All the student names in this article have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals.
The glass panel next to the Gwinn doors reads, “Please do not take food, dishes or utensils out of Gwinn Commons.” Yet many students find it expedient to break this rule, treating the dinning hall as a free resource for groceries and dishware.
Between September 2013 and January 2014, Campus Dining has had to replace 1,265 dishes and mugs, 1,805 pieces of silverware, 600 tumblers, and 360 salt and pepper shakers. According to General Manager of Campus Dining Kim Karstens, the projected cost of replacements, due to damage and theft, for this academic year is $8,068.
“I don’t feel the need to go buy something if I can use Gwinn’s, and then take it back when I’m done using it,” Bailey said.
“If I’m going to bake something, it’s easier to get the supplies there, especially if it’s fruit, just because it’s cheaper,” Mike said.
Karstens stressed her desire to keep security to a friendly minimum.
“What I don’t want to do is to police people,” Karstens said. “We want students to have a great dining experience with us. We want the dining hall to be a positive place, somewhere students can actually be proud of.”
There are a handful of popular methods for smuggling items out of Gwinn. Diners slip fruit and cookies into their pockets, but prefer secondary vessels for more ambitious hauls.
“You can really fit a lot in an empty purse,” Katie said.
Students employ Tupperware containers, Ziploc bags and water bottles, but favor backpacks for their volume and versatility.
“You line the inside of your backpack with the trash bag, and you keep going and getting bowls of cereal,” Jessica said. “Just keep filling bowls and dumping them in the backpack to your heart’s content.”
Other students have chosen bolder approaches.
“I just walk up to the pineapples, like I own the place, and grab one,” Ella said. “Then I put it down by my side and walk out with it on my right so the people on my left can’t see it.”
Bailey told the story of stealing two bags of Lucky Charms while the dispensers were being filled.
“I waited until the Gwinn workers weren’t looking, and I grabbed them both and ran out. Then I shared them with the floor for the next couple weeks,” Bailey said.
Karstens said she does not want to charge her staff with ferreting out petty thieves. “Our greeters can’t have their eyes everywhere,” Karstens said “Their job is to be friendly and welcoming.”
The dining hall has a set budget, funded by meal plan fees, which includes all food and operation expenses.
“If we have to spend money replacing stolen utensils, that’s funds that could have been put back toward the menu,” Karstens said.
Before placing orders for more utensils, Campus Dining holds an “Amnesty Day,” in which students can return stolen items, no questions asked. Most students feel justified taking utensils and dishware, as long as they return everything on these days.
However, between such times, supplies can dwindle to a degree that actually compromises the dining experience. Most recently, students have been noticing a shortage of forks. Staff members wash dishes with increasing frequency, but during busy meal times, it is often still difficult to keep enough silverware in circulation.
For some students, the high cost of their meal plan is enough to justify stealing extra food.
“When you live in the dorms, they force you to have a meal plan,” Kevin said. “And the one I have is, like, 1,300 bucks. That’s a [expletive] ton of money. Each meal is, like, $10 a swipe. I can take that food all I want. Somebody’s going to eat it, so it might as well be me.”