By: Rachel Lelonek | Opinions  | 

Card-Sharing and Other Non-Issues: Caf Card Chronicles

A few weeks ago, I had dinner in the uptown Furman Dining Hall. As I waited on line, a friend saw me and offered me his Caf Card, stating that he had a lot of extra Caf dollars leftover. He joined me on the line and purchased my food for me before scurrying off to class. After placing my food down and going to pick up a set of utensils, I was approached by the assistant manager of the Wilf Campus cafeteria. She asked me if I had just purchased food for another student. I told her the truth and said that someone else had purchased my dinner for me and when she told me that it was not allowed, I told her that my friend had simply offered and that Dining Services downtown were more lenient, before proceeding to sit down.

A few minutes later, I got up to get a drink and fries to go when I was stopped by the same woman, who stood next to the cashier and asked who I was buying the food for. Though I protested that the food was for myself, she told me that I was not allowed to buy my drink and fries because I had bought food for another student, a crime uptown that was punishable by having my Caf Card taken away. I tried to explain that someone else had bought me the food, but she refused to listen and told me I knew better because of the numerous signs by the cash registers in the Furman Dining Hall. Though she asked which boy gave me his Caf Card, I remained tight-lipped as she told me how lucky I was that she didn’t catch me in the act, because she would have confiscated my card. After a brief back-and-forth where I tried to proclaim my innocence, the woman told me to leave my food behind because I was not allowed to purchase it, which I did only after getting her name and leaving in an angry huff.

I would like to think of myself as a loud and vocal person who speaks out against injustices that have faced me. For the past three years, this has continued to be the case here at Yeshiva University as I refused to stay silent about the many issues I’m passionate about. From gun control to body shaming to Beren’s pre-law advisor struggles, I have been vocal about various issues that arose throughout my education at YU. But recently, a lot of hype has surfaced about the wrongs that have occurred–particularly on the Wilf Campus–surrounding to the new regulations on YU’s Caf Card and the strictness of Dining Services staff. And while I may not be a student on the Wilf Campus, it affects me just as much as any other student–as my prior story illustrates.

Throughout my duration at Stern, there have consistently been two types of Caf Card users: Those who run out of money before the semester has ended and those who have lots of extra money left over. Despite introducing new meal plan options last year with three tier options for money on an individual’s card, this dichotomy still exists and many of the students with leftover money often offer to buy meals for other students. While many students with extra money graciously offer to pay for meals for other peers (sometimes labeled the provocative term “Caf daddies”), those in charge of Dining Services on both campuses try to make sure that each student is using his or her own Caf money.

In order to find out Yeshiva University’s official policies pertaining to the use of others’ Caf Cards, I went on the Dining Services’ website. As of May 2, 2018, the website stated that YU meal plans are “non-transferable and non-refundable” because of the New York State tax exemption that is allotted to undergraduate and graduate students. But what happens to all of the money that goes unused? According to Dining Services, “any balance must be used by the end of the second semester, as there are no refunds. For the [2017-18] academic school year, balances must be used by midnight of May 17, 2018.” In short: you use it or you lose it.

In order not to lose their prepaid money, many students across both campuses have tried various techniques to spend their money throughout the semester. On the Wilf Campus, many students stock up on food from the mini-market within the Furman Dining Hall. The same is done on the Beren Campus at Milner’s Markets in both the Brookdale and Schottenstein Residence Halls. This is seen as problematic by other students, who become frustrated with the lack of sufficient stock in the mini-markets and are frustrated with their peers who clear off the shelves. Another, more popular, method of spending excess money is to share it with other students who have used up most of their Caf money or Omni Dollars in restaurants–a method not only frowned upon, but prohibited by Dining Services.

Since the beginning of the current school year, and more forcefully since the beginning of the Spring 2018 semester, Dining Services’ employees have begun to crack down on the use of other people’s Caf Cards. Initially, students were no longer able to give their 800 or 900 YU ID numbers to Caf employees upon checking out their purchases to prevent students from using other people’s YU ID numbers and to prevent students from possibly using others’ YU ID numbers without their knowledge. This method took place in both YU cafeterias, as well as OneStop Kosher in Washington Heights and surrounding restaurants that use Omni Dollars. This forced students to use their ID’s at the time of purchase in order not to use someone else’s meal plan. The next step that Dining Services took was putting up signs in all YU cafeterias, as well as in Nagel Bagel, reminding students that they must use their YU ID’s to make purchases.

YU has tried to think of creative solutions to combat the excess Caf money quandary. One initiative, proposed by University Dean of Students, Dr. Chaim Nissel, was the YUCare program, which allowed students to donate up to $50 of their own Caf money to “a special fund that will be made available to students in need for use in the Yeshiva cafeterias.” While I do not know the exact success of this initiative, this program was criticized in many Yeshiva University social media groups online, mocking the Caf dollars as “cafCoins”–a spoof of the successful Bitcoin.

In recent weeks, signs have gone up in YU cafeterias, as well as Nagel Bagel, with more stringent outlines as to what students can and cannot spend their money on. One sign in the 215 Lexington Avenue cafeteria stated that students could not buy more than six sushi rolls per purchase. Another sign in Nagel Bagel said that students could not have more than a $100 purchase. These new restrictions have been put in place to further prevent students from spending money on others, even if their peers aren’t necessarily there. This also prevents a student’s ability to stock up on extra food–a common practice in the 215 Lexington Avenue caf, as well as the mini-markets around both the Wilf and Beren campuses.

But despite these efforts, many students have still been using their peers’ Caf dollars for food. Even in the presence of the cardholder and with the cardholder’s permission, some Dining Services’ employees have remained staunch in following the rules. Others, however, have been more lenient and allowed cardholders to buy food for other students with them or nearby waiting.

The new crackdown has caused varying opinions on the once former leniency of Dining Services amongst Caf employees–all of whom requested to be quoted anonymously. “I think the problem with people taking other people’s Caf Cards to pay for their food didn’t really become an issue until recently,” said one Dining Services employee. “Before [the current managers] came to campus, I don’t think [Dining Services] cared so much … it wasn’t a big deal. They didn’t crack down on [using other people’s Caf Cards] the way they do now.” Another Dining Services worker disagreed and said that for as long as he or she worked for Dining Services, “people were never allowed to use other people’s [YU ID] numbers and ID’s.” Despite their varying opinions, both employees agreed that in recent years, a crackdown has occurred on both the Wilf and Beren campuses about students using other students’ ID’s to purchase food–one that has progressed in recent months.

My experience is not a lone story. When reaching out to others expressing my own discontent with the new hawkish behaviors of some Caf employees, they responded with stories of their own. One student explained that he/she was trying to make a purchase in the Furman Dining Hall mini-market that came to a total of $100.20, exceeding the $100 limit. He/she proceeded to explain that someone from Dining Services refused to allow him/her to make the complete purchase, making a mountain out of a molehill all for a grand total of 20 cents extra. Another anonymous Dining Services employee also expressed that he/she had heard a story from his/her supervisor of a case on the Wilf Campus where a girl was buying food for her brother on her Caf Card and had her card confiscated and disabled as a consequence. When asked about these cases, the Beren Campus Food Services Manager said that these actions by Wilf Dining Services are unacceptable and that Dining Services “are there to serve the students, not the other way around.”

Opinions on the recent crackdown on Caf Cards have also illustrated a general frustration amongst students with the “Big Brother” approach that Dining Services has been taking. One anonymous Stern student expressed her confusion about students buying food for others when the student with excess money is present and paying with his or her own ID: “when the person whose ID it is is standing there, handing [over their] card and giv[ing] consent right there … then it is their money and they have the right to spend it as they choose.” Another student, SCW senior Chaviva Freedman, concurred with the anonymous student, but argued the issue is twofold: “While I’m glad that the Caf is trying to control [students from using other people’s Caf Cards], there are some [people] who need to borrow Caf money for any number of reasons.” Freedman offered a similar solution to the previous student, stating that “maybe what should be done is to have the person whose card they’re going to be using next to them to prove that they aren’t just stealing. That way people can have food and still be able to use other Caf Cards if necessary.”

As for my opinion, I think that the Caf needs to stop cracking down on students who willingly give their Caf Cards to their peers to use their excess money that will otherwise go to waste. I must admit that I too am guilty of buying food for peers in a pinch and who are without extra Caf money. But after being told that I was being penalized for supposedly buying food for another student (who in fact had bought food for me), I am a little more reluctant to buy food again on the Wilf Campus despite having been a frequent customer. I think that these excess regulations put in place to stop Caf Card sharing are outrageous and an overreaction by Dining Services. Though I am sure that nothing will be fixed in my few short remaining weeks at Stern, I hope that something changes so the Caf daddies can live on.