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What Happens When College Cafeterias Go Trayless?


The answer is:
People buy less food and subsequently eat less and throw away less. For the customer, it’s good for the budget and the waistline; for the cafeteria (and the environment), it substantially cuts down on waste. Sounds like a win-win situation, unless you are the party who profits most from selling a high volume of food. Here, from an article in Restaurants and Institutions, are some details:

Foodservice managers find that when trays are eliminated from all-you-can-eat dining halls, diners take less food and therefore waste less. In a study released this summer, Philadelphia-based Aramark Higher Education reported that schools saw a 25 percent to 30 percent drop in food waste per person when trays were removed.
In addition, the move cuts back on overhead, because there are no purchase or ongoing replacement costs for trays, says Tom Post, president of campus dining for Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sodexo, which manages foodservice programs on more than 600 campuses. Many Sodexo campus accounts already have retired their trays.

Hat tip goes to Josh Friedland, who blogged about this at The Food Section. For further reading, see earlier posts on the Dutch university cafeteria that’s set up as a behavioral lab and the notion of whether a rise in plumbing facilities encourages a rise in food consumption.
I also wonder if trayless cafeterias might see a spike in shoplifting. It might begin accidentally. Since roughly 83 percent* of college undergrads wear sweat pants to breakfast, I can see them using a big, baggy pocket to hold the orange juice or breakfast burrito that they can’t comfortably carry, only to discover they’ve gone past the checkout without paying for it, thus realizing how easy it would be to do it again and again. This would of course be hard to do with scrambled eggs or a salad.
*Made-up statistic.