Religious groups criticize catering service for high kosher food prices

Campus religious group leaders are complaining about high prices for catered events that require special food preparation.

This year, Colonial Catering, a University company that provides food service for large events, has taken over catering operations in the Marvin Center and prohibited groups from bringing in outside food.

Simon Amiel, executive director of Hillel, the biggest on-campus Jewish organization, said it is difficult to get affordable rates for kosher events. Kosher food adheres to preparation guidelines outlined by religious authorities; Jews who are kosher do not eat milk and meat in the same meal and abstain from eating pig meat.

“We have found significant price increases, making it very hard to use the Marvin Center as extensively as we have in the past,” Amiel said.

“In the past, programs that needed outside food could fill out a food waiver and bring in outside food; this year all food must come from the Colonial Catering,” Amiel added.

Muslim Student Association officers said they have also encountered problems planning for celebrations for Ramadan, which began Oct. 16. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day, eating only when the sun goes down. Catering at MSA events must be halal, or adhere to Islamic standards for foods.

MSA director Ambareen Jan said her group is considering canceling five days’ worth of events scheduled to take place in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom because of high costs. She said the cost for one event attended by 200 people exceeds the MSA’s entire budget, “A problem never before presented to us in the past.”

In a letter to the editor that appeared in The Hatchet two weeks ago, Sam Kutler, president of the Jewish Student Association, complained about high catering prices for his events. He wrote that Colonial Catering charged $1,276 for his group’s Welcome Back BBQ in the Marvin Center.

“When JSA priced out the order from the kosher vendor directly, the quote was a much more reasonable $571,” he wrote.

When called for further comment, Kutler declined an interview request, saying only, “We are currently working with the Colonial Catering to resolve any differences.”

Lisa Goller, director of Colonial Catering, declined to comment on pricing for kosher events, saying that the rates may be re-negotiated at an upcoming meeting with religious groups.

Although declining to describe any specifics about a possible plan of action to lower food prices, Goller said she hopes to resolve any complaints when she meets with religious groups.

“We have a completely new staff, many of our employees come from hotel catering services and we are all about service,” Goller said. “We want to be student-oriented.”

Charles Holt, spokesman for Capital Restaurants Catering, a D.C.-area food provider, said that his customers do not pay extra for catered events with special religious needs.

“There are no additional charges for events where all food kept kosher,” Holt said. “Cost differences will come into play with the different amounts of services required, not the type of food.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.