 1976, the Students Association had to pay it off and thus in effect subsidized the cafe. The money was borrowed from the university. This was done because there was no other way of getting round the problem, but after July last year everybody was determined that the cafe should not lose money like that again. After rigorous control the cafe made a loss of only $4000 for the second half of the year.
Why is the Cafe so Uneconomic?
All the losses have been on student meals, while the shop and the cafeteria's outside catering business have always made a profit. In the past (before 1971) the outside catering turnover was lucrative enough to subsidize the student meals but since then changing economic conditions have made this impossible. Another factor is that because of its limited facilities (such as no lift) the Union catering service is at a disadvantage when competing with downtown caterers.
Particular reasons for the big losses last year were poor costing (poor being sold at less than cost price) and food being made on the premises. Pies, cakes, sandwiches and rolls were all made at the cafeteria, and thus their quality was ensured, but the high amount of labour involved made them uneconomic.
This year a business manager has been employed to keep a strict eye on the turnover and ensure correct pricing, and cakes and pies are being bought wholesale (this means their quality can't be ensured, but also that the cafe doesn't lose so much money on them).
One other problem that has particularly plagued the cafe is difficulty in getting staff. It employs 7 full tim staff (Business manager, cafering manager, 3 full-time counter hands, 2 full time kitchen hands) and a large number of part-timers including many students.
As the Union Manager Nofo Falealili told me, the first problem is getting these staff. The cafe only employs them from February to November, so it's understandable people are reluctant to work with no guaranteed future. And many of the students leave at the busiest times of year because these are also the busiest study times (and that's understandable also).
The present number of staff is a bare minimum. They just manage to cover the hours 8a.m. to 6.30 p.m., but sometimes there is only one person there, so it's sailing pretty close to the wind. More part-time and less full-time staff could be employed but logistically this would be very difficult.
This does not mean these problems are insurmountable and Nofo told me they are determined to make the cafe break even, but they are the kind of things the Union Mangement Committee and its catering sub-committee are faced with.
There have been quite a few complaints about the price of food. I don't think these are justified. I think they are comparable with any of the prices downtown, and given the way the cafe is run this is all that can be expected. The sandwiches selling at 18c for example cost 14c to make (depending on filling) and the rest is allowed for wastage (mainly sandwiches not sold).
The 6% general wage order could soon put these prices up further.
There have also been complaints about the quality of the food, particularly the pies. Well as from last Friday, different pies are being sold, hopefully of better quality.