Every year thousands of knives, forks and spoons disappear from the canteens on campus. The caterers can’t replace the cutlery fast enough to keep pace. Much to their annoyance.
illustrations Pascal Tieman
Be honest, now. Have you ever taken cutlery from one of the canteens on campus? The editors at Resource posted this question on our Facebook page last week. Just one Master’s student confessed to once having taken a tray. That was in 2011. ‘The tray was lying around somewhere it didn’t belong and I thought it would come in useful,’ she emailed guiltily. She made a Sinterklaas ‘surprise’ with it. ‘I hope you get some more responses for a nice article.’ No such luck. Yet she is certainly not the only one. In fact, judging by the figures provided by the caterers, thousands of students and staff must have taken some cutlery from the canteens at some point over recent years. Pinching cutlery is very common. Yet Cormet restaurant manager Jannes Kamp is reluctant to call it stealing. That sounds so hard. ‘And in some cases the cutlery might have been accidentally thrown out with the leftovers.’
Of the 750 sets of cutlery in circulation at the Cormet outlet in the Forum, 600 disappear every year. So in the course of this academic year, Cormet decided to stop replacing them. For months now, students and staff have had to make do with simple white, breakable plastic cutlery. Until last week, that is. Critical comments in Resource’s Canteen Test changed the caterer’s mind and there are now 750 new sets of cutlery ready for use.
Cormet is not the only caterer with a cutlery problem. It is no different for OSP, the caterer in Orion. Manager Hans Budding started the academic year with 950 sets of cutlery. Now, towards the end of the year, he has about 200 left. ‘Already 750 forks and 750 spoons have disappeared. Strangely enough, only 100 knives. About 100 plates have gone too.’ All in all, ‘an awful lot’, observes Budding. ‘The stealing has increased massively this year. It’s been much more than in previous years.’
And it’s not just cutlery either. If you order a beer at the bar in The Spot you get a cheap glass with it nowadays. ‘At first we had nice Jupiler glasses, but they’ve all gone. I’m not ordering new ones. If people want a particular beer in a particular glass, they have to hand in their WUR card as a deposit.’ And even that is no guarantee. ‘Some students come to borrow something at the end of the year, but don’t come and pick up their WUR card afterwards. I ended up with 20 WUR cards last year.'
To the office
The worst culprits are the diners in the canteen at the Leeuwenborch. Owner Jeroen van Rosevelt of Good Food Catering estimates that as many as 1250 sets of cutlery disappear there every year. That is at least six times the number of sets (200) in circulation at any given time. But he adds, ‘It isn’t all theft. Some of the stuff stays in the building because people take their trays to the office and don’t bring them back. Some of it disappears at catered events and when people clear away too. But most of it is just not brought back. It goes in waves. There was a lot last month.’
In the Leeuwenborch too, there is obviously less of a market for knives. ‘Knives and teaspoons. If only they took those sometimes,’ jokes Rosevelt. ‘I buy the stuff in complete sets and I now have a huge surplus knives and teaspoons.’ Nor is the pilfering limited to cutlery. ‘Packets of salt, sugar and creamer get pinched too. And serviettes, paper cups, ketchup. These are all items people think it’s okay to walk off with.’
Restaurant manager Kamp of Cormet plans to hang up a sign at the tills politely requesting that people bring things back. Budding of OSP is doubtful whether that will help. In the Leeuwenborch, Van Rosevelt put up a sign by the cutlery long ago. ‘Asking people to bring the stuff back because otherwise prices will eventually have to go up. I don’t get the impression that it’s helped much.’
Thousands of euros
‘The biggest problem is,’ thinks Van Rosevelt, ‘that students don’t see this as theft. They see these as things you can just take if you want. The story goes in the student houses: if there’s something missing from the kitchen, you can replace it at the canteen. I’ve heard students say that several times.’ Van Rosevelt thinks the cost of theft runs to a couple of thousand euros a year. And that in a place like the Leeuwenborch, full of socially concerned people, he comments dryly. ‘They get worked up about fair prices for products coming from abroad but when it comes to the catering in their own environment they don’t have a problem at all.’
What can be done about the theft of cutlery? Hang up cameras, maybe? Install metal detectors? Resource challenges readers to come up with solutions. Restaurant manager Jannes Kamp comes up with the first idea. ‘Twenty years ago when I was at school, every student was issued with a plastic cup with a lid. You could do that with cutlery. Wageningen UR could give every student one set of cutlery, perhaps with a nice logo on it.’
Send in your ideas to email@example.com.