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The thief next to me #informs2014

So I went to get breakfast at the conference hotel this morning during INFORMS2014. A number of us, including me, had breakfast vouchers of some kind (either the pay nothing type or the pay nothing at the Starbucks or pay $10 for the complete breakfast buffet at the restaurant type). When he was done with his breakfast, the person next to me, a youngish Indian male who was an INFORMS2014 attendee (he was wearing his badge with the easily recognizable red laniard, although I don't remember if his name was easily readable) told the waiter that he had forgotten his breakfast voucher. The Hispanic waiter, working at an upscale hotel, was very courteous and said no problem, give me your name and room number and just get me your voucher within half an hour. So far so good: young conference attendee who forgot something in his room, kind waiter who wants to help him out. And then the young Indian male got up and when he had his back turned to the waiter, smiled so smugly that I just knew he had been lying through his teeth and wasn't coming back.

Now, technically speaking, if I was psychic I would have figured out the lottery numbers by now, so I did eat my breakfast very slowly to see if he was coming back - maybe I just don't trust people enough, right? Someone tried to be kind to him so he's not going to ruin it for the next person after him who really did forget his voucher in his room, right? Well, you can believe in Santa Claus if you want and hope he showed up back at the restaurant very late having ransacked his hotel room in a desperate search for his breakfast voucher, but in the half hour I waited, cutting my cantaloupe in the tiniest possible slices I could muster, the person just didn't come back.

Then what further aggravated me, when I posted a comment on Twitter, was a reply I got back about the need not to "underestimate grad students' resourcefulness in how to get free food", with a smiley face to punctuate it all. So me being me, I reply something along the lines that it's theft and disgusting. (My family was very poor. They got themselves out of poverty without stealing.) At which point it was replied to me something along the lines that such buffet crashing was not uncommon at conferences (although strongly disapproved of by my interlocutor). I thought the choice of words was telling. So this is what this generation has come to, and not any member of this generation but educated members in a professional group the vast majority of whose members hold or pursue PhDs related to operations research and data analytics and thus have or will soon have skills that will make them in high demand and well-paid in the workforce: seeing a restaurant as an opportunity for "free food" and "buffet crashing" rather than calling the behavior what it is, service theft. When you're old enough and educated enough to attend an INFORMS conference, you should know better.

Do I really have to explain the difference between getting free food because as a starving graduate student you're "crashing" a party (when the other guests aren't paying either and the food has already been ordered) and service theft at a restaurant? Really? If you have enough money to buy yourself a nice-looking blue business shirt and just as nice-looking business pants, surely you have money to buy yourself breakfast. And if you don't have money to buy yourself breakfast, I would suggest you do not steal breakfast. What are you going to do 15 years from now, overcharge your customers at your consulting company because, oh well, they have the money? record non-existing profits to convince more and more investors to buy your stock and raise its price out of thin air so you can build lavish headquarters because, oh well, you can get away with it? tell trusting investors you can achieve extraordinary returns so that they should invest their life savings with you, while you live in high style and run a Ponzi scheme because, oh well, they should've known better? You've got to start somewhere and service theft at a conference restaurant for *breakfast* when you have had enough money to pay for the airfare, hotel and business suit does have the right degree of gratuitous smugness that one would expect to precede blatant large-scale professional fraud. I guess it's no wonder with that sort of attitude that the white-collar executive world is rocked every few years by scandals of epic proportions.


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