CafAc Mac feels cost of thefts

By Alex Park

Broken inventory and theft accounted for thousands of dollars in losses at Café Mac last year, says Bon Appétit, the management group that runs the dining hall.

Last year, the management group spent $8,000 to replace lost or stolen plates, bowls, glasses and tableware, said Lori Hartzell, General Manager for Bon Appétit at Macalester. Some 30 percent of this amount was due to broken items.
“We were having a lot of breakage issues there,” said David Ramlow, director of Bon Appétit’s regional headquarters in Minneapolis. This trend was fairly common at all the management group’s cafeterias, he added.

The move toward plastic bowls and cups in Café Mac’s inventory this year was largely intended to reduce losses from broken inventory. St. Olaf’s Stav Dining Hall, another Bon Appétit client, had already made the move.

Broken plates, bowls and glasses, however, Hartzell said, are not the biggest challenge to maintaining inventory.

“There’s a lot of theft,” she said. The complaint is common at the management levels of virtually all college dining halls, including Hamline and St. Olaf, Ramlow and Hartzell both noted.

“We replace an incredible amount of our serviceware every year,” said Katie McKenna, general manager for Bon Appétit at St. Olaf. She added that the majority of replacements were due to theft.
At St. Olaf’s bustling cafeteria, ranked fifth in the nation by this year’s Princeton Review college guide, more than 3,000 students are on Bon Appétit’s meal plan. A typical meal hosts upwards of 2,200 people. Theft is considered a calculated risk and factored into the budget every year.

At the much smaller Café Mac, however, management has taken the position that the costs of replacing stolen items are starting to go well beyond the realm of mere financial annoyance.

This year, around 70 percent of replacement costs at Café Mac, or $5,600, was allocated for stolen items, mostly soup bowls and cups, coffee mugs, and salt and pepper shakers. Hartzell said that last year was hardly atypical, but the costs are adding up — a phenomenon, she said, that impedes service, since Bon Appétit’s cafeterias are independently managed and the cost of replacement comes out of Café Mac’s own budget.

“The concern is that it takes away money from the program,” Associate Dean of Students Jim Hoppe said. “It limits what we can do and what we can offer people.”

The move toward plastic bowls and cups in Café Mac’s inventory this year was largely intended to reduce losses from broken inventory.
Since plastic bowls and soup cups cost just as much as their porcelain counterparts, the new additions are not expected to offset the cost of replacing stolen inventory this year. However, at $2.32 each, the new plastic “tumbler” cups cost slightly more to replace than their glass counterparts, which cost $2.25. Green plastic coffee mugs are $2.20, while the taller, glass “Irish” coffee mugs are $2.31. Soup cups and bowls are $2.18 and $3.58 each, respectively, and the large but rarely stolen green and red bowls used for pasta and rice rack in at $10.00 a pop.
Students said they could not care less what the bowls and cups are made out of; they steal because they can. One sophomore interviewed for this story who wished to remain anonymous said there was little incentive not to steal from Café Mac.
“It’s easy to steal,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I do it all the time.”
The student said this year he had already stolen three bowls and several pieces of flatware, but added that he intends to return all of it via the anonymous “amnesty boxes” Bon Appétit put in Macalester’s dorms at the end of the academic year. Hartzell said this is one way Bon Appétit has opted to retrieve stolen inventory, but the method is relatively unreliable since in the past only a portion has been returned and some boxes have themselves been stolen.
Hartzell and Hoppe said they intend to begin a campaign this semester to raise awareness with students about the issue.
“I’m hoping it’s just folks not thinking about taking a cup or two,” Hoppe said, adding that he considers this a relatively serious issue and wants to see it addressed in the near future.