up2date. Das Onlinemagazin der Universtiät Bremen

The Cafeteria Manager

Anke Grupe-Markschat is the head of university catering at the Student Services Organization Bremen. Even in a pandemic, it's a matter of doing what's possible. A portrait in the Campus Stories series.

Campus Life

Anke Grupe-Markschat is responsible for a total of nine cafeteria locations in Bremen and ensures that the food tastes good for the university members. That involves planning but also a lot of creativity.

Chickpea and bean skillet with coriander potatoes. A roasted meatball made in-house with Hokkaido pumpkin, roasted onion mash, and jus. Vegetable couscous skillet with ginger dip. It sounds delicious and is an excerpt from the university cafeteria menu. A team of area heads, operations managers, cooks, kitchen assistants, ecotrophologists, and administrative staff ensure that the food in the various university cafeterias not only makes it on to the plate, but also tastes great for the students and staff. Anke Grupe-Markschat is the boss.

A Caterer from the Ground Up

The top cafeteria manager learned her job from the ground up. The 59-year-old grew up in the small town of Fischerhude near Bremen and initially trained as a hotel manager. In 1999, she started working for the Student Services Organization Bremen. At the beginning, she took on the management of the cafeteria at Bremen University of Applied Sciences and then went on to become operations manager of the Werderstraße cafeteria. Further training as a business administrator followed in 2010, and a year later, she moved to the university campus as operations manager of the university cafeteria. In 2016, she became the head of university catering in Bremen State. This makes her responsible for three university locations with nine cafeterias and canteens and almost 200 employees.

What does she do? Everything, really – from general catering administration to holding responsibility for operating technology and purchasing. But above all, she has to organize the processes: What should the food offered look like? How should staff be organized? What should the processing be like? How can different eating habits be taken into account while keeping an eye on long-term trends?

Pandemic Created Major Challenges

During normal times, around 8,000 lunches change hands every day at the University of Bremen alone. Then corona appeared. “That was the most challenging time in my entire professional life,” the catering manager sums up. When all dining operations suddenly had to close in March 2020, the warehouses were full of food. Fortunately, a large part of it was able to be donated to food banks or “Bremer Suppen Engel.”

Subsequently, the cafeterias repeatedly opened up and closed again. Less food was purchased than in normal times and maximum flexibility was required. When would it all reopen and how? Hygiene plans had to be drawn up and permanently adapted. Arrow systems on the floor, contact tracking, fewer chairs at tables with greater spacing. The popular cafeteria in GW2 Building has had to remain closed because it now houses a corona test center. “The university catering team has done an incredible job in the past two years,” emphasizes the boss.

“Cafeteria to go” Has Proven Successful

The most difficult thing for all employees was the lack of planning security. Anke Grupe-Markschat is therefore all the more pleased that the range of meals on offer has been well received, even when operations are reduced. This applies in particular to the newly introduced to-go offer with a deposit system for the dishes. It doesn’t stop there. She recently introduced a deposit system for coffee cups in order to end the use of ecologically detrimental paper ones.

The pandemic period was also used to make improvements behind the scenes. The dishwashing technology was renewed, and Anke Grupe-Markschat is pleased with the newly acquired pasta machine, which is as high as the cupboards: “We can now offer dishes with homemade pasta in organic quality,” says the boss, who loves Italian cuisine. “That goes down very well with our guests.”

Topic of Nutrition Affects Everyone

In order to position the cafeteria for the future, she must know the needs of the guests, study the food market, and keep a close eye on nutritional trends. Long gone are the days when eating in the cafeteria was described as “filling your stomach in one go.” “Nutrition is a topic that affects everyone,” Anke Grupe-Markschat knows, “people eat much more consciously than they used to. Sustainability issues are becoming increasingly important and many want to know under what conditions and where their food is produced.”

Needs have also changed: wholesome, vegetarian, vegan, less meat, and if so, then from animals that have been kept in a species-appropriate manner. The Student Services Organization Bremen cafeterias already use fair-trade organic products when it comes to tea and coffee. Fruit has been switched to organic quality and dairy products are also organic and regional.

The cafeteria team regularly tries out new recipes, different ingredients, and ways of preparing them. This is by no means trivial. Anke Grupe-Markschat explains the difference to cooking at home: “When you cook at home, you usually eat it right afterwards. You can’t compare that with a commercial kitchen. In a cafeteria, the noodles, have to be kept warm for a long time, for example. The finished meals cannot fall apart after an hour.” Whether in canteens or hospitals - experience shows that people are particularly fond of complaining about the food. How does the cafeteria manager deal with this? “We’re happy if our guests are happy,” is the simple answer. However, she keeps a very close eye on what is well received and which dishes are not liked as much – there is constant feedback from students and staff.

Detecting Trends of the Future

The principles for the future are clear: more homemade, fresh ingredients, such as in the popular vegetarian and vegan bowls in the GW2 cafeteria, and less convenience foods, thus pre-produced components that are often used in large kitchens. The focus of the university catering will be placed even more on craftsmanship. Sustainability is the main topic of our time.

And what major trends does Anke Grupe-Markschat expect to see in the somewhat more distant future? “There are many exciting things,” she hints, and then names “aquaponics,” a process for the combined cultivation of fish and plants in a recirculating system. Another trend is cultured meat, or lab-grown meat, and insect-based foods. She is reasonably convinced of their success.

But no one need fear that the cafeteria will be like an episode of “I’m Celebrity” tomorrow – it’s a long-term trend that will certainly also involve new cooking and processing techniques. Cafeteria management always involves both sides: knowledge of the needs of customers and guests and knowledge of all production processes down to the plate and table. A task that Anke Grupe-Markschat tackles with verve.

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