For students desperate for a cup of coffee before dashing off to class, an empty mug rack beneath the coffee carafes in the cafeteria is a sorry sight — but all too common in recent weeks. Dining hall patrons have taken or thrown out around 450 plastic white mugs since the start of the semester.
Bon Appétit Management Company bought 600 plastic mugs at the beginning of the year to replace an old set of ceramic mugs, said Bon Appétit General Manager David Apthorpe in an email, but by the end of September, no more than 80 were circulating. Only about 70 mugs had been taken from use by Bon Appétit because they were stained or broken, he said, which means the rest have been taken or thrown out by patrons. Bon Appétit Marketing Manager William Persson said they’ve found mugs around campus and in garbage cans within the dining hall.
Mugs cost $4.60 each, Apthorpe said. That’s more than a $2,000 loss for Bon Appétit in the first month of school.
“I am surprised at the speed which the mugs have vanished,” Apthorpe said. “It affects our ability to maintain our service standards.”
Patrons aren’t just taking mugs, though. Silverware and dishes are often found around campus and in dorms, too, he said.
“Students’ attitudes can be, ‘There’s thousands of forks, and I already pay so much,’” Apthorpe said, adding that people have a different attitude toward taking books from a library.
The net effect of taking the mugs diminishes service for everyone, Apthorpe said, noting that replacing the disposable cups has allowed Bon Appétit to offer better food and customer service.
“If we can save money on cups, glasses, waste, we can have a more robust program,” he said, estimating that Bon Appétit spent $8,000 on disposable cups in previous years.
Students may be taking out the cups in reaction to Bon Appétit’s decision to replace disposable to-go cups with reusable travel mugs for each student, according to Persson. Students have commented that they want the disposable cups back, he said, but that doesn’t excuse them for taking out the plastic mugs.
“It is technically stealing,” he said.
Junior Erik Halvorson said students shouldn’t take the white mugs, but the lack of disposable to-go cups encourages them to do so.
“It seems like [the travel mugs] are not the best use of resources, because people forget them, they lose them,” Halvorson said. “It inevitably leads to people taking the white ones.”
Students are allowed to take a piece of fruit, a cookie, a cone or cup of ice cream, or a beverage in a travel mug from the dining hall, Apthorpe said.
Whether they’re inconvenienced by the lack of disposable cups, students who intentionally throw away or take mugs out of the dining hall break the college’s honor code, said Associate Dean of Men Jeffrey Rogers.
“Of course it’s a violation of the honor code,” Rogers said. “It says something about us.”
Rogers said some students might just be forgetful, but the fact that so many mugs have disappeared so quickly is “a problem.”
“Is it serious?” he added. “It’s the little things that turn into the serious things.”
Apthorpe said he is waiting on a shipment of 250 more mugs to replace some of the missing ones.
“We hope that educational efforts and the challenges created by a mug shortage will shape guest behavior,” he said, noting that if the mug theft continues, Bon Appétit will have to institute stricter door monitoring.
For now, Rogers has a strict warning for students who steal: “I pity the fool that I catch outside of the dining hall with a cup he threw away.”