The Rundown on Dishware Theft at Usdan

Walk with me into your kitchen. Or, for my underclass(wo)men out there, pull open that pitiful drawer where you keep your dishes and your food. Count up how many adorable black Usdan bowls, amber-colored ribbed cups, charmingly stout black coffee cups, timeless white plates you see. Feeling the shame yet? No? Take a look at your silverware. While it may not look like this set, it probably has that crooked or all-too-flat flatware look that you’d find in, none other but, the Usdan Marketplace. Yes, for those of you who are lucky enough to have picked up a copy of Tuesday’s Argus misprint, you know the diatribe I’m prepared to launch into in this post. Stealing at Usdan, it’s an issue. But, why is it an issue? My first step was to ask why students steal.

Read on after the jump to find out my musings on the staggering increase in one semester of theft over last year (shown above); why students steal; how it affects not only Bon Appetit, but the students themselves; the newly implemented measures for Dishware Amnesty; and why we ought to just quit stealing from ourselves all together. There’s a special treat for those of you bored courageous enough to read all the way to the end of this post.

Perhaps you’ve heard the myth that Bon Appetit already factors in a “stealing fee” into the meal plan. It’s a strange piece of folklore that seems to have taken hold of the student body for the last several years. That’s to say, students believe that Bon Appetit preemptively charges them for stolen dishware and food on the assumption that students will steal throughout the year. So, students think they’re entitled to take what they want from Bon Appetit. They no longer see taking some dishes from Usdan as stealing, but rather as taking what’s rightfully theirs from the beginning.

Another factor that motivates students to steal seems pure laziness. Students are too lazy to go buy their own dishes for their dorm room, their apartment, or their house. Finally, another huge motivating factor remains this normative label on stealing at Wesleyan. Essentially, people think, “Oh, everyone steals from Usdan, so my stealing one bowl or not won’t make a difference anyway.” And here I thought that Wesleyan was all about challenging norms?! For this issue, we’d be smart to heed the advice of Professor Plous in crafting our message to our peers. Nica Latto ’12 summed up his message quite nicely:

This implicit message that everyone is doing it, makes our actions normative, which paradoxically makes it seem okay to start or keep doing it.

At the end of the day, who are you really stealing from when you walk out those glass double doors with your stolen black bowl in hand? Are you stealing from Bon Appetit? Are you stealing from Wesleyan University? Honestly, you’re stealing from yourselves. And you’re stealing from each other. By stealing, we give up our right to ask for the inclusion of more local food, later hours at Pi Café, a Late Night Delivery Program, part-time staff to keep their hours, or an extra Sushi Night each semester. We give up those rights because we send a message to Bon Appetit that we just don’t care enough to stop walking out with their dishes. We’d rather have that classy amber-colored, ribbed cup in our pantry than any new additions to our dining program. The simple fact remains that Bon Appetit is a business, contracted through the University. I may have never taken ECON 101 or ECON 110, but even I know that your expenditures can’t exceed your revenue.

When students steal over $14,000 worth of dishware in two months, the basic reality persists that the University can no longer spend that money on something actually exciting for the Athletics Department, the Career Resource Center, the IT Department, the CFA, the Science Library, or the History Department. As the years progress and stealing remains a pressing issue at Wesleyan, you’ll inevitably see an increase in that elusive residential comprehensive fee.

Statistics on Stealing in Usdan for Fall 2011

Over the next week, you’ll see collection bins in Fauver and Clark, so that students may return their dishware with the utmost convenience. For those of you who don’t live in those dorms, you can feel free to simply return your dishes to Usdan. While Dishware Amnesty programs alleviate the problem, the solution lies in preemptive prevention. So, when you hold onto your dishes even for a few weeks, waiting to return them in Amnesty bins, Bon Appetit must buy new dishes to replace the ones you’ve taken.

Yet, stealing did not always go unchecked. In previous years, Aramark, Wesleyan’s dining service provider prior to Bon Appetit, employed a Public Safety officer to ensure that students were neither stealing food nor dishware from the dining halls. If students were caught stealing, the offense typically resulted in an SJB hearing. Bon Appetit has no interest in applying punitive consequences to students stealing from the dining halls. Their goal is simple: Don’t steal from them, so that they can create a better dining program for you.

So, let’s help ourselves to a better dining program, and remind each other that stealing is, in fact, illegal for a reason. If you’ve read this far in my post, then I seriously applaud you and thank you for reading. Here’s a gift out of my gratitude. Cause you know Beyoncé wouldn’t be down with theft.

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26 thoughts on “The Rundown on Dishware Theft at Usdan

  1. Anonymous

    Is it really that hard to simultaneously believe that a) some of the arguments presented may have holes in them, and b) people who steal shit should stop? Unless you’re H5N1 and trying to (rather roundaboutly) argue that there’s some other metric by which stealing dishware is a good thing, then many of the comments on this, though often true, seem to miss the point.

    Also, it’s great that this made Fox News.

    1. Ayn Rand

      H5N1 used way too many words and made too many other arguments, but his central point is don’t look it as stealing, look at it at spending a small amount of money to purchase silverware. It’s an idealized case, but does make sense.

      1. H5N1

        I wasn’t trying to present a united, consolidated argument, just to tackle several issues in the “anti-stealing” stories. Basically, my points are:1) Not as big of a cost as they’re making it out to be2) Unpreventable mistakes account for a significant portion of the “stealing” numbers.3) Tableware loss isn’t hurting Bon Appetit or Wesleyan much, and it isn’t hurting students either.4) Amnesty should be a one-time, one semester problem, not a repeating one.5) There are many benefits to tableware stealing that arguably outweigh the costs.So yes, I am arguing in part that stealing is one way of framing it, but whatever you call it the benefits likely outweigh the costs.

  2. LaBouche

    Stainless steel flatware is a $1 at Walmart. Dishware thieves… get a life, or at least get a ride there.

  3. Trolling for Plate Amnesty

    One way to solve this problem, or to attempt to solve it, would be for Bon Appetit to stop replacing its dishware, or putting out the disposable cups, as they do sometimes. After a couple of meals of not being able to get a bowl or a plate, maybe the idea of stolen dishware amnesty would have some actual repercussions. As it is, 14K isn’t enough money in the scheme of the operating budget, even for a day, of Bon Appetit to make an impact effective enough to encourage plate amnesty. No one will ever bring anything back, unless it feels imperative (ie: they won’t get fed otherwise). 

  4. me

    just wanted to say I agree with everything here. don’t steal guys.
    also, i just get my dishware from weshop. they have disposable and non-disposable stuff. i

  5. Sheryl

    “This implicit message that everyone is doing it, makes our actions normative, which paradoxically makes it seem okay to start or keep doing it.” By including the statistic of how much gets stolen and publishing it on a popular Wesleyan site, aren’t you basically strengthening the message that this is normative behavior to us (the people unaware of this stealing and who now feel inclined to take a fork)? Your first paragraph is extremely contradictory to what you’re trying to accomplish here. I will go check my ramen ridden “pantry”/small box under my bed, look for that Usdan dishware, find only the plastic forks that perhaps weshop overprices, and come to the startling realization that I can just take a fork from Usdan. And you know what? I will take a fork. And I will make up for this cognitive dissonance of stealing by reminding myself that reusing a metal fork is more environmentally friendly and 1 step in the right economic direction for someone incarcerated by student loans.Lastly, why just Clark and Fauver? Are you implying that Freshman’s the main culprits? The difference is not all that significant.

    1. Nope

      It is a bit contradictory. BUT. If students continue to steal the amount of dishware that’s getting stolen, Bon App might switch to using ALL PAPER PRODUCTS. The stealing is costing them so much money that pretty soon, using all paper products will actually be cheaper. So, the argument that stealing a metal fork for environmentally reasons is way false.

      1. Sheryl

        Actually, I highly doubt that at a school like wesleyan we’d start using paper products. And I think it’s 
        “way false” that buying paper products will become a cheaper alternative, and at best it’s the most absurd alternative.

  6. Simon

    You say the “stealing fee” is a myth.  You also say that if stealing persists, then the resident fee will increase.  THAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A STEALING FEE.  Has the RCF been increasing for the past few years, after adjusting for inflation?  If so, then by your argument, there is a stealing fee already. 

    Furthermore, repeatedly asserting that something is a myth fails to actually make it a myth.  Could you (can anyone?) provide a component breakdown of the RCF?  Obviously I’m skeptical, but this seems like a question that could be helped just by providing more data. 

    Additionaly, there’s a HUGE logical leap between “14k is lost” and “you have forfeited the right to ask for X”.  We, as students, can and should ask for whatever the hell we like, even though we shouldn’t expect to get it just because we asked.  Who knows, we might even have a good (and profitable) idea for dining/Bon App.

    What weirds me out the most about this is the tone of righteous indignation.  As H5N1 pointed out, it’s $4.40 a person.  Plus, even if theft were completely eliminated (which will never happen), there’s no reason the money saved will go anywhere but the bottom line. 

  7. FormerSummerfieldsWorker

    I suspect that at least of the cup replacement required is due to breakage.  I find leaky or cracked cups all the time, and the only thing you can do with them is throw them away.

    Also, I can not believe those black plastic bowls cost 5 dollars each, and the mugs cost 4 each.  Shop around, Bon Appetit.  Jesus.

  8. H5N1

    I have several qualms with the arguments laid out by Bon Appetit via the Argus and Wesleying in the last couple of weeks.
    1) The $14K cost of stealing is distributed among all Wesleyan students on the meal plan, so it’s only about $4.40 per person per semester. Doesn’t seem like a big deal now, does it? To put it into perspective, that’s less than 1/3 of the annual Green Fund fee, which many feel is already insignificant.
    2) Some of this “stolen” tableware, as Bon Apetit itself points out, is merely accidentally lost to trash cans. This is likely a non-trivial portion of the losses, especially for categories such as knives, forks, and spoons that easily slip out of our hands. And this share of the costs will not at all be recovered by students not stealing anymore.
    3) Bon Appetit and Wesleyan are likely just taking these costs as a hit to their bottom line, and have probably even explicitly expected to encounter them in their contract. Sure, it means that they will have slightly lower profits (keep in mind, folks, that $14K is far less than one day’s operating revenue for Bon Appetit, much less for Wesleyan). However, it does *not* mean that if they weren’t facing these costs that they would start providing extra services, such as the Late Night delivery service they claim. If this were a real offer, why wouldn’t they just start charging students 5 points per semester for the right to get Late Night delivery? I’m sure there would be enough demand for it.
    4) If such a large share of these stolen tableware supplies come back to Bon Appetit during or before the end of the semester, I simply don’t understand why there is more than a one-time problem, and one that should have been resolved long ago. Assuming Wesleyan students don’t take the tableware with them when they leave the University, then Bon Appetit should have great enough stocks of tableware after one semester of covering theft to cushion them against all future semesters of similar issues; ie, after covering theft costs once, they would have their standard stock plus the additional stock to temporarily replace stolen tableware, and these could be reused for every single semester afterwards.
    5) Finally, if everyone’s going to talk so much about the costs, they should also recognize the benefits that this stolen tableware provides to Wesleyan students. Many would need to spend *at least* as much as $4.40 on tableware to get a set to use in their rooms, and that’s not even considering the fact that many don’t have transportation needed to get to off-campus stores to actually make these purchases. So, I would argue that the net impact on Wesleyan students of this stealing might even be positive, since the benefits outweigh the costs.

    1. johnwesley

      I think the math is wrong.  it should be $14,000 spread over the number of people who steal, assuming that the thefts haven’t reached a saturation point (i.e., the entire student body) yet. 

    2. Melodious


      The arguments laid
      out in the Wesleying post are my own, and don’t necessarily reflect Bon Appetit’s
      stance. I actually do think stealing is entitled and lazy. Not that hard to believe really.

      So, you
      won’t stop stealing because the cost isn’t high enough to the rest of the
      student body yet? Cogent logic, bro. I don’t steal dishes, so I would rather
      not pay your $4.50.

      accidentally lost? First, pick a modifier. But, if by that you mean that students
      throw them out, then I don’t think Bon Appetit needs to pick up the slack on
      your incompetence. Not that hard to avoid the trash cans at the tray return.
      How greasy are your hands that you’re unable to keep your grip on silverware? I
      would hazard to guess that the majority of “lost” dishware is stolen, not
      thrown away.

      Appetit is on a contract with Wesleyan. Yes, they’re taking the hit to their
      bottom line, precluding them from spending that money on something worthwhile.
      Pretty sure I addressed this issue in the post. I just don’t understand your
      antagonism to Wesleyan or Bon Appetit. What’s your basis for that opinion? Have
      you ever spoken to a Bon Appetit manager? No? I’m shocked! Also, why would they
      want to offer you new services when you’re stealing from them?

      They don’t
      come back to Bon Appetit. Ever. Students just say they will return them, but
      honestly a large portion of them end up in Waste Not! Or they end up getting
      thrown out at the end of the year. I think you’re confused. Bon Appetit does
      not recover stolen dishware for one reason: students don’t return it. The logic
      of your argument is flawed from there on out.

      Maybe the
      students who don’t steal don’t want to pay for you to freeload off Bon Appetit.
      Maybe you just shouldn’t steal. I don’t understand your big ideological defense of
      stealing. If dishware was available to be purchased in Weshop, would you buy
      it? That’d solve your transportation issue. If you want that option, Bon
      Appetit has a catalog that you can order from at any time. I honestly can’t
      tell if you’re trolling with that last line. You see stealing as a positive
      element of our campus? All around or just on this issue?

      1. H5N1

        To counter your responses:

        1) I’m merely stating that $4.40 is actually very little money, and that you and others are making it seem like a lot bigger deal than it is.
        2) You don’t at all address my point here at all, which is just that some of the tableware in question is accidentally lost, yet Bon Appetit is blaming students as having stolen it.
        3) My basis is logic, economics, and psychology; if the $14K all of a sudden stopped being a loss, the business has no incentive to start spending that $14K elsewhere instead of just putting it in their pocket. There’s no expectation for them to do otherwise, and they’ve never provided such a service before.Concerning talking with a Bon Appetit manager, I’ve done so on several occasions to collect financial and supply chain data.And, regarding your point about providing new services to students who are stealing from them, aren’t they doing this already whenever they create a new program or service today (eg, reusable carry-out containers, expanded menus at Summerfields, enhanced dinner hour coverage)? Your point is moot and poorly thought out.4) I doubt many people throw them out at the end of the year. As for Waste Not donation, that’s partially Bon Appetit’s fault for not just picking up their tableware from the storage, which would be extremely cost-effective. And amnesty must actually get a significant return rate, otherwise Bon Appetit wouldn’t be running it.5) For the record, I’m a senior who has never stolen from a dining hall, having owned a few plates and a silverware set from Target since the start of my freshman year. So don’t jump to conclusions about me; it only makes your arguments even weaker.My argument is just stating that if on average this $4.40 per-capita cost generates more than a $4.40 per-capita benefit, then it is an economic positive. It may not be a Pareto improvement, since not all students are benefitting (ie, the non-stealers), but it is a benefit overall (check out the concept of Kaldor-Hicks efficiency, if you want to get more technical).My argument does not address the moral dimension of this theft in any way, so I’m not sure why you claim that is a weak point in my stance.

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