The restaurant at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment reopened on 3 May. Since then, the Ketelhuis has been providing a fully vegetarian offering, making it the first university restaurant in the Netherlands that does not sell meat at all. Arjan van de Groep, Process Manager for Catering & Vending, has been working hard these past months to put together the revised offering, together with catering company CIRFOOD.

“To get a proper idea of what our students and staff – there are more than 35,000 of them – desire in terms of catering, we conduct a customer satisfaction survey every year. Time and again, we ask thousands of our users about their eating and drinking needs,” says Arjan. “In addition to this, we regularly meet with the student councils of the eight faculties and with the central Student Council to discuss what’s on offer at all of the 23 fixed catering points, the food trucks and the almost 350 vending machines on the campus. Our surveys show that the demand for vegetarian food has increased significantly in recent years. And also that the demand for a broader vegetarian assortment has grown at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment in particular. For this reason, we wanted to investigate how we could expand our offering, beginning at this Faculty.” As far back as March 2020, together with CIRFOOD, Arjan and his colleagues organised the first pilots at the faculty – these included a ‘meatless week’. “This was very positively received,” he says. “Following that, we continued our discussions with the Faculty. The Dean and the students indicated their great enthusiasm for a fully vegetarian restaurant then.”

Sustainability ambitions

Arjan and his team were keen to accommodate these wishes, not least since nutritional changes are in line with TU Delft and CIRFOOD’s sustainability ambitions. The University wants to be fully CO2-neutral and circular by 2030. In order to reach these goals, TU Delft has initiated a major Climate Action Programme and recorded its carbon emissions in detail. Food consumption by students and staff on campus proved to score second in terms of emissions. If TU Delft were to switch to offering only vegetarian food options it would reduce the emissions caused by food by over fifty per cent.

Together with catering company CIRFOOD, Arjan and his team explored what a completely vegetarian assortment might include. “Of course we are keen to join in this initiative,” says Dave Seegers, Assistant District Manager at CIRFOOD, “in the first instance because we wish to offer TU Delft the best we can, but also because this is a wonderful opportunity for further developing our sustainability concept Feed the Future. Sustainability is one of the major cornerstones of our company. Part of the assortment we supply to the 23 TU Delft restaurants is vegetarian as it is, and the demand for meatless products is increasing with our other clients as well. Realising a 100% vegetarian assortment, however, is new territory for us too.”

New vegetarian recipes

Dave: “Getting all of this sorted out together was pretty tense at times. The assortment has to be attractive to our guests and it has to keep well. At the same time, you also need to achieve a good price/quality ratio: the products need to be affordable too. The product managers and chefs at CIRFOOD worked very hard to develop new vegetarian recipes. This involved investigating alternatives and plant-based products such as pulled oats, jackfruit and vegetarian meat substitutes, which resulted in a number of really exciting dishes.”

Arjan: “Due to the coronavirus restrictions, we currently only have a grab & go assortment at the Ketelhuis. However, once the new academic year starts in September and all students and staff are allowed on campus again five days a week, we hope, we’ll be pulling out all the stops. The rear part of the restaurant will then be turned into a self-service eatery: guests will be able to help themselves to salads, snacks, soup and sandwiches and put together their own hot meals.”

Guest feedback

To find out what the customers think of the new offering, there will be a feedback terminal in the restaurant. “And as from September, when we’re fully up and running, we will be conducting surveys again,” says Arjan. “Only then will we have a clear idea of which products are popular and which aren’t so popular, and then we’ll adapt our new selection if necessary.” A few points of criticism were heard immediately after the opening of the 100% vegetarian restaurant. A number of guests objected to no longer being able to choose whether or not they’d be having meat or not. This feedback is useful, in Arjan’s opinion: “Sometimes, though, you simply need to take the plunge, be a groundbreaker. The fact is that TU Delft and CIRFOOD consider the revamped restaurant to be something they can learn from. Here we can try out vegetarian products to see which ones our guests like and which ones they like less. And, ultimately, the knowledge we acquire will allow us to provide better service at other faculties as well.”

For the time being, the remaining catering establishments on campus will not be switching to fully vegetarian yet. Arjan: “We will be expanding the range of vegetarian options at these locations in the time ahead, and will promote this through attractive and innovative presentation of the vegetarian assortment as well as through storytelling.”