Benefits of trayless dining on campus


When the University of Minnesota's dining centers went trayless, they touted the environmental savings the change instilled at such a large university. The U of M serves 55,000 meals a week and each tray required half a gallon of water to wash, says University Dining Services Associate Director Karen DeVet. Not to mention the extra soap and energy to keep the water steamy hot.

But are there bigger savings in trayless dining for UDS? Today on The New York Times Freakonomics blog, Stephen Dubner discussed the benefits of college cafeterias going trayless. Going trayless is a lot about the big bucks, whether or not they market it that way to students.

Restaurants & Institutions has a piece on "The Ten-Minute Manager's Guide To ...Cutting Costs" for food service industries. 

One of the cost cutting measures? No more trays.
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% to 30% 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. 
The practice has eco-friendly benefits as well. Besides helping cut food waste, not having to clean trays means water and energy savings and reduced use of chemicals.
More from the Aramark report:
This study measured food waste from more than 186,000 meals served at 25 institutions during various periods in the 2008 academic year. Researchers collected food waste data per person and compared measurements on days with and without trays. 
Over the test period, the 25 institutions collectively generated 11,505 fewer pounds of waste on days when trays had been removed. On average, ARAMARK reports food waste quantity was reduced by 1.2 ounces to 1.8 ounces per person per meal when trays were removed from dining venues. This represents a 25 percent to 30 percent reduction in per-person waste on trayless days.
The U of M went trayless in August as part of their sustainability initiative, DeVet says, and there have been very few issues with the switch. The U of M wasn't measuring food waste specifically before they went trayless, so DeVet says they are unable to monitor if there is less food waste due to the switch. 

A commenter on the NYTimes blog, U of M student L. Benson, criticized the school for using the green initiative to mask major cost savings they won't pass along to students. 
I go to the University of Minnesota where they have decided not to use trays anymore beginning this year. While I agree that overall it is probably a good thing that people take and therefore waste less, at 8 dollars a meal (while we don't pay each time, that is what the lump some amounts to) I find it offensive that the U is trying to bill this as anything but a budgetary decision. When it was announced, the budget was never listed as one of the motivating factors. We were told it was so we would use less water washing them, it's not about money, its about conserving water; being green. I just wish they would be a little more honest with us, instead turning it into a green guilt issue.
We're all about saving the earth and saving cash at the same time. Luckily for companies like Aramark, their costumer base largely changes every couple years as students move out of the dorms. Will students forget about the issue by 2010?