University News

BuDS policy week calls attention to eatery theft

Meal plan pricing does not incorporate theft fee, despite popular student perception

By and
Senior Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

“Any reasonable person would know that taking eight bananas is not okay,” Gretchen Willis, director of Dining Services, said. “It’s not all you can take, it’s all you can eat.”

At some point in their undergraduate careers, Brown students may have snacked on an oatmeal-raisin cookie while waiting in line for their salad at Jo’s. Or maybe they’ve grabbed a few granola bars on their way out of the Blue Room. Or a banana or two as they leave breakfast at the Ratty.

But according to signs that appeared in campus dining halls earlier this month, “Take out is in boxes. Not backpacks.” And despite popular opinion, these habits constitute stealing in the eyes of Brown Dining Services.


Meal plan misconceptions

Students interviewed for this story said they were aware of widespread theft at campus eateries. Among the reasons given for this consistent pilferage were convenience, steep expenses and poor food quality.

Gretchen Willis, director of Dining Services, said it is impossible to know exactly how many items are stolen or the monetary loss incurred. “We serve about 8,000 meals a day, so it’s very busy.”

Workers at Brown eateries frequently observe students stealing food, but there is little Dining Services can do to prevent theft, Willis said.

“I feel bad hating on the food quality at Brown, because the people who prepare it are so nice, but in general the food is so bad,” said Emma, a sophomore whose name has been changed to preserve anonymity. “I’m paying all this money for it, so I might as well steal it.”

Though many students believe the meal plan prices incorporate a fee to compensate for stolen food and property from campus eateries, a “stealing fee” does not actually exist.

But Billy Sanchez ’16 cited the fee as the direct reason students steal food and dishware from dining halls. He said the meal plans contain a “stolen food fee” of approximately $300. “People think if you’re going to charge a fee, then you might as well steal,” he added.

Though Willis, who had never heard of the alleged fee, said she does not understand how the rumor originated, she realizes Dining Services has provided insufficient information to students.

“We probably do a less than excellent job explaining (pricing) to students, but at some point it becomes white noise,” Willis said, adding that she hopes to improve communication so students have a better idea of how prices are constructed and where their money goes.

Willis explained that the University Resources Committee determines the cost of meal plans based on three components: the cost of food, the cost of labor and the cost of overheads, which include rent and utilities. She added that many students may not realize their meal plan fees support Dining Services workers and facilities.

She said students may also be unaware that the University’s standard meal plan costs less than those of Brown’s peer institutions.

“I definitely understand that students perceive that the meal plan is extremely expensive,” Willis said. “I worry about that, because when you compare our meal plans to our peers’, our plans are much less expensive.”

For this academic year, Yale charged $6,070 for its “full meal plan,” which is mandatory for first-years, Dartmouth charged $5,394 for its “SmartChoice20” plan, and Cornell charged $5,516 for its “Bear Traditional” plan, according to the universities’ respective dining websites. Penn is the only peer university with prices similar to Brown’s — the “Balanced Eating Naturally” plan costs $4,776 per year, according to the school’s dining website.

Other students steal regardless of the meal plan cost. Some said they sometimes forget their card or do not feel like waiting in longer lines. They also said it is effortless to steal from eateries like Andrews Commons and Josiah’s. As for dining halls, students said it is a matter of access and ease.

“I think that there’s a tendency to exploit the system,” Jonah Newman ’16 said. “If you have an all-you-can-eat dining hall, you have access to food and all of these cups and forks. People are going to try to take advantage of it.”

Most students interviewed do not think taking extra food from dining halls constitutes stealing, a nebulous line of reasoning that Brown University Dining Services, the student component of Dining Services, has tried to resolve.


Blurred lines

Though Dining Services cannot prevent theft, student employees and managers developed a Policy Awareness Week earlier this month to inform students about what constitutes stealing. Kevin Hutchins ’14, student unit manager for the Sharpe Refectory and Verney-Woooley, said BuDS designed the week to eliminate any “gray area” students may perceive.

“Policy Awareness Week reinforces the authority of the student worker when it comes to stealing,” Hutchins said. It can be difficult for student workers to confront peers who remove food from a dining hall or ask for a take-out box after eating in, he added.

The week featured colorful signs and table slips in an effort to draw a clearer line between taking out and stealing. According to Dining Services policy, taking food out of dining halls when not getting takeout is considered theft. While taking one banana is acceptable, grabbing multiple bananas is not, Hutchins said. “Taking fruit out of the Ratty is taking it away from students who can enjoy it,” Hutchins said.

“Any reasonable person would know that taking eight bananas is not okay,” Willis said. “It’s not all you can take, it’s all you can eat.”

Multiple students disagreed with this policy, especially in dining halls with all-you-can-eat service. “I take multiple pieces of fruit for the day” from dining halls, Emma said. “I don’t really think that’s stealing. Just because I’m not eating that piece of fruit at the given time, I have still swiped in.”

Meanwhile, Hutchins said he believes convenience is the primary impetus behind the pilferage. “I don’t think it’s about people being hungry, because they have three meal credits per day,” he said. “I don’t think it’s spite or malice that motivates it.”

Willis said she is less concerned about where students eat their meals, as long as they consume them efficiently. She said many foods have a limited shelf life, and most of the items students remove from dining halls — unless eaten that day — will likely go to waste.


Student vigilance

For student workers, theft poses a similar lack of clarity. Cashiers at Andrews, the Blue Room and Jo’s have all observed students stealing but use discretion when approaching or reprimanding them.

As a cashier at the Blue Room, Cecilia Garza ’17 frequently catches students attempting to steal. “I’ve had people who make a huge effort to steal a bag of chips. I know, and I can see them,” she said. “They will go back and forth and wait until I’m not looking. One girl went so far as to go back and forth three times.”

But Garza said she typically refrains from approaching students who steal. “I always just assume they have some sort of reason, so I let it go. Had she said she didn’t have points, I would have bought it for her.”

Adriana Vargas-Smith ’16, a former BuDS worker, said it can be difficult to rightfully accuse students of stealing. “It’s hard to call somebody out,” she said. “I think you stole that, but I can’t be 100 percent sure. … The person says, ‘No, I paid on the other side.’”

According to student workers, certain eateries suffer more from stealing than others do. “When I’ve noticed (theft), it’s been obvious,” said Caroline Fenn ’14, a cashier at the Blue Room, Jo’s and the Friedman Cafe in the Sciences Library. She said she has seen more theft at Jo’s than at the Blue Room, and none at Friedman.

At Jo’s, “usually they’re drunk, and they act like they weren’t doing it on purpose,” Fenn said. She said students frequently smuggle items like mozzarella sticks in a cup or beneath other food.  But when confronted, the students often pay for their meal, she said.


Enforcing policies

Student workers admitted to reporting theft unevenly and enforcing the rules arbitrarily.

The Department of Public Safety “very rarely” responds to incidents of food stolen from campus eateries, as the matter is handled by Dining Services, said Paul Shanley, deputy chief of DPS. Dining Services “takes the first step for intervention” and determines whether to contact DPS, he said.

DPS becomes involved in more serious cases of theft, such as laptops, cash registers or non-food items stolen from campus eateries and markets, Shanley said. For example, DPS responded to the theft of 10 wiffle ball bats from Little Jo’s on April 8. Shanley said the details of the incident are still under investigation.

A DPS officer is usually stationed at Jo’s on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when the eatery experiences a high level of student traffic, Shanley said. The officer is situated at Jo’s in case “anyone needs assistance for anything and to act as a deterrent for anything,” he added.

Willis added that most students seem horrified, embarrassed and apologetic when caught, though some become defensive and entitled.

She added that most times she approaches students only to discourage theft. “I’m not interested in confrontation,” she said. “I’m interested in people making good decisions about what they really need.”

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

  1. '`*-.,_,-*'`*~-.,.~*'*~ (tldr) says:

    holy balls i am ashamed of my classmates. this is the DEFINITION of entitled behavior.

  2. Children, if you think the meal plan is not worth your money, the answer is not to steal but to cancel your plan.

    Unless you’re a freshman. Then just stuff your face.

  3. If a student has an all you can eat meal plan, taking fruit and bars for the day isn’t stealing. In fact it’s healthy. Students don’t have time for sitting down to 3 meals a day. The policy needs an adjustment. As the students are entitled to food, but not entitled in any derogatory way. Taking silverware and plates: that’s stealing.

    • angry comment section regular says:

      when you enter one of the all-you-can-eat dining halls, you can ask the cashier for a takeout box. when you swipe in that way, you can’t eat there (that’s the idea, anyway) but you’re allowed to take as much as you want as long as it can fit in that box. so if a student wants to eat there AND take some healthy snacks for later in the day, they can swipe in normally, eat, then go back to the cashier and swipe in again, asking for a takeout box this time.

      also, a lot of the convo in this article is about the eateries which charge specific prices for items.

  4. Someone needs to fix all of the ridiculous rules pertaining to meal plan..For instance, we can only use 2 credits in a given hour. I don’t think there enough hours left in the semester for me to use all the meal credits I have left, what other choice do I have?

    • If you have the 20 meals per week plan, then you can only use up to 3 meal credits per day.

      If you have one of the flex plans, you can use 2 meal credits per unit per day. So let’s say you’re at Jo’s at 10:00 pm and you use 2 credits there. If you get hungry after that, you can go to Andrews and use 2 more meal credits there. Who told you that you could use 2 credits per hour? I don’t think that’s the right policy.

      If you don’t have enough time left in the semester to use the rest of your meal credits, then you should probably stick to a lower meal plan for the future.

  5. Lets be honest says:

    Is it stealing if I have the meal credit, they just aren’t using them because of stupid and confusing policies? If I still have four swipes left in the week and they won’t let me use them, so I just take the food, have I stolen? I paid for that amount of food.

    • angry comment section regular says:

      if an entitled brown student falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, is he still a dipsh!t??

      BDS uses the data gathered from the registers to figure out how much of different items to buy, and obviously the data also factors in to how much they charge for items. so stealing probably actually drives up the prices, right? IM NO ECONOMIST but this sounds right to me

      i agree that the two-swipes-per-hr rule is weird, not sure the exact motivation for it, but thats hardly an excuse. just stay there for a while or come back in an hr u lazy fck

      • Didn’t you literally just comment on an Adam Asher piece saying that you were going to work on anonymity –> being hateful and vitriolic? At least make an effort, jeez.

        • vicious little whack-a-mole says:

          lol damn i got schooled. i was mostly talking about being less harsh toward the authors but i guess i should extend that to being nicer to other faceless internet entities too. must i make an exception for UNREPENTANT THIEVES tho?!?!

  6. Doc Hodges says:

    Did you know that “Brown” students rioted at one point in history, about the food provided by “Brown” food services??

Comments are closed. If you have corrections to submit, you can email The Herald at