February 21, 2013

Catering to your market

A lack of publicity surrounding the RSO Catering Fund undermines its usefulness as a student resource.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a student suffering from College-induced hunger must be in want of free food. A lesser known answer to this desire is the RSO Catering Fund, which enables RSOs to receive complimentary catering at events. Created in spring 2012, the Catering Fund is a joint partnership between UChicago Dining, ORCSA, and on-campus food provider Aramark. However, the Catering Fund is plagued by a disappointing lack of exposure, and both students and administrators could increase its efficacy and impact.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the RSO Catering Fund is how easy it is to apply. Requests need only be submitted by Tuesday at midnight two weeks before the event, with a decision by the largely-student committee promised within two days. This quick turnaround makes the Catering Fund a highly viable, extremely useful option for students who are on a tight schedule. Additionally, the Catering Fund offers an expansive menu that goes above and beyond dining hall fare: Fish and chips, rotisserie chicken dinners, hot apple cider, and a selection of cakes are all available.

However, the Catering Fund is somewhat underutilized by the student body. Last year, it was allocated $25,000, and this year the sum was increased to $50,000. The amount will increase by $25,000 each year, to be capped at $100,000. So far during the 2012–13 academic year, $23,000 of the available $50,000 has been given away to events that attracted an estimated total of 3,000 students. But even given these numbers, the Catering Fund remains a largely ignored resource, especially given how much free food factors into student attendance at events. To be less than halfway through the Catering Fund’s allotted fiscal cap two quarters into the year speaks to a disconnect between students and the opportunity available to them. Catering Fund representatives rightly note that catering requests could increase in spring quarter, as it offers some of the largest student programming of the year, but more could be done to encourage student request, especially as the fund grows.

One glaring problem with the Catering Fund is that it currently operates as a pick-up only service, forcing students to transport what is often a large amount of food from Maroon Market in Bartlett to wherever the event in question is located. A second pick-up location on the other end of campus could improve the Catering Fund’s appeal, and could remove one of the main drawbacks to the current process.

Additionally, a publicity campaign of some sort would greatly increase awareness of the fund. The majority of the student body doesn’t even know the Catering Fund exists, which hurts its chances of success and continued growth. Current marketing efforts include promotion by ORCSA advisers, advertising at events that have been catered by the Catering Fund (such as the recent Latke-Hamantash Debate), and the occasional shout-out in the RSO newsletter. While these efforts are substantive, sending out information about the fund to RSO listhosts, distributing more flyers around campus, and incorporating the help of House dining hall representatives could be vital steps toward ensuring the future success of the fund, especially as its budget expands by such a huge amount each year. However, the burden of advertising, should not rest solely on the Catering Fund. RSOs that benefit from the free catering should acknowledge the service in their event publicity.

The Catering Fund is a highly commendable initiative, and ORCSA, UChicago Dining, and Aramark should be appreciated for their attempts to make RSO events as effective as possible. Students often bemoan the lack of administrative support for student events, but, in this case, a delicious opportunity is being missed.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.