Bar none: most student bars will not open for freshers’ week, poll suggests

The majority of university catering teams will also be offering click-and-collect catering services next year

Most student bars might not reopen in time for freshers’ week, a new survey of university managers suggests.

The poll by The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) revealed that four in ten (41%) universities are planning to open 60% of campus bars in time for welcome week, but around the same proportion (37%) plan to open less than 20% of bars by September. Even by January 2021, only a half of universities expect to have reopened more than a half of their student bars.

TUCO is the professional membership body for in-house caterers operating in the higher and further education sector. There are currently 186 member organisations in the UK. Sixty-two universities responded to the survey.

TUCO members anticipate catering and bar sales to fall by 50% on average in 2020/21. In response to the anticipated drop in revenues next year, 86% will restrict their menu options and 40% will not operate any catered halls.

Autumn graduations could also be affected, with only 24% of universities planning to hold those events on-site.

After months of keeping campus re-opening plans under wraps, the TUCO poll sheds light on what senior leaders expect a campus experience to look like in the Covid era. Student bars are often the centre of many freshers’ events – particularly for universities based on out-of-town campuses – and many sector commentators have questioned what impact social distancing will have on all-important first week socialising.

The University of Nottingham welcomed its first students back to campus for face-to-face teaching last week, the BBC reported. While the majority won’t return until the autumn, Nottingham’s veterinary students have returned to a new term of compulsory masks and no student bars.

The Covid safeguards mean many university catering managers are deploying flexible, click-and-collect services to enable social distancing in shops, halls and catering outlets. Nearly seven in 10 (68%) will offer click and collect catering and grocery services and nearly half (48%) are planning to offer pre-prepared meals, snacks and takeaways where they did not pre-Covid-19.

The survey also revealed that six in 10 (60%) surveyed expect to re-open more than half of their food outlets by September – and 78% expect to re-open more than half of their outlets by January 2021.

Mike Haslin, CEO of TUCO said that “although a high percentage won’t be opening food outlets until January, this may only represent a fraction of the catering outlets on their site, and they may alternatively be offering other takeaway options to students.”

Many of the universities surveyed by TUCO disclosed that they may permit more external takeaway vendors onto campus, in order to boost income streams within universities. The TUCO poll revealed that universities may need to upgrade their point-of-sale (POS) infrastructure before September; 86% currently accept Apple Pay and 56% accept Android pay.

A half of respondents think university staff and students won’t want to meet up for social events and eight in 10 (79%) think the number of events – like faculty meals, social events, working lunches – that require some form of hospitality will fall as a result of Covid. Around six in 10 (59%) anticipate that budgets for hospitality will be cut for the foreseeable future.

Read more: Is this the end for academic conferences?

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