Students charged for seemingly ‘free’ Starbucks due to malfunctioning register


Illustration by Ziye Wang

Students noticed longer lines and overflowing trash bins at the Starbucks in Norris University Center during the time the register was not working properly, providing seemingly “free” food and coffee.

Fiona Roach, Assistant Campus Editor

Bing Crosby once sang “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”

But, unfortunately for Northwestern students, free Starbucks at the Norris University Center did not last forever. 

For a few weeks of Winter Quarter, it appeared the Starbucks register on the right side of the counter in Norris was not charging students who paid for items with dining dollars.

News of the malfunction spread quickly through the student body. But, with the issue now resolved, some students are seeing new, retroactive deductions from their meal plan accounts. 

Weinberg sophomore Caitlyn Hill said she heard about the malfunctioning register from her friends and decided to test it out.

“I didn’t get charged and I was like ‘Oh my gosh,’ so I came back to spread the good word,” Hill said. “My other friends (were) like, ‘We need to go load up. We need to go take full advantage of this moment.’”

She wouldn’t have minded being charged on purchase, she said, but was disappointed to be charged retroactively. She said she began with $80.86 in dining dollars prior to learning about the malfunction but now has $27. Like her, she said many of her friends spent a majority of their dining dollars.

Those who overdrew on their dining dollars have not faced any penalties or seen “negative” dining dollars in their GET Mobile accounts, though, according to Hill.

Assistant Vice President of Communications Jon Yates described the malfunctioning register as a delay in the charging of dining dollars, but did not comment on when or how the issue arose.

Northwestern University and its dining partner Compass Group are aware of a network connectivity issue that may have created a lag in processing transactions at the Starbucks located in the Norris University Center,” Yates wrote to The Daily.

Yates said any students with questions about their dining dollars or specific charges should reach out to Compass Group’s Chef Manager Patrick Cleope. 

Weinberg sophomore Tommy Ouyang said he expected the University would charge for items purchased through the malfunctioning register. He also said he noticed longer lines at the Starbucks — along with overflowing trash cans nearby — during the period the items were assumed to be free.

Ouyang said even juniors and seniors who did not have dining plans were able to purchase items from Starbucks without seeing changes in their accounts. 

For students who didn’t realize they weren’t being charged, Ouyang said they may not have noticed how many dining dollars they were actually spending.

“I do realize that it’s hard to distinguish between the people who decided to take as much advantage of the system as they could and the people who just genuinely didn’t know,” Ouyang said. “But I think that because part of it was just a mistake, they should not charge every single person beyond their dining dollar balance.”

Hill said she and her friends were excited about the seemingly free food and coffee during the stress of preparing for and taking midterm examinations. 

But, she added that she feels the University has other problems to deal with instead of missing dining dollars.

“Nothing happens to (the University) if they don’t charge us dining dollars — it’s fake money,” Hill said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Bing Crosby’s name. The Daily regrets the error.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @fionaroach03

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