Each academic year, Bowdoin Dining Services loses roughly 960 knives, 1800 forks, 2400 spoons, 800 mugs and 1500 cups. While some of this loss is due to general wear and tear, diminishing amounts of dining hall utensils are due to student removal of those items.
“Technically, maybe, it is [theft],” said Head of Dining Service Ken Cardone. “But that’s not the intent.”

Dining Service understands that students, faculty and staff will all take cutlery from the dining halls throughout the year and they try to prepare for it. With roughly 23,000 meals a week, the dishes and silverware get quite a lot of use.

Operating budgets for each dining hall allocate thousands of dollars for dish and silverware replacement and Cardone said Dining Services spends about $12,000 to $14,000 per year on replacing china and silverware. However, it is hard to tell how much goes to replacing missing dishes and silverware versus those that are worn out.

The reality is that Dining gets very few of the missing dishes and silverware back once they leave the dining hall and they do not want the dishes and silverware to be thrown in the garbage. It can be a frustrating experience for Dining, especially when they’ve just acquired a new set of commercial china, which is more costly than residential china.

In order to help recover cutlery and china, Dining has enlisted the help of Bowdoin’s housekeeping staff.

If housekeepers find dishes or silverware belonging to the dining hall in a common area of a dormitory, they can put them in a milk crate, and exchange a full milk crate for a free meal.
“It could take me a month, it could take me two months [to fill a crate],” said Sabrina Bouchard, housekeeper in Coleman Hall. “On average, during the year, I fill maybe a couple of crates.”

“I have a crate downstairs that I started at the beginning of the school year and it’s about three-quarters full.” 

Dining reached out to housekeepers who often find dishes in common areas within student dormitories.

Bouchard said she enjoys the exchange.

“I usually bring my own food so it’s a treat for me to go the dining hall,” she said. 

Joyce Mayer, housekeeper for buildings on Federal Street, cashes in on the deal in the summer after students move out and leave behind many dining dishes and silverware. At the beginning of the summer, it is very easy for housekeepers to fill multiple crates.  

“I find dishes in the trash and I’ll pick them out, but I don’t go looking for them,” said Mayer. “I just want to thank Dining for doing that and to keep it up!” 

Hope Marsden, housekeeper for Baxter House, prefers to pass her dishes along to other housekeepers.

“I give them to other people since I don’t eat in the dining halls,” said Marsden. 

The removal of dining hall dishware and cutlery is increasingly becoming an issue on other college campuses.

Cardone said that the University of Montana recently reached out to other institutions of higher education via a Listserv email explaining that Montana had been experiencing an increased amount of theft in their facilities. The cost of replacing stolen items was starting to add up quickly, and they asked other schools for advice. 

According to Cardone, the food service director at the University of Connecticut responded, “Chopsticks, order chopsticks.”