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I work for a large British bank.

As of Monday, staff are no longer allowed to use the cutlery in our canteen unless they are buying food. Loss was the cited reason - around 20,000 pieces a year.

The canteen in question is operated by an outside vendor and they like to call it a restaurant.

The powers that be are arguing that if you were eating a picnic you wouldn't walk into a nearby restaurant and demand to use their cutlery, so why would you expect to be able to do that in work?

So my question is, is this normal? I had always presumed an implicit difference in the relationship between staff and a canteen and customers and a restaurant. Am I off the mark here or not? And are there any good clear arguments I can make against their position?

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So my question is, is this normal?

Perfectly normal, it's a business decision to cut losses or to boost sales.

I had always presumed an implicit difference in the relationship between staff and a canteen and customers and a restaurant. Am I off the mark here or not?

As long as it's an independent company with a different management they tend to look after their own pockets, not your company's. The rest is settled with a concession or rental agreement.

And are there any good clear arguments I can make against their position?

  1. They might be violating their current contract. Unfortunately there is no way you can know that.
  2. If your company doesn't treat them as partners they might not get their contract renewed.
    As long as they care about their own profits or having jobs this is a strong motivation.
  3. If your company treats them hostile it can start its own canteen that will drive them out of business in no time.
    Again, there is no way for you to know that.

So, if you want to pursue this you need to gain support. The labor union or - in this specific case - the company HR can be your friend. Note, if you get deeply involved with this you will be antagonized. Ask yourself the question: Is this your hill to die on?

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    +1 for the last sentence. – Kathy Sep 27 at 14:49
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This is really very very specific and different for each and every case.

  • I have worked at offices where the canteen not only offered free to use cutlery but also free to use sides (salads, pickles, table salt, sauce, dips etc).

  • I have also worked at places where in the food court, even occupying a table without ordering food was not allowed.

It really depends on the agreement between the office and the vendor. In the first scenario, there was a clause in the agreement that only our office staff were allowed to use the canteen facility (though it was located in a common place in the building where public access was allowed) and the food was subsidized by the company. So it was an office-canteen.

On the other hand, the second case, it was a public place and no subsidy was provided. It was more of an independent restaurant outlet.

Both parties (office and food vendor) look for their profit and convenience - if the establishment you mentioned is really a standalone Restaurant / food joint (just located in your office premise) - then usually they (can) have their own rules. Otherwise, if it's something like I mentioned in the first alternative - an office canteen - you should have the facility you're expecting.

To be sure on what you're entitled to - check with the Admin / Facility Management team in your office, they should be able to tell you what's really going on and initiate any actions needed.

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My guess fo what exactly happened: the canteen company complained that they don't get paid to do your dishes and the manager they complained at did not have enough spine to tell them that that is their problem. Either that or your bank signed a contract that did not include this and was just pointed at this clause.

Is this normal?

Office politics and subcontracting stuctures in big coporations lead to stupid and illogical decrees? You bet your bottom this is normal.

Is it an efficient use of time and is it a good situation? No it is not.

Are there any good clear arguments I can make against their position?

The fact that they call it a restaurant does not make it a restaurant. In most of these cases the subcontractor is hired to facilitate your meals, so they should.

The fact that the subcontractor can not turn a profit doing your dishes should not be the problem of you or your company.

Your time as a bank employee is probably more valuable (in pounds) than the time of the dishy who has to wash your used cutlery.

People bringing their own cutlery will lead to dirty stuff cluttering up the place where a central cleaning facility makes sure the procedure for dirty cutlery is clear.

Edit: I have been called arrogant in the comments a few times now and would like to clarify something: I think it all depends on the perspective you take.

My vision is that for many people the enjoyment of their job is not down to the money in the bank at the end of the month: it is about feeling valued. Small things like OP's problem might not be exactly life threatening but they are indicative of a employer not valuing the time and effort you put into your job. So you don't have to accept it if the company decides to cut into that sense of value any more than you would have to accept a pay cut. If you can clearly and calmly articulate this and have a non-pointy-haired boss then you should. If your boss agrees and if he can do anything about it is verse 2.

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Yes this is normal.

It always goes back to the contract.

The vendor has the right to protect their money. If the cutlery is being washed they have a right to limit non-customers from adding to their items being washed. If the cutlery is being thrown out after a single use, they have right to limit non-customers from taking their stock. Unless the contact says otherwise.

You have a choice: bring single use cutlery from home, or bring washable cutlery and clean it each day. I have worked at many places and both have been done by employees. Most employees didn't view it as a hardship. If you bring soup from home, just bring a spoon from home, or better yet buy a box and cutlery and keep them in your desk at work.

It is possible that your employer has been paying for non-customers use of cutlery and no longer want to subsidize it.

  • Yep, whatever is in the contract – Kilisi Sep 26 at 10:50
  • The other option is to go to the people who negotiated the contract and check that the vendor's understanding is correct. If it is, then ask for it to be changed. A major bank has better ways to make money than the canteen. – Robin Bennett Sep 27 at 7:59
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One issue they may be trying to address is loss.

If people habitually remove cutlery from the canteen, some is likely to find its way home in lunchboxes, get thrown out when clearing up, fall down the back of people's desks or the break room sofa, or get stashed in a drawer "for next time".

It wouldn't surprise me if the restriction was at least in part prompted by the canteen needing to order another batch of cutlery.

Where I work we've had exactly that issue, with dishes as well as cutlery vanishing from the canteen. We also have a shared kitchenette in our department, and the rate cutlery disappears from there is ridiculous. The result I keep my own in work (that way I also have a knife that will actually go through a block of cheese). But a kitchenette means washing up facilities of course; if you don't have those then taking your own is a minor hassle.

You could bring in a cheap but distinctive set, in a tupperware box or washed out takeaway container, and take them home to wash: This is easy if you bring food from home in containers - use the same containers.

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    One can find the most cutlery and dishes missing in a school canteen in the dorms... When I was a PhD student we were (and the actual ones are) ocasionally taking desserts to the lab with us on a plates. When the lab was moving to new building, we were to return the plates our teachers had taken when studying... It was a lot of plates. – Crowley Sep 26 at 19:47
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    @Crowley I know - I'm in academia. I've found canteen crockery in the lab, next to the chemicals – Chris H Sep 26 at 19:49
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    I've worked in food service for twenty years and the amount of lost cutlery still astounds me. I've also done enough ordering to say the cost is nontrivial. Good answer. – AGirlHasNoName Sep 26 at 20:16
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    This happens whether it's the employees eating purchased food or not. From my experience in the US, many more people will purchase food than not, so it should be much less of a loss. This should also be considered as part of the Cost of Doing Business, and be accounted for in yearly expenses. It should also be a relatively minor cost. A company that has enough people to hire for and maintain a canteen has way more employees buying food than not. This seems like an excuse rather than a relevant reason, not to say a spineless manager/CxO won't accept it. – computercarguy Sep 26 at 21:43
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    20 thousand pieces of cutlery a year?! Your question implies reusable - a quick check of plain stainless suggests getting on for £10k/yr in that case. You work in finance, but they work in catering where margins are much tighter. Even disposables would be worth several hundred pounds. – Chris H Sep 27 at 9:12
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Is the primary purpose of the restaurant to make money for its operator or is it to make meals efficient and pleasant for the bank employees? Your employer has to make a choice and then has to act on that choice.

One reason that I would immediately change this policy is that it isolates employees who have special meal or health requirements. During meals, employees socialize and have conversations they wouldn't otherwise have during work time. Making those who don't want to eat the food the canteen offers feel less welcome or less supported destroys part of the value of the canteen.

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    It seems to me you are looking only at one side of a tradeoff. The benefit for the company has to be balanced with the price is is willing to pay to the operator. Of course the operator has to make money. That is the only reason they operate it. The company has to decide what they are willing to pay for. – Rad80 Sep 27 at 7:45
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    @Rad80 - and for a major bank that extra cost is probably less than the hidden cost of highly paid bankers individually hand-washing cutlery, or going out for expense-account lunches, or even just breaking up teams who would otherwise eat together. – Robin Bennett Sep 27 at 8:06
  • @RobinBennett Absolutely, but they have the right to make wrong decisions. – Rad80 Sep 27 at 8:20
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    Let me say that I fully support the idea of the canteen being inclusive and useful to everyone and providing cutlery as a part of that. But do you really think that going from "We don't have any food to support your health requirements, so you'll have to bring your own" to "We don't have any food to support your health requirements so you'll have to bring your own, and bring cutlery, too" is going to be a camel-back-breaking straw? The lack of food provision seems orders of magnitude more isolating in this case. – David Richerby Sep 27 at 10:54
  • @DavidRicherby It's the difference between specifically doing something exclusive and being as inclusive as you can. It's not about a camel-back-breaking straw. It's about a binary decision -- accommodate or don't. When I feel places don't make even slight accommodations for me, I don't feel welcome in those places. – David Schwartz Sep 27 at 16:09
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If this is a "canteen" or lunchroom specifically for your company, this is indeed odd behavior. Presumably just be being an employee, you are allowed to be in the canteen. The whole purpose of the canteen existing is to give employees a place to eat their lunch. Putting extra restrictions on exactly how they eat their lunch is weird.

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    Actually, I find bringing my own food somewhere others buy their food, picking up the cutlery, and joining them eating lunch as odd behaviour. – Crowley Sep 26 at 19:55
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    @Crowley why? You aren't going into a restaurant, you are going into the company lunchroom. At work, some people buy lunch from the vending machine, some people brown bag it, but they all eat together. – DaveG Sep 26 at 20:00
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    The canteen in question is operated by an outside vendor and they like to call it a restaurant. This doesn't sound like a lunchroom to me. – Crowley Sep 26 at 20:06
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    @Crowley, this is fairly standard practice, IME. In the US, most cafeterias in a company are run by a contracting company who takes care of the facilities, food purchasing, etc, so the hiring company can focus on what their industry is, rather than food production. Just because the staff are confused about the nomenclature, it doesn't mean it's not still a lunchroom. And yes, I've had real, well trained chefs in a company lunchroom. – computercarguy Sep 26 at 21:48
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    @Crowley, I can see that. I've worked at enough places to see cafeteria, canteen, and lunchroom essentially used to mean the same thing. To me, a cafeteria is like a buffet restaurant with some short order cooking; a canteen is not much more than snacks and prepackaged food; and a lunchroom is a kitchenette with tables. In all of those situations, you generally have staff dedicated to those related tasks, even if they are contracted out to a cleaning company or a catering/food service company. The OP speaks as if it's a cafeteria private to the bank, so that's my take. – computercarguy Sep 26 at 22:46
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Yes, it is normal and reasonable. To be honest I cannot imagine the oposite.

It is normal that they, who makes you the food, provide you the dishes and cutlery. If you are the one, who make the food, you are the one who cares for dishes and cutlery.

Everywhere I have studied or worked so far, there was a canteen, restaurant, food corner where employees/students were to buy/get their food. Bringing your own food there was about to be frowned upon, at least.

They, who does not want to eat there can go to a different restaurant.

In many places there is a common room or kitchen with a MW-oven, sink and refrigerator so people can bring their food from home or canteen to eat it there. In our site we have a dishwasher and a set of cutlery and dishes to use.

If you have special demands, like lactose-free, gluten-free, special diet, that the vendor cannot fulfill I dare to say, asking for the cutlery and explaining why you ask for them, will grant you the exception from that rule.

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