Trayless dining garners mixed reviews

Photo by Sharon Yin.

Silliman College dining hall’s move to eliminate trays this semester — following the lead of the Trumbull and Morse/Stiles dining halls — is receiving criticism from both students and dining hall staff.

Over the past three years, the Sustainability Education Peers (STEP) has been coordinating with Yale Dining to present evidence that trayless dining reduces food, water and energy waste to residential college masters, who ultimately make the decision to remove trays. Silliman Master Judith Krauss said she has heard both positive and negative responses to the initiative during the first two weeks of school, and she said Silliman will remain without trays through at least the end of the semester.

“The view is we need to give it a full term’s test run and that most people appear to be adjusting,” she said.

Three years ago, STEP conducted a survey to measure the amount of food wasted at the end of every meal and found that students who used trays wasted 40 percent more food than those without trays, according to Erica Rothman, director of STEP. Since that time, STEP studies have found that around 70 percent of students go trayless by choice.

Rothman said she hopes more residential colleges will also move towards eliminating trays.

“We’ve noticed a changing culture,” Rothman said. “With the last class that graduated, we have more freshman coming in now who are immediately subjected to the trayless campaign, and from the get go don’t pick up a tray.”

Krauss said she has been trying to slowly transition away from trays in the dining hall for two years, first by suggesting optional trayless dining and then requiring students to dine without trays on Sundays. She added that trayless dining in Silliman alone saves 100 gallons of hot water per meal period.

Three dining hall staff members said trayless dining complicates the dish-clearing process and creates more work for the staff.

“We have to clean the floors more often, there are more spills and the clearing window isn’t set up for just plates,” said Schymon Griffin, a dish washer in Silliman. “It’s not feasible for us or for students.”

Michael Powell, another Silliman dining hall employee, said the staff has not yet adjusted to the change. He said that the process of cleaning dishes becomes much messier for dish washers because the clearing station is designed to stack trays, not plates. Although Krauss said bins intended to hold plates and silverware have been added to absorb the overflow at peak hours, Silliman dining hall staffer Danny Lowery said students often forget to use them.

Students interviewed expressed mixed reactions about the trend to reduce the use of trays in dining halls.

Six of nine students interviewed said having no access to trays is inconvenient. Matthew Lindsey ’14 said the layout of Silliman dining hall exacerbates the problem since it was designed with the intent that diners use trays. He added that the recently renovated Morse/Stiles dining hall was designed for the use of plates without trays, so the lack of trays there presents less of a challenge.

Alex Allouche ’13 said because students often only have 20 minutes to eat a meal between classes, it is unlikely they can make multiple trips to and from the food distribution area during the busiest hours.

But other students said they are not affected by the change. Two students interviewed said they do not mind dining without trays because of the resources conserved, and Katherine Rouse ’14 said the policy would not alter her dining routine.

“It doesn’t really bother me because I didn’t use [trays] when we had them,” Rouse said.

Harvard, Columbia and Brown have also experimented with implementing trayless dining.


  • YaleTemp

    Wow, really? No trays? How about you clean up your own dishes and make your own food too. That would really save staff time and resources.

  • btcl

    That’s not the point it’s that when you use trays you’re likely to get too much food, whereas without a tray you’re forced to go back up for seconds

  • Quals

    Yale doesn’t care about the students or the workers. All it cares about is saving $, while at the same time boasting about being ‘sustainable’

    • Frashizzle

      “Yale doesn’t care about workers.”
      Hahaha. If we caved to union demands any more than we do now, we might as well just hand-over the endowment! Remember the last time a Yalie used a lunch swipe at a local business like essentially every other college student in America? Oh, wait, you can’t because we eliminated that program in the early 2000s… because we might have to fire someone and the f**king unions threw a fit!

      • penny_lane

        I graduated 2010, and you could still swipe at Yorkside and a couple other places.

        • Frashizzle

          False, unless you were granfathered-in. 2010 was my freshman spring and we could do no such thing.

          • River_Tam

            I feel old.

          • silliwin01

            You are.

  • River_Tam

    Trayless Tuesdays were one of the worst things ever. I want to get my food and then sit down to eat, not have to navigate a crowded commons multiple times to get enough food to carry.

  • willowlewis71

    Tuition pays for the food, whether it is too much or too little. This is just an insanely stupid idea.

    • 24thMI

      Thanks for the insight, but tuition doesn’t pay for food. Meal plans are paid separately and they’re expensive. Maybe with more smart initiatives like this, it’ll be more reasonable in the future. I don’t know how you could call that “insanely stupid.”

  • yale_senior

    I always liked trayless just because it made me feel me at home when I didn’t have a huge plastic tray in front of me. I’m sorry about the incredible challenge of “navigating a crowded commons” though.

    • Branford73

      Easy solution for that: once you arrive at your seat with your tray, just take all the dishes, cups and glasses off the tray and set them on the table. Then slide the tray under your seat or somewhere else out of the way. Then when you’re done it is easier to clear the table without having to make multiple trips to the dishwasher line.

      This trayless deal is another annoying effort to manipulate customers. Try educating if excessive food waste is really the problem. Also another piece of evidence that the Yale dining hall experience is worsening with time, along with the banishment of individual college china. Bah humbug.

  • willowlewis71

    24thMI – Exactly – Room and Board pays for your food. And it is expensive. Trust me, if this cuts expenses, then you will not see a refund in your room and board. It is college, it should be a smorgasboard, gain the freshman 15, waste food, throw it out, who cares! Will it stop my child’s tuition and room and board for college when she begins in 4 years from costing my more than $200,000. I think not. The endowment can support tray. And yes, this is the stupidest conversation I have ever seen on YDN!

  • eli1

    What happens to all the leftover food in the dining hall that is not eaten each day? I’m pretty sure they are legally bound to throw it all away right? This whole trayless thing is honestly so stupid.