When Allison Bruff ’10 walked into Commons Dining Hall last Friday, she immediately noticed a change — the once-ubiquitous beige trays were nowhere in sight.
“I was horrified,” Bruff recalled.
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In an effort to reduce food waste, Yale Dining has launched an experiment in trayless dining at Commons. The program, which will be evaluated weekly, will not be extended to residential college dining halls for now because the increased student circulation in the colleges’ small service areas would lead to congestion, Director of Residential Dining Regenia Phillips said. Although some, such as Bruff, reacted strongly in opposition, a majority of the 12 students interviewed in Commons on Tuesday night said they were at least willing to try the change.
The dining team experimented with removing trays in several residential college dining halls last semester. Phillips said she hopes the measure will help students select only the amount of food they plan on eating, thus cutting down on food waste. Similar trayless programs have been implemented at other colleges and universities across the country, including Middlebury College, Brown University and the University of Northern Texas, whose dining program Phillips headed until last year.
“Whether trayless is going to be a solution at Yale or not remains to be seen,” Executive Director of Yale Dining Rafi Taherian said.
Despite the benefits, Taherian and Phillips noted that Commons staff members have already encountered increased difficulties with cleanup. They have redistributed staff so that more workers can help stack dishes at the conveyor belt where trays used to be deposited, a job once accomplished mainly by the trays themselves.
Without trays to catch spilled food and liquid, tables also require more frequent cleaning. Trays are still used at the conveyor belt to collect dishes, a fact which former General Manager of Commons Dan Flynn said confused and angered a lot of students.
“The hardest thing is justifying it to students when they see the tray here,” Flynn said, standing by the conveyor belt. “It’s a tough sell.”
Because dining halls and serving areas in the residential colleges are much smaller, Phillips said she has no plans to remove the trays there. The increased traffic that results from students needing to take multiple trips for food would lead to congestion in the college dining halls, she said. Taherian said he will depend on the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership to encourage students in residential dining halls to occasionally forgo a tray.
Phillips decided to begin the experiment during the freshmen orientation events in order to ease the transition to trayless dining, explaining that first-year students would not have a chance to get used to the trays in Commons.
“You can’t start an academic semester with trays and then take them away,” she said.
In a poll conducted by the News last January, 92.7 percent of the 200 undergraduate respondents said they often or always use a tray, and 63 percent said they were opposed to removing them. But all six freshmen interviewed for this story said they did not mind the inconvenience, because they were never accustomed to trays.
Dining hall workers said they have already encountered negative reactions from students, especially from athletes who like to bring more food back to their seats than can be held in two hands, Phillips said. Phillips said trays are still available for students near the dish conveyor belt. But when Bruff found them, a worker told her she could not use one, Bruff said. Phillips said this should not have happened and that students should be able to use the trays provided in the future.
Flynn and Phillips said that, standing next to the conveyor belt this week, they have seen a noticeable difference in the amount of uneaten food left on dishes, though YUDS has not yet undertaken a quantitative analysis of the amount of food saved.
Dining provider Aramark — with whom Yale did not renew its contract when the University launched its own dining operation last year — published a study in 2008 showing that schools without trays reduce waste by 25 to 30 percent.
While several of the students in support of the measure acknowledged that it was inconvenient, Nick Allen ’13 was more enthusiastic.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I eat less. I feel fresh.”