Is Taking Food from the Dining Halls Acceptable?

Students lounge and eat in Warren Dining Hall. | Photo by Gabriela Fernadez
Students lounge and eat in Warren Dining Hall. | Photo by Gabriela Fernadez

Reporting assisted by Rhiannon Pabich, COM ’14

It costs $4,590 for any one of the four standard dining plan options at Boston University. These plans offer students a combination of all-you-can-eat meals at any of the three dining halls on campus, and a certain number of dining points to use at other retail locations. There are also apartment meal plans, a kosher meal plan, and even one option that offers students unlimited meals. The different options aim to offer students flexibility in their dining options depending on their schedule and lifestyle.

Despite these options, many students feel their needs are not being met. As they get more and more desperate, they start bending rules until they break. The most common tactic is to take food from the all-you-can-eat dining halls.

Brie Garcia, a College of Communication junior, is one of these students.

“I never had time to stop by the dining halls–I was in SMG Core–and I feared that the money my parents spent making sure I wouldn’t starve would go to waste,” she said.

Faced with the pressure to use her meal plan, a limited grocery budget, and a time crunch, Garcia made a calculated decision to steal from the dining hall.

The official policy on removing food from the dining allows students to take one hand fruit or one dessert out of the dining hall. Garcia’s career as a thief started small, she would simply grab several pieces of fruit at a time. But maintaining this habit proved a slippery slope.

“One day, I wrapped a full loaf of bread in my sweatshirt,” she recalled.  “Later that day, I snagged some half and half. I also swiped some salt shakers off of the table.”

It escalated from there. Garcia started filching dishes and bowls. Over time, she wound up with an entire dining set for four.

She justifies the theft by pointing out that she never used all her meals, and so BU dining was saving money.

There are no official statistics on dining hall theft at BU, but Garcia isn’t the only one who operates under the presumption that theft is made up for by the meal plan cost.

“BU’s dining plan is astronomically priced and everyone should cheat it a little bit,” said College of Arts and Sciences alumna Jess Stewart.

In her days at BU, Stewart was a criminal mastermind when it came to stealing from the dining halls. She took everything from desserts to salads to entire pizzas and was always happy to pass on her skills.

“I have a nearly fool-proof burrito stealing technique that I’ve taught many people,” she said.  “Basically what you do is you get your burrito/wrapped food item, get a plastic cup, put the burrito into the cup, and then stand the cup up inside whatever bag you’re using. And bam—transportable burrito!”

Cost is a major justification students cite for food theft–and it’s hard to argue that BU’s meal plan isn’t a bit costly. The USDA reports a moderate-cost food plan to cost around $65 a week – which comes to $3,224 for a year (remember BU’s meal plans only cover the academic year). Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that BU dining employees are allowed to eat for free before or after their shifts, even if they don’t have a meal plan that other students have to purchase.

One BU Dining Services employee offered her perspective on theft.

“It’s obvious that there’s theft from the dining hall’s perspective because there’s always that point halfway through the semester that we run out of cups,” she said.

Cups are one of the most commonly stolen items | photo by Thea Di Giammerino
Cups are one of the most commonly stolen items. | Photo by Thea Di Giammerino

She went on to explain that while she sympathizes with students who are frustrated with the high cost of food, she didn’t think cost was justification for stealing from the dining halls, because, she said, rules are rules.

She pointed out that the policy on theft was vague, and many “swipers,” the cashiers responsible for watching what leaves the dining halls, will let students walk out with a fruit and a dessert, or even a sandwich.

“It’s sometimes hard to get [a student’s] attention,” she said. “If they know they’re stealing they’re not going to stop.”

Jovani Small (COM ’14), who used to work in the Warren Towers dining hall, said she didn’t think food theft was as much of a concern as missing tableware.

“So many students would take dishes from the dining hall, that a lot of times we would run out of silverware and things to put out for students during shifts,” she said. “But usually at the end of the semester these things get returned.”

BU Dining Services does offer amnesty days, where they leave bins out to give students an opportunity to return stolen dishes. But Garcia isn’t so sure she’ll take them up on the offer.

“They were so cute!” she said of the dishes she stole. “I still use it well!”

Thea DiGiammerino

Thea Di Giammerino (COM/SMG'14) was born and raised in Massachusetts and loves to say "wicked." Like most writers she tends to be heavily caffeinated and will never say no to a coffee shop date.

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