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Catering contract corners students

Campus catering limited to Carillon

By Libby Mueller, Senior Staff Writer

For student organizations catering an event at Armstrong Student Center (ASC), Shriver Center, Marcum Center or Goggin Ice Arena, there is only one permitted option for catering services: Carillon Catering.

Senior Allie Engelhart, who oversaw an event hosted soon after the completion of construction on ASC, said she learned this the hard way.

The team who planned the event was surprised to discover after they had catered the event using Jimmy John's that using a caterer other than Carillon was strictly prohibited.

"We brought food in Jimmy John's because it was right in our budget," Engelhart said. "[ASC staff] saw the Jimmy John's and said, 'You can't bring this in.' They handed us a bill at the end of the event and [another PSE member] and I went in to have a meeting to find out they were charging us for the microphones, most of which didn't work, and the projector. We had a fine for our food too."

According to Eric Yung, director of Catering and Special Events at Carillon, the reason Carillon is the exclusive caterer for four buildings on campus is a foodservice license they have obtained through Butler County. The process for licensing Carillon included extensive health inspections and liability insurance. If an outside caterer were to provide food at one of the four locations on campus where Carillon is the exclusive caterer, Carillon would in effect be held liable if something were to go wrong.

"That's part of the licensing," Yung said. "Even if we sat back and let somebody else set up and serve food out of those locations, then Carillon would technically be responsible for the product that they're serving. From a control and liability standpoint, that's something that can't happen. I can't say we would relinquish control of the health permit."

According to Engelhart, the most frustrating part of the experience was the fact the catering charges were not communicated prior to the event.

"We weren't invoiced before the event happened and we didn't receive any sort of notice that we would be paying for these resources," Engelhart said. "We were able to lower the fine for the microphones since some of them didn't work, but for food they said that's a strict fine. They said it was clearly stated. When I looked back at the many emails that were sent, there was an email with size eight font that said student organizations can't bring in outside food."

Project manager for the speech competition Franklin Popek said when his team was in the process of planning the event, they did look at Carillon Catering, but the prices were too high compared to Uptown options.

"I did call Carillon Catering when I was planning," Popek said. "The cost was over $1,000 and Jimmy John's was $300. We had a $2,000 operating budget and were looking for ways to save. It's sad that we're not allowed to do what's best for our organization."

Yung said Carillon recognized student organizations are often on a budget and developed a special menu designed specifically for them.

"I understand money is always an issue and a concern," Yung said. "We're very conscious of how much money student organizations have to spend and we work with them. We put together a few years ago a completely separate menu for student organizations. It's a very budget-conscious sort of menu."

In addition to the student-friendly menu, Yung said Carillon offers other options to reduce the cost of catering a student event.

"One of the things we do is offer up products through our 'Direct To You' delivery service so that if students are willing to provide a little bit of labor on their own, for instance pulling food out of the hot carts and serving it up at buffets, that cuts down their cost on labor," Yung said. "What others do is call one of our planners and tell them the amount of people and the budget and ask if they can put together a menu for them. Our planners are able to get creative and do that for them."

At other locations on campus, outside caterers can be brought in if they obtain a temporary license to cook and serve food on site. If they are a delivery service like Jimmy John's that serves pre-made food, they are able to deliver their product without a license.

Engelhart said although she does not know enough to know whether Carillon's exclusivity with ASC, Goggin, Marcum and Shriver is beneficial in the long run to the university and students, she does wish communication would improve between ASC and student organizations planning events there.

"I'm sure the administration chose to make Carillon the sole caterer for a reason and I don't have enough information to judge whether that's an effective policy or not," Engelhart said. "But I think ASC needs to be extremely explicit up front with what they need from student organizations prior to the event. I also hope Carillon develops a menu that's conducive to students and allows them to be able to cater what they need for an event but not at an astronomical price."