Subway and Chopped gone, seating down 75% and Starbucks in the rearview mirror: life after Aramark might seem grim at first but Gather & Gather (G&G), the new tenants of the UCD Restaurant, are starting with a bang!
Gather & Gather have opted to focus on high-quality food, paired with low pricing (when you compare to high street food in the city centre). The company will likely be successful if the volume of students meets their expectations. With reduced seating, however, they may struggle to hit the ground running.
Seating is down a whopping 75% from pre-COVID capacity. So, while newcomers G&G won’t struggle to fill the UCD Restaurant, one wonders: with a maximum seating of 88, down from 400, will students even have seats to sit on?
Tables for two are spaced 2 meters from each other and perspex screening is in place between restaurant staff and customers. Tables are being sanitized between customers with employees wearing masks, there was no expectation, or request, for customers to do so.
G&G have opted to shift away from the commercial coffee offering from Starbucks and move towards their own brand of coffee, focusing on “ethically sourced” caffeine-infused liquid gold. Coffee prices in the Gerard Manley Hopkins building (GMH) are similar to other outlets at UCD, with students already praising the taste of G&G’s blends.
After a controversial tenure in Belfield, Aramark left UCD last month citing “commercial” reasons for their departure. It is understood that Aramark was subject to poor profits on campus in recent years. Due to the change in the main tenant of the restaurant, Subway and Starbucks have also left the Belfield Campus. The queue for Subway regularly stretched out the door of the building during term-time leaving many wondering who will fill the void, perhaps the chicken-fillet rolls of Centra will make a return to their former glory?
Gather & Gather will hope that students will gravitate towards their ready-made salads and sandwiches which, at €5 each, are marginally more expensive than the alternatives in the Students’ Union shops and Centra, although rather generous in their portion sizes. A ramen counter, along with the expected curries and chili-con-carne will make up the staple of the restaurant’s menu, coming in at a relatively cheap €5 to €7 euros. A similar pricing structure is in place to the last number of years, however the quality of food is significantly improved.
The Victims of the Change:
Aramark-owned healthy-food chain Chopped is another victim of the change-over. It will be replaced by a toasted sandwich bar called ‘Toastas’, which will be the company’s “version of a posh toastie” with sourdough bread and “homemade fillings”. As business comes back to campus in the coming weeks, the company plans to open the toasted sandwich counter.
A ‘Posh Toastie’ sounds expensive but “food shouldn’t be cheap.” Culinary Director Mark Anderson, argues that they are charging competitive prices, but admits that the days of cheap food are over, with customers seeking high-quality goods. 95% of their food is prepared on-site; “even the sauces are made from scratch”, says Operations Manager Eoin McDonnell.
The Residency Project
Gather & Gather’s big story is their ‘Residency Project’, a plan to bring popular restaurants from around Dublin to the students of UCD on a rotational basis. Initially, restaurants will rotate once a month, with a view to increasing this to a weekly rotation down the line. Anderson stresses it will all depend on student demand and says they hope to start the Residency Project sometime in October.
He approached a number of restaurants in Dublin to partake in the project. Places such as Bread 41, a bread-focussed bakery, are among those restaurants to rotate on campus.
According to Anderson: “The plan is, as soon as we see activity on campus – so that it’s fair to the restaurants – we’ll run a menu with some of their signature items for the whole week.”
G&G will agree about three signature dishes with the restaurant entering residency, and they will prepare and serve the food as per recipe. “We’ll make it ourselves. We won’t be charging the restaurant prices. It won’t be an exact carbon copy of what you’ll get in the restaurant, but it’ll be as close as.”
“We don’t make huge margins on the food,” says Anderson. “We kind of hope that we drive volume to make some money. […] We won’t be making loads if we’re doing a hundred people a day, but if we do a couple of thousand a day, [we will].”
Gather & Gather will be at UCD for almost 5 years, their 59-month tender, worth an estimated €1.2 million, stretching until August 2025. Students shouldn’t expect operations to stay the same for G&G’s 5-year-stay. Anderson says: “As we progress in the contract, we’ll do more. Because I’m conscious as well that if it stays the same as it is, it goes stale – and you guys will end up going everywhere else. It’s in our interest to change and flip and do as good as we can.”
Conor Capplis – Senior Reporter
Hugh Dooley – News Editor