The Cost of Dining Common Dishware Theft
by Cristy Portlock


It is not unheard of for students to sneak extra treats from the dining commons to satisfy their off-scheduled hunger. An individual’s eating habits are as different as he or she is, so for some, the buffet style works and for others it doesn’t. Though discouraged by staff and administrators, food theft is still, understandably, committed. But does stealing food from the dining commons have an effect on UCSB students? 

According to Jill Horst, Director of Residential Dining Services, “theft of food does not directly impact the prices of the meal plans.” While this may be true, does the same apply to dishes and utensils “borrowed” by students who find themselves in need of them? Plates, knives, forks, and bowls may not be expensive one at a time, but in bulk, the price adds up. So goes the analogy that if one person takes a penny, it will not make much of a difference, but when a hundred or a thousand people take a penny there is a definite impact.  

The same situation may be applied to the theft of dishware. One bowl may not be noticed among the hundreds that are placed in the dining commons everyday, but the more people who take eating paraphernalia, the more dishes are missing when needed. These stolen items will have to be replaced, so how does all of this work out, and who ends up paying? 

“We spend about $60,000 per year for replacement of all dishware/glasses/utensils for four dining commons, some of that from breakage, wear and tear, and some from theft,” said Bonnie Crouse, Assistant Director of Residential Dining Services. “That said, it would be much more expensive to use disposables.” Crouse said the Carrillo Dining Commons tray return went under repair last week and food was served on disposable products because the dish machine could not be used. “For just one week, the cost was over $2,000 for these products, so it adds up quickly.” Since disposables are not a feasible solution for this issue, the Dining and Residential staff are forced to look for other means of obtaining missing dishware. 

“On occasion students do remove dishes from the dining commons but most of the dishware is returned at the end of the school year when students move out,” said Horst. “We set up collection stations at each of the resident’s halls to help with this effort.” 

According to the Housing and Residential Annual Report, off-campus meals were up 34 percent last year. A new bid process for deli meats saves the department approximately $50,000 each year and take-out meals increased 20 percent. With these money saving factors as well as the programs, staff have been finding ways to help mitigate the cost of dishware. 

“We are encouraging students not to take a tray when they enter to dine, saving on the use of washing the tray as well as cutting back on food waste,” said Crouse. Along with the “Trayless Challenge” posters that are constant reminders of the efforts to save money and make up for food and dishware expenses, Dining and Residential Services is looking into the size of dishware to reduce theft. 

“We are researching how we can cut back on the quantity of dishware we use by switching from lots of small bowls to larger plates,” she said. “This should decrease our replacement costs.”