Trayless Time of Year

Sad as it may be, the summer is coming to a close. And that means school year is fast approaching, if not already here.

On this tab, I’ve been tracking the colleges that have removed trays from all-you-can eat cafeterias in an effort to reduce food waste. Happily, the announcements have been coming fast and furious this summer and I’ve had a hard time keeping up.

In the coming weeks, I will try to get the list more up to date. In the meantime, know that the University of Minnesota, UNLV and Virginia Tech are going trayless this fall.

As I wrote about last month, food service provider ARAMARK considered the topic this summer. After finding that traylessness cut food waste by 25 to 30 percent, the food company expects that more than half of its 500 schools will go trayless this school year.

photo by klynslis (via Creative Commons)Of course, there is one downside to removing trays–students will no longer be able to receive inspirational words on plastic (see photo).

I’ll get to discuss trayless dining in more detail at the Politics of Food Conference, when I moderate the “Politics of Campus Dining” session. While the panel won’t focus on food waste, per se, I have a sneaking suspicion that the topic will arise…

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  1. Emily
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Jon, any inside scoop on how traylessness has affected the cafeteria flow and/or even the time it takes to dine? I can imagine that when a college cafeteria is particularly swamped, the lack of trays might cause some disruption with people going back and forth from the lines to the tables, getting items separately that they would have previously stacked up on their tray. Not that this is an issue more important than limiting food waste, I’m just curious if, for example, in the long run, cafeterias will be designed differently to accommodate a new flow of traffic … just a thought!

  2. Posted August 21, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    So, who saves money? Aramark, or the school? I’m guessing Aramark does.

    Either way, it’s a nice motivator!

  3. Jonathan
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Emily, I haven’t heard anything about congestion and I’ve heard plenty of student complaints (legit and otherwise) on why they don’t like trayless dining. On the design front, I’ve learned a few tips on how cafeterias are better managing traffic:
    1. Have napkin dispensers on the table
    2. Locate drink dispensers and silverware closer to tables so they’re easier to take after you get your food.
    3. Instead of having each item on its own plate, serve multiple foods on one plate.

    It’s a legitimate question. I’ll tell you who doesn’t save money–the students. But some food service providers pledge to put the savings into better (more local) food options. We’ll see…

    As you said, though, the most important thing is getting students to waste less food.

  4. Molly
    Posted August 23, 2008 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Thought you might enjoy this “kvetch” from the Daily Tar Heel website…

    Since you saved so much ”money” by taking the trays away, when can I expect my meal plan costs to go down? By the way, that decision SUCKED!”

    And the subsequent response:

    “If you’re complaining about being trayless, and you’re one-handed, then I apologize; if not, maybe you should eat a little less, like two plates of food.”

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