Updated: April 21, 2022 at 5:22 p.m.
There’s no better way to start your morning than with a hot cup of coffee, and some students have found a way to get their caffeine kick without forking over any cash.
The Hatchet spoke to more than 10 students, most of whom requested anonymity, who said they steal coffee or other food and drinks from the University Student Center Panera Bread because they are either tight on GWorld funds or don’t find ethical issues with snagging “free” items from the large corporation. They said stealing from the business has become a simple task because the storefront keeps the majority of its drinks at a self-serving counter accessible to anyone walking through.
Students said the phenomenon started during the past year after Panera began offering a monthly $8.99 unlimited coffee subscription and a $10.99 unlimited sip cup deal for rewards members. They keep coffee and clear plastic cups on hand for students to grab without having to interact with a cashier.
Thyra Roller, a sophomore who works at Panera as a cashier, said while many students seem to get away with stealing, employees nearly always notice.
“We do see you when you think you’re being discreet,” Roller said.
If they witness students stealing, Roller said managers encourage employees to “call them out.” But Roller said staff lack formal training on how to deal with the sneaky trend, so they often don’t confront students when they notice them stealing.
Roller said Panera can get so crowded with students that employees are too occupied to be able to stop students from stealing, that is if they even notice them behind the rush of dozens of students scrambling to grab a bite to eat.
Because of the ease of the petty crime, students said it’s too tempting not to take advantage of.
“It’s too easy – it’s like they want you to,” one freshman majoring in international business said.
In addition to coffee, students said they’ve been stealing Panera’s wide array of drink choices including soft drinks, juices and teas from the dispensers on the counter. Some students said they walk into the student center, walk through the front of the line and go straight to the juice bar to snatch their drink without hesitation as if it’s almost second nature.
“If you don’t do it at some point, do you really go to GW?” a freshman majoring in marketing said.
Students also said their limited number of dining dollars each year incentivizes the pull to steal.
One freshman said she steals a drink on a daily basis when she eats at Panera. She said she doesn’t feel remorse for stealing from a big corporation like Panera.
“I don’t feel any morals – I think they’re a multimillion dollar company, and they should not be charging $4 for a drink,” the student said.
Panera was estimated to be worth $7.5 billion as of 2017, Reuters reported.
She, like other students, has found it easier to steal drinks after her first few offenses.
“My stealing has gotten worse,” she said. “Like I used to be really scared about it. But now I just kind of do it whenever and I don’t really care or have any moral obligation.”
Many students said they only steal from Panera among the GWorld vendors on campus. A sophomore majoring in political science and economics said she would never steal from anywhere else, only targeting Panera because of how easily and often she can pull it off.
“I will not steal from a small business, ever,” she said. “I think that’s wrong, but the GWorld is running low.”
One freshman transferring to the School of Business even said she finds the cups out on the counter “inviting.”
“I haven’t stolen anything else at GW before, just Panera,” she said. “And I guess because it’s just right there – they keep the cups out for you.”
One student said they even go as far as stealing a pastry or two. A junior majoring in American studies said that online orders are especially easy to steal because you don’t need to show a receipt to pick them up.
One junior said if they notice on the receipt of the to-go orders that a pastry has been sitting out for hours and no one is coming to take it, they take the food to prevent waste.
A former student who transferred out after the spring of his freshman year in 2019, shows no regrets when it comes to this Panera thievery, equating the act to the potential to steal from any other restaurant with a drink station.
“Tons of people would go to a restaurant and ask for a cup to fill with water, but guess what, you’re not putting water in that cup, don’t lie to yourself,” he said. “It’s the same thing.”