On Monday, the journalist channel Folia reported that the University of Amsterdam was in discussion with Cirfood about rent exemption. “We are being badly affected by the corona measures and have requested rent exemption in all the discussions with all the universities where we do catering,” Cirfood’s Director of National Sales and Marketing told Delta.
The caterer has lost all its income since educational activities at universities and other educational institutions have moved online. The 50 or so Cirfood employees at the campus at TU Delft are all at home, but are still being paid. The caterer is also still paying food suppliers, says Lobbes. “This is on top of the rent of premises and kitchens. We are incurring huge costs without earning any income at all. We have had to ask TU Delft and other educational institutions to be accommodating. We ourselves are being accommodating to others.” This request only involves rent and not compensation for lost turnover or other costs.
According to Lobbes, Cirfood cannot deploy the employees that are now at home to other locations. The company, that also works in Italy and Belgium, only has contracts with universities, universities of applied sciences and secondary schools in the Netherlands. “And now they are all closed.” On campus, Cirfood works in part with local businesses, the so-called ‘local heroes’. They do not have to pay anything as the campus is largely closed. “Normally they pay fees according to their turnover. No turnover means no fees.” Cirfood is dependent on TU Delft’s decisions whether the catering facilities may reopen. “Nobody will survive closure in the long term without compensation,” says Lobbes. The caterer has some ideas that fall within the one-and-a-half-metre economy, but does not expect to break even.
Battle in the catering world
“If TU Delft wishes, we could open a coffee bar to go or prepare takeaway lunches which people can collect in person. But this will only bring back some of our customers. This will only be damage limitation as it won’t be breaking even.” Dirk Beljaarts of Koninklijke Horeca Nederland (the umbrella organisation for the hospitality industry, eds.) today sketched a similar scenario for restaurants and cafés. While the hospitality industry may open again on 1 June, restaurants and cafés will only be able to accommodate fewer customers than before the outbreak of Covid-19. “It will be a loss making venture,” said Beljaarts on NPO Radio 1.
Lobbes expects the catering world in the Netherlands to have to battle it out. “All caterers in the Netherlands have signed terms and conditions in their procurement process that are no longer realistic. We find ourselves in a completely different world than the one in which those agreements were made.”