Buffet sans tray

In addition to aiding obesity, college cafeterias’ all-you-can-waste-eat plans cause great amounts of food waste. I’ve written on this before and even highlighted one interesting peer pressure solution.

Stuart Leckie, general manager of dining at Maine’s tiny St. Joseph’s College, invented a more practical way to cut waste and waists: eliminate trays.

I spoke with Leckie yesterday and he’s thrilled with the initiative that began in August. Students aren’t wasting as much food because they can’t take as much. At least not in one trip (in food service speak, it’s still “all-you-care-to-eat”)

Before, “The students tended to graze through our café and take a little bit here and a little there,” said Leckie, who works for the progressive Bon Appetit Management Company. “Then they’d get to the table and not necessarily eat everything.”

Three years ago, Leckie tried “Trayless Wednesdays” and found that the average food waste per student per meal dropped from 5 to 3 ounces. While there’s no hard data to support it, Leckie can tell going trayless is working because workers are seeing fewer half-eaten sandwiches and untouched desserts.

Without trays, students are realizing they’re full before they’ve taken that second entree or first dessert. Because demand has decreased, the cafeteria is seeing less dessert waste and even making fewer desserts. 

In addition to the savings from less food waste, the school conserves water and energy by not having to wash trays. The one downside: the tables need to be wiped more often. Sounds like a reasonable trade-off.

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