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Campus Dining Trends: Going Trayless



Campus Dining Trends: Going TraylessOne of the big things in campus cafeterias over the last couple years has been trayless dining. Several hundred college food service operations removed trays from their dining facilities, and left the students to eat what they could carry. The initial programs were a huge success, and continue to be widely popular.

Rightly so. Campus food service operations are seeing anywhere from a 20-50% reduction in food and beverage waste, which makes a big contribution to the bottom line of the facility and the environment. Less food is wasted therefore less food needs to be prepped, which means less labor, lower energy bills, less dishes, and less hot water not to mention smaller waste hauling bills. It’s basically a win, win, win for the operations.

Food service management companies like Aramark and Sodexho are rolling out trayless programs in the majority of their campuses, and it is predicted that the majority of schools nationwide will be trayless in the next several year. In a survey conducted by Aramark in 2008, 79% of the 92,000 students surveyed said they support trayless dining programs.

One university chef I spoke with said the majority of people that complained when they took away the trays were the university staff. Maybe the colleges could hire some local waiters to teach the students and staff how to carry multiple plates without spilling anything…

So what is the next big thing for non-commercial food service? While many organizations are opting for biodegradable products, I personally think reusable take-out containers are going to be the next step for non-commercial operations interested in reducing their environmental footprint.

Up until a few years ago there was not a commercial, reusable take-out container on the market. That is until Eckerd College student Audrey Copeland came up with the idea for one. While a sophomore at Eckerd, Audrey audited the food service program’s use of Styrofoam take-out containers and decided there should be a more sustainable option.

Over the next several years she wrote a grant to fund a pilot reusable container program, contracted a company to produce the container, helped design the products and created a program for her college to implement the containers into their food service operations. She is now the Sustainable Products Manager for G.E.T., the company that manufactures the “Eco-Takeouts,” and has introduced the containers to Bon-Appetit, Sodexho, Google, Nestle, various healthcare facilities, and Aramark, which made a commitment to introduce the container to 100 of its university accounts. My props to Audrey for single-handedly swaying a huge industry.

The containers are basically a poly-propylene clam shell container (though there are other styles available) that the students have the option of using for a $5 deposit. They then simply exchange the container for a clean one at no additional cost the next time they visit one of the food service options.

Again, these programs are showing a huge financial benefit for the food service operations, and lets the students dine anywhere they want without the “eco-guilt” of using another take-out container. Several facilities are achieving a 40% reduction in their use of take-out boxes, while other schools that made the containers mandatory for students living in the dorms are seeing nearly a 100% reduction in container use. 100% savings sounds good to me…

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