Thursday, October 09, 2008

Their Entrees Aren't "On Trays" Anymore

Over at, James Lileks links to a story about college dorm cafeterias doing away with trays at the University of Minnesota and other schools.

But wait--don't people need trays to carry their food? And what else is this supposed to accomplish? At least on paper, these are the goals:
Saving the environment is part of the reason, but a tray-free cafeteria also saves money by reducing waste and cleaning costs.

[...]Schools and dining companies say that the elimination of trays translates into less food wasted by students with eyes bigger than their stomachs. And it reduces the number of items that need to be washed, saving both water and detergent.

But it also means students have to figure out how to navigate without a tray.
And there's the rub. Remembering my own dorm days, it wouldn't surprise me if this policy resulted in more broken plates, etc. And it couldn't be a very good use of the students' time if they're having to make multiple trips back and forth.

So how do the students feel about this?
University of Minnesota freshman Miles Dombrovski has a strategy when he gets to the dining hall at Middlebrook Hall: Get there early to get a seat near the drink station.

This way, he can use his hands for carrying food.

[...]During Monday's lunch rush at the U's Sanford Hall, one student stacked her food three levels high. On the bottom was a plate of chicken. On top of that was a small plate with a salad. The upper level was a glass of milk.

"I'm all for saving the environment," Dombrovski said, "but it's kind of a pain in the butt."

That is why he secures prime real estate; he can set his plate down and not have to cross the room to fill his glass.
Another Minnesota student, Robert Westcott, started a Facebook group called "Official Petition To Return Trays To University Dining Services." He noted that the serving area has more traffic now, because people are having to make multiple trips.

Another Minnesota school, Gustavus Adolphus, chose a different tack: They eliminated the all-you-can-eat setup and have given students a finite allotment of " " each month. But they've kept the trays, saying that it seemed "inhospitable" to treat their student customers that way.

So what do you think about trayless dining--Good idea, or bad? One commenter suggests that someone should manufacture and sell customized trays to the students, who could reuse them the way some grocery customers do with cloth shopping bags. (And another one points out that the first lawsuit from a student slipping on a dirty floor will cost a school more than they're saving by not washing trays.)

As always, feel free to fire away in the comments.

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