Where have all the dishes gone?

By Peter Wright

Something’s dishy in Café Mac. Between summer and J-term budgets, nearly $14,000 worth of cafeteria dishes have gone missing, and the culprits of this dish dilemma are Mac students themselves.From their office in the back of Café Mac, General Manager Deb Novotny and Board Manager Theresa Cianni watched their dishes drop throughout last semester.

Over the summer break they spent over $6,000 to replace missing dishes. In January they spent another $8,000 to replace those and a few others.

Cianni said that she counts dishes at the beginning and end of every semester. While mysterious disappearances are common with every count, she said that fall semester marked the worst season since she’s been here.

“It’s always been bad, but this is really bad,” Cianni said.

Soup cups topped the list in stolen items. Cianni said that at the beginning of the fall semester there were 571 bowls in circulation.

“When I counted in January 2009, I only had 91 on board,” she said.

That means 480 disappeared. Novotny said that people probably walk out with the bowls when they take desserts out of Café Mac.

Forks also topped the list in popular items. Cianni said that the year started with 1200 forks, by J-term that number had dropped to 727, a loss of 472.

“It’s unbelievable, some of the numbers that are down,” Cianni said.

Perhaps the most visible items to disappear from the cafeteria were the 12 ounce plastic cups. During the peak times of lunch hour on weekdays, many people have been forced to use paper cups for drinks because Café Mac runs out of the plastic cups. The paper cups, which certainly don’t help in the cafeteria’s mission to become more sustainable, are not simply a result of students taking them. Cianni said that people regularly put coffee in the plastic cups, which melts them and causes them to crack.

Overall, they need 900 to 1,000 cups in order to function smoothly. In January Cianni counted 727. She ordered 384 new cups to start this semester.

The cup crunch is not limited to tumblers. Some of the most expensive dishes to disappear are coffee mugs.

Cianni said that last semester opened with 292 mugs. By January that number had dropped to only 52, a loss of 240. At $4.12 per mug, that’s nearly $1,000 just to replace coffee mugs for this semester.

Unlike the plastic cups, Novotny said that mugs cannot be easily damaged, which means that almost all of the missing cups were probably carried out.

“We did not break or lose that much,” Novotny said.

Finding a solution to the dish dilemma seems to lay more with students than with Café Mac. Novotny said that the managers obviously know that dishes are being taken out, but they can’t do much to prevent it. She said that workers simply can’t monitor bags and students closely enough to stop them, and she doesn’t want them to become overbearing.

Novotny said that students probably don’t realize the collective impact of taking dishes.

Over Spring Break Café Mac is planning to hold a “dish amnesty” drive, working with Res Life to place return boxes in the dorm buildings and in the Campus Center. Novotny said that the boxes will be back out at the end of the year. They place the boxes for students to drop off taken dishes without any consequences.

Novotny said, however, that students can return dishes at The Grille all year with no consequences. She said that she just wants them back.

“They can bring them back, no questions asked,” she said.

Novotny said that Café Mac’s budget does not allow her to order more dishes until March, but she said that, considering the dishes added just a few weeks ago, she hopes to not have to do that until the end of the year. In reality, however, there will inevitably be dishes to order come Spring Break.