Dining halls to go trayless for 2009-10

With an eye toward both sustainability and budget cuts, Dining Services has developed plans for various changes for the 2009-10 academic year. Most notably, all dining halls except Whitman’s will eliminate trays from their operations. In addition, the Dining Services budget will operate under the 15 percent cut that the majority of campus departments have undergone.

According to Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services, the 15 percent budget cut will affect operations, food quality and availability only minimally. “The cuts will come from all areas excluding salary and wages,” he said. “The food will not change – savings will be found from monitoring product purchases, i.e. shopping for the best quality at the lowest possible price, consistency with portion control and a careful watch on how food is prepared to reduce over production and waste.”

Elaborating on such measures, Volpi explained that, “Portion control measures are good practices that follow recipes, for example the serving size for deli meats on a sandwich. Weighting and keeping all products consistent in size as a recipe ingredient reduces overproduction and waste.”

In terms of operations, Volpi confirmed the fact that there are no current plans to close a dining hall. “The only change in operations is the elimination of the Monday through Friday Dodd continental breakfast,” he said.

The major change that students will notice in dining halls is the absence of trays – an experiment that has been ongoing for the last few years and has produced favorable results at Driscoll. “Driscoll has been trayless for over a year and we have seen significant saving in water consumption,” Volpi said. “The staff also reports less food waste. These indicators line up with our goal to be a more sustainable dining service.”

Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of student dining, explained that trayless dining saves both food and water. He noted that it takes approximately one gallon of water to wash 10 trays. Dining Services estimated that 147,000 trays are used annually. Eliminating trays will therefore save 14,700 gallons of water per year.
To Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center, the benefits of eliminating trays go beyond the direct decrease in water usage. “The most important aspect of reduced water use in our region is that we also reduce heating energy associated with washing trays,” she said.

In addition to water savings, Abayasinghe said that students take less food when trays are not present, as evidenced by the last year of trayless dining at Driscoll. “We have seen a noticeable reduction in food waste since the implementation of the trayless dining option,” he said. “In terms of measuring, we weigh the amount of compost on a weekly basis from Driscoll and measure financially how much is spent in food purchasing. Since last year, we have seen a drop in food cost, as a percentage of total expenses, of 10 percent at Driscoll.” Although Abayasinghe noted that better purchasing practices may have had an impact on reduction of food expenses, trayless dining also played a role.

Aside from going trayless, Abayasinghe said that Dining Services is researching other ways of improving sustainability and decreasing waste. “We are also looking into reducing the number of patrons who use take out containers and then dine in Paresky,” he said. “Also, we are looking at installing a beverage counter system for Grab ’n Go aimed at reducing canned beverages and bottled water.”

Boyd lauded the decision to eliminate trays from dining halls as an effort to improve sustainability. “Much of the work that we are doing to improve the ‘sustainability’ of the campus happens behind the scenes, [such as] changing fans and motors on our ventilation systems,” she said. “Changing to a trayless dining service gives us the opportunity to think about the impacts of our immediate decisions on sustainability.” In addition, she noted that trayless dining may provide a more intimate dining experience. “Many students have commented on the fact that the dining halls seem more home-like without trays,” she said.

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