Their bird of paradise logo is plastered all over campus catering and food providers.
It has been implicitly understood for years among students that any and all events held on campus cannot be catered by any company other than Paradise Catering.
The MSU began looking into what specific agreements obligated students to use Paradise Catering, and how exactly Paradise had positioned itself as the sole provider of catered food on campus.
Jeff Wyngaarden, MSU VP Finance, has devoted the last several months to researching the issue. He found that the contract between MSU and Hospitality services had not been revised since 1999 and consequently was rife with outdated references and ambiguous language.
Specifically, the contract applies to any MSU-affiliated activities held in the Student Centre, with the exception of the student-owned bar and convenience store.
Wyngaarden pointed out that the contract uses vague language to define the differences between “catering” and “potluck” when it comes to student events. It remains unclear how to determine what type of event requires catering versus what type of event can use a potluck.
For student groups and clubs, this difference can be crucial. Prohibitive food costs often force student clubs to forgo holding events or simply to limit the scale of their events.
Albert Ng, Director of Hospitality Services, recently gave a statement to the MSU regarding a new policy that will waive the 15 per cent service charge for MSU Clubs and Associations. This is a policy is a result of recent talks between the MSU and Hospitality Services, but had already been enjoyed by internal University departments.
However, under an MSU/Paradise Catering agreement, there appears to be room to maneuver for small-scale student events that can be considered potlucks.
This would appear to be good news for student groups, although students shouldn’t expect any great clarification to come from the revision of the MUSC hospitality agreement.
“We [have been told] we will not be given a numerical measure. We are supposed to use “common sense” [to determine what qualifies as a potluck]. The way it’s managed now is that Hospitality and someone in the University makes a judgment call about whether someone is violating the policy,” said Wyngaarden.
The contract also contains outdated references to the Downstairs John, the former student-run campus bar.
Wyngaarden has pledged to challenge some of the conditions of the Hospitality agreement in the coming months. However, he noted that the University and Hospitality Services have a powerful bargaining chip in the negotiations, which could hinder any drastic changes from being made to the revised agreement.
“The MSU is not paying occupancy costs for a lot of its space in MUSC. That occupancy cost is covered by the University … and a large portion is paid for Hospitality Services (or profits derived from Hospitality Services),” Wyngaarden explained.
“Any pressure we apply to try and lower the cost of food on campus or try and avoid using Paradise Catering…[doesn’t work because] they always have the trump card…[of] ‘how are we going to continue to pay for you in this building.’”
The origin of the campus-wide exclusivity understanding was uncovered in a different document, separate from the MUSC-specific agreement.
The Board of Governor’s “Policy on the Use of University Facilities for Non-Academic Purposes” (PUUFNAP) appears to contain several provisions that allude to the exclusivity agreement.
One clause states that Conference Services is responsible for student room bookings, and by extension, they would also refer the groups to other service departments (such as Hospitality) “as necessary.”
Another provision limits commercial activity, only allowing organizations operated by the University to sell services on campus. However, this provision only speaks to prohibiting sales of unapproved external companies on campus. But since the average student bringing outside food has most likely purchased the food off campus, this relevance of this clause becomes questionable.
Roger Couldrey, Vice-President Administration of McMaster, confirmed that the PUUFNAP document was “the right policy” to look at to understand the mandate Paradise Catering has to exclusively provide catering to McMaster.
The MSU aims to continue revising and renegotiating parts of the MUSC-specific contract, which may ease event restrictions for student groups using the Student Centre.
However, the blanket PUUFNAP agreement, which applies across the campus, is expected to remain largely unchanged.