The guests at the Walter Camp Football Foundation dinner usually feast on steak and potatoes. But, seated in Commons this December, they had to make do with chicken.
Almost one year after University President Richard Levin directed Yale’s academic and business divisions to cut non-salary expenditures by at least 7.5 percent, academic department chairs said they have decreased their catering costs for receptions, conferences and other events. Five local caterers that do business with Yale said the amount of business they receive from the University has declined over the past year and a half, and the majority said they have revamped their menus and decreased their workforce because they did not have enough money.
University Provost Peter Salovey said one of the ways departments cut costs is by reducing their entertainment budgets.
“It is noticeable on campus that there are many fewer parties,” he said. “And those that are held have been scaled down rather dramatically — while everyone enjoys a good party, we recognize they are not essential to the academic mission of the University.”
The reductions have not gone unnoticed by New Haven’s caterers.
“Chicken is very popular these days,” said Director of Yale Catering Robert Sullivan, who helped organize the Walter Camp Foundation’s dinner. “Some of the football players needed two servings — but then again they were probably eating two steaks before.”
Because of customers’ reduced budgets for catered events, Sullivan said, Yale Catering is giving its customers more low-cost options.
“People used to buy a hot luncheon, now they may get a cold lunch buffet,” he said. “We are trying to find menus that are scaled back but still nice.”
Yale Dining runs Yale Catering, which caters many on-campus events and whose services can be requested by students, faculty, staff and alumni.
At least two of the University’s largest undergraduate departments have reduced their catering costs this year. The Political Science Department has been choosing less expensive options when serving food at events, said chairwoman Susan Stokes in an e-mail. Laura Engelstein, chair of the History Department, said in an e-mail that her department has also been serving less costly food items.
“This worked out very well in the fall,” Engelstein wrote. “The table was still full and the food was delicious but the total budget was lower.”
Some departments are finding that because of the downturn, caterers have been more willing to reduce their prices.
Linette Norbeau, chair of the Music Department, said for the department’s last few events, the caterer Zoi’s On Orange was “very accommodating” and willing to cut prices so that the department could stay within its budget.
Still, not all departments cater enough to notice much of a change in catering costs. The chairpersons of the departments of comparative literature, English and philosophy said that since their departments do not cater often, they have not perceived a change.
Yale Catering received fewer orders this December than in December 2008, Sullivan said. But he added that in January there was a slight increase compared to January 2009.
Over on Crown Street, two days after Yale announced its budget cuts, long-term clients stopped booking orders at Sweet Relief Catering, said owner Eric Rogers. Before the cuts, about 50 percent of Sweet Relief’s catering orders came from Yale, Rogers said. Now, between 35 and 40 percent of Sweet Relief’s business comes from Yale, he said, adding that Sweet Relief has trimmed employees’ hours to cut costs, which has caused some employees to leave.
Across from Old Campus at the Union League Café, general manager Jean Michel Gammariello said he has seen a “significant change” in the number of catering orders The customers he does get, he said, have been allocating a greater percentage of events’ budgets to food and choosing less expensive wines. He added that Union League has been looking for new sources of income and recently hired a marketing manager. The restaurants’s revenue has sunk between 15 and 20 percent since the start of the economic downturn, said its owner, Jean Pierre Vuillermet.
About two blocks from Ingalls Rink, customers are ordering from Orange Street caterer Nica’s Market LLC less frequently and have smaller budgets, said owner Rosanna Sabino. For example, she recently got a call from someone at Yale, she said, who had to feed 20 people on a $70 budget.
“They had to go back to the department and ask for more money because it was not enough,” she said.
To cut costs, Nica’s has reduced its staff’s hours and is holding fewer food supplies in stock, she said, adding that orders from Yale still generate about half of its revenue.
But during the economic downturn, demand for catering from Judies European Baked Goods on Grove Street has remained steady, said catering manager Brian Goodwin, even though the business Judies receives from Yale has decreased.
“Lately I am being asked for more proposals, whereas in the past, people would just book their orders,” he said. “They want to get a budgetary sense of how much their food costs.”
Wednesday, President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey announced in an e-mail to faculty and staff that the University will, among other measures, reduce the number of new graduate students by up to 15 percent and lay off more staff to close a budget gap of more than $100 million.