Behind the Sneeze Guards: Transitioning to Trayless

By Mark Munro

FoodFairy2Following the environmental trend du jour at college dining halls across the nation, the Claremont Colleges abandoned trays in an effort to leap on the green bandwagon. In a meeting among 5C dining hall managers, treasurers, and deans of students, a sustainability initiative to phase out trays emerged. Based on the amount of potential for miscommunication and ideological differences impeding universal 5C policy changes, tightening budgets may have been a pivotal condition to allow the entire Consortium to find common ground on the issue of trays.

While students may not identify strongly with their own campus’s dining hall, Claremont McKenna Vice President and Dean of Students Jefferson Huang and other 5C administrative officials remain protective of their dining halls’ autonomy. Distinguishing between the greater dining hall framework and individual dining halls, Huang explained, “I cannot control any aspect of Scripps’s dining service, and nobody at Scripps can control any aspects of ours.” Scripps, Harvey Mudd, and Pomona Colleges provide their meals through the food service provider Sodexo. Both CMC and Pitzer College have accounts with Bon Appétit, a competing food service provider that stresses the circle of responsibility, local food, and sustainable living. Bon Appétit, rather than CMC itself, employs Pam Franco, General Manager of Collins Dining Hall.

Franco professed that the tray policy shift stemmed from a desire “to decrease waste [and] decrease utility costs.” Nonetheless, the task of phasing out the trays across consortium lines did not occur overnight. Debra Wood, Vice President and Dean of Students at Scripps, recognized the benefits of trayless dining after Pitzer held a pilot program as the first Claremont College to go trayless. Based on Pitzer’s experience, Wood says, “the rest of us knew it was a good idea both from an ecological standpoint and a cost standpoint, and we all decided we wanted to do it.” Wood described the implementation process and formation of trayless habits. “Since Pitzer had gone first, Pitzer students were already trained in how to be trayless,” she said. “When they came over to eat at Scripps, they didn’t pick up trays.” The process also included training students from schools whose dining halls had yet to eliminate trays. Wood explained, “When CMC students would come over and eat, they would have to eat trayless, so you’d kind of learn how to do it one meal at a time instead of being forced to do it all at once.”

The financial savings of abandoning trays have yet to be calculated, but there are anecdotal indications of success. Franco estimates “that the food price per plate has already decreased by ten cents per person.” She concedes, however, “There are other variables in addition to whether or not customers have no trays… there are different habits that are subjective that you can’t always measure.” Franco has noted an increase in the amount of food-related messes around Collins and has assigned staff-members to wipe down tables more frequently during meals to compensate. CMC Treasurer Robin Aspinall confirmed Franco’s uncertainty regarding the anticipated savings from eliminating trays: “It is too early to tell and will be hard to measure.”

Although those irate about the discontinuation of trays have made their voices heard, the tray controversy seems to have fallen by the wayside. (The newly implemented take-out box fee has taken the campus dining spotlight.) As long as the Claremont Colleges’ abandonment of trays remains beneficial for the dining halls’ waste line and the treasurers’ bottom line, do not expect to see pedestrian platters anytime soon. It is just a shame that we could not stash them away to use as makeshift sleds in case that improbable nor’easter ever hits Claremont.

Published with support from Generation Progress. genprogress.org

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