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Posted on Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Coming soon: Trayless dining in University of Michigan dorm cafeterias

By Kellie Woodhouse


Emily Moore, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, juggles to carry her tray less food inside the Betsy Barbour Residence Hall on Wednesday. Moore said, "I can understand the premise of it, but I don't like it." Betsy Barbour is one of the first dining facilities to get rid of trays for less food consumption and to cut down on energy consumption with cleaning of trays.

Jeff Sainlar I

College students will have to find something else to sled on.

The University of Michigan announced this week that it plans to gradually get rid of cafeteria trays.

Cafeteria trays are considered far and wide the easiest way to carry a meal from the counter to the table. What else can so flawlessly balance one’s silverware, sandwich, soda and slice of apple pie as they traverse the cafeteria to their table?

But higher education institutions are adopting an increasingly common belief that those trays are more detrimental than beneficial.

Cafeteria trays, U-M officials say, waste food, water, energy and manpower. Getting rid of them will save thousands of gallons of water per year, not to mention a lot of food.

“The amount of chemicals and water it takes to wash trays, if you can reduce that you’re helping the environment,” said Mike Lee, director of residential dining services.

U-M is not the first institution to go trayless. According to National Association of College and University Food Services, more than 100 institutions have gone trayless completely, starting as early as 2007.

Those institutions include rivals Ohio State University, Northwestern University and San Diego State University. Michigan State University is partially trayless.

The benefits can be measured: In its first year of going trayless, the University of Maine at Farmington, with an enrollment of about 2,300 students, conserved 288,000 gallons of water. In fiscal 2009, the U-M used 1.24 billion gallons of water.

Also, a study conducted by NACUFS in 2009 reported that students wasted 2.79 ounces less food when their schools went trayless. A 2008 study by Aramark Higher Education found that trayless dining led to 25 to 20 percent less waste in dining halls.

Peter Logan, communications director for University Housing, said that because of their size and convenience, trays encourage students to take more food than they would otherwise.

“A tray is really a very convenient way of putting more food in front of you, food that you may not necessarily eat,” Logan said. “When you eliminate the tray and students are carrying a plate of food, they are often a little more thoughtful of how much to take by virtue of the fact that its not easy to pile up plates and carry as much food at one time.”

All the extra food piled on conventional trays can also lead to weight gain —otherwise known as the freshman 15— says Rachel Warner, marketing manager for NACUFS.

“From a health perspective, it can reduce the amount of food that students are consuming as well,” she said.

“Without a tray, customers are much less likely to load up their plates,” Warner continued.


Rebeca Steffen, a senior at the University of Michigan, cleans up inside the Betsy Barbour Residence Hall on Wednesday.

Jeff Sainlar I

Betsy Barbour Dining Hall on Central Campus is already trayless. As one of U-M’s smallest dining halls, Barbour’s service area is very close to the eating areas, making it easy for students to make multiple trips.

The university plans to make Twigs at Oxford dining hall near South Campus trayless by the end of the semester. In the East Quad and North Quad dining halls, the university has been experimenting with serving smaller portion sizes and placing trays at food counters, instead of near dining hall entrances, to encourage less waste.

Starting this year, any newly built or renovated dining halls will be trayless. That will begin with East Quad, which the university will start renovating in the spring.

Renovations are necessary for many dining halls to make the switch.

“In some of our more historic facilities that haven’t been renovated where the eating area is long distance form the service area, getting students to walk back and forth for items is difficult,” Lee said.

For that to work at East Quad, Lee says, students have to understand the philosophy of trayless dining.

“It will be more of a challenge,” said Lee. “We will have to be extremely intentional in working on educating our students.”

“They’re definitely following a trend,” Warner said. “It’s considered by many to be a lot more sustainable option.”

Senior Arthur Snow transferred to U-M from New York University his junior year. NYU had trayless dining throughout campus.

“It was fine,” Snow said. “It meant that you couldn’t put a lot of on your plate at one time… so it did mean a lot more trips.”

“But if they save water and soap from washing less trays, then I think it makes sense,” he continued. “Those benefits would still outweigh the inconvenience.”


Jeff Sainlar I

But not all students are excited about the university’s plans.

“For me, I really like using a tray. It’s hard to carry everything back and forth,” said U-M freshman Sarah Cunningham. “It would be difficult for me… convenience-wise.”

Julia Paketa, a U-M freshman, agreed.

“That would be horrible because I’d have to put things down in awkward places and people would be spilling things all over themselves,” she said.

But U-M senior Allison Neuman felt opposite.

“I don’t see why people would be opposed. It would save a lot of water and a lot of manpower,”. “So what if you have to walk a few extra steps?”

Neuman also said that once trays are gone all together, students will get used to it.

“As they start to get rid of them, the incoming students won’t even realize they were ever available.”

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Macabre Sunset

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 : 5 a.m.

This is an important step as we work our way toward a global goal of foodless dining. It's only when people are able to sacrifice food entirely that they can reduce their carbon footprints. And with the University's new fireless cremation guidelines, we'll save more energy than ever. After the student reduces his carbon footprint by reducing his food intake to a sustainable level, parents will receive the remains intact, in a fully recyclable hemp bag hand-sewn by single mothers in Springfield, Illinois making a living wage. After the University reduces its student population to a sustainable number, all the classroom buildings and libraries will be composted, and arrays of solar panels and wind turbines erected on campus. It's only then that the University will achieve its final goal of education independence.


Fri, Sep 30, 2011 : 1 a.m.

U of M has made a promise to a whole host of sustainability improvements with this proposal. Why did this get the headline?


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 10:28 p.m.

UM is researching the cost of converting the entire student food service system into a new suppository menu. Not only has the plan been approved by the environment, but the savings in missing silverware alone is estimated to be in the dozens of dollars every year.

Atticus F.

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Perhaps the UofM could introduce a tube feeding program, by which students would be strapped to a gurney and a liquid protein would be pumped down their throats. This would have a posative impact on the environment because we would no longer have to waste energy preparing food, or cleaning dishes.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 8:58 p.m.

Let's just go plateless and go back to the trenchers (hollowed out bread crusts) like they did in the middle ages.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 8:29 p.m.

Sometimes I wonder if universities are trying to educate children or program them.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

Water (with sewage) costs about $5.50 per thousand gallons in Ann arbor. I'm not sure what "saving thousands of gallons of water" per year means, but let's be extremely generous and assume it means 750,000 gallons. That's a total savings of: $4125. As an aside, when does being disingenuous crossover to become a lie?


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 7:15 p.m.

There goes the old food fight.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

UM is considering the puchase of a $1.2 million dollar solar power machine that will separate wasteful two ply toilet paper into individual plies, re-roll and re-package them in recycled toilet paper packaging. The enviroment has pre-approved the measure, which will go to Trustees in the fall. ...this just in - UM tuition is once again expected to rise by 12 times the rate of inflation so UM can fully fund the buget line item: "stupid wasteful nonsense that makes us feel good about the environment, coal, oil independance and the human controlled global weather fraud"!

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 : 5:04 a.m.

We take the toilet paper initiative quite seriously. Students have already been asked to limit their bowel movements to once every two days.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

Or they could hire Dwight's handyman from the Office to separate the toilet paper, lol

Geoff Larcom

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:56 p.m.

Note: Dining services at Eastern Michigan University has indeed been trayless for three years. Worth noting in this trend story.

Silly Sally

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

How awful! How can someone carry a drink, a salad, and a plate of food, plus eating utensils? Now a second trip for napkins or fruit? They failed to mention the extra cost to clean dirty tables, as much spillage is contained within the trays. What about medical costs for slip and falls from spilled milk? Gals can avoid the freshman 15, but guys this age usually can't gain much weight, and need more than a small regulated portion. Now they will need to waste time in lines. Dining Hall DIrector Mike Lee is measuring one thing, but ignoring other unmeasurable things, in order to get an attaboy from Mary Sue.

Silly Sally

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

Not at all. Only the top brass at these other universities will be talking about their new trend, to other top brass, and they have an agenda to project. Do they want to say "failure"? Additionally, it only measures certain metrics, among them tray washing and food consumption. It doesn't measure wasted trips, spilled food, and wasted time. "An initiative for trayless cafeterias was recently brought to UM administration by the student government." A great example of a small minority tryign to impose their lifestyle choices onto others. What is next, single-ply toilet paper to "save the enviroment"?


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

You seem to be ignoring the testimony of the schools where this has been in place and successful for some time. An initiative for trayless cafeterias was recently brought to UM administration by the student government.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

As one who spent a year working a second job in the dishroom at my alma mater's cafeteria (after I graduated... ouch! It's rough getting a teaching job in state!), I have to say that this is by all means a good idea. Too much time, water, and cleaning detergents are spent sending the used trays through the washer. I'll have to trust the data cited in the article on the reduced food waste, too. The amount of waste produced from dropped plates due to no trays will pale in comparison to the amount of food wasted before. I always felt sad about how much food, sometimes completely untouched, we sent into the disposal. If someone needs to go back to get a second plate later, then they should do that, and for those of us with insatiable appetites (like me), I guess a second trip to the serving area doesn't have to be a big deal.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:50 p.m.

Yeah, that's a good point, Scandal. I can't speak to UM's situation, but in Hope's dishroom that wouldn't have been enough of a reason to eliminate a position. Probably just shorter hours. I get what you're saying, though, about UM trying to increase its profits. In an ideal world, the savings would "trickle down", although that phrase alone causes a whole slew of negative emotions to rise up in me.

Que escandaloso

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 7 p.m.

Sounds to me like you shouldn't be advocating for a change that would have eliminated your much needed second job after graduation. Imagine the number of workstudy positions are filled by needy students that will no longer exist. I think this just another measure by the UM to increase their profits.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:13 p.m.

What about students w/ disabilities or someone on crutches? Juggling silverware, food, desert & drink should be a riot! Many time your food is not the only thing you are carrying, maybe books, laptops etc.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

I was thinking the same thing. I remember a place, college maybe or somewhere else, that used cardboard trays. The trays were recycled to save landfill waste. Less fuss and muss.

Bob Bethune

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

The cafeteria at Concordia University in Ann Arbor has functioned without trays for some years now. It works very well and nobody has a problem with it.

Steve Pepple

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 1:30 p.m.

A grammatical error in the story has been corrected.

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 5:21 p.m.

Pretty safe to say that this whole story is an error.

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 1 p.m.

In addition plans are underway for plate-less and Cup-less dining as well. Should be interesting, but will reduce costs and waste.

Tom Joad

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

Why not make the trays do double duty as a plate? Then the freshman 15 will be the freshman 50


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

How about we ask for tution bills broken down to include cafeteria costs, Hall maintence, salarys, water, and on & on. That way when school publishes it's saving we know our tution bill will come down? Course there is no easty method for calculating the savings going foward of our water bills & sewage costs. That does translate into substantial savings in energy costs too. It feels as if we do have an abundent supply of water & energy; but it has been getting more expensive & will continue to do so when there are more of us. The Southwest has been eyeing Great Lakes water for a number of years. Trays may help the freshman 16 lb gain or not; but the extra food will be more apparent to the user.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:29 p.m.

Bring your own tray - if they ban that then they are up to something else.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

Is this energy savings supposed to offset all the air conditioning the U has now? Alternatively: Is giving up traying in the Arb an acceptable trade-off for dripping sweat during an interminable math class on the fourth floor of Angell Hall in the middle of summer?


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

They should also eliminate glasses, and pour liquid directly into the students' mouths. This will also reduce the amount of chemicals and water used for cleaning, and increase hydration awareness.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

It's the American business model. Reducing service + not lowering prices = saving a buck! That said, I do know that students do waste a lot of food, but still!


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:05 p.m.

Headline story? Really U of M tray usage is now Ann Arbor's headline news?


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 3:05 p.m.

Person X, You made my day!


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.

Not only is it news, it is fodder for the nasties who have to complain, in cosmic terms, about just about anything! I guess is cheaper than therapy.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:33 a.m.

Will students and their parents see a decrease in the bill for room and board as a result? I highly doubt it.

Ricardo Queso

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:30 a.m.

"Small Fridge for room. Check. Blankets. Check. Extra pillows. Check. Laptop. Check. Ipad. Check. Cell phone charger. Check. Visa card. Check. Are we forgetting anything? Oh, yeah. Cafeteria tray. Check, Check and double check. OK son, your are ready to head off to U of M."


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

Bongs and Thongs sells that stuff, so you can take that off the list.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:47 p.m.

Forgetting anything? Yes, condoms, fake ID, Ambien, subscriptions to porn sites, bong and counterfeit Doctors Excuse Forms.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:23 a.m.



Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 4:49 p.m.

It is somewhat news worthy but definitely should not be the freaking lead story with extra large fonts. Give me a break


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:19 a.m.

Good idea in theory. When our company cafeteria discontinued trays, the employees would get a tray from the kitchen if a patron requested it. Eventually, however, I just brought my own small plastic tray from home and kept it on my desk to take along for my cafeteria visits. I can't help wondering too, how much, or how little time, energy and water is saved with the many instances of spilling, slopping and dropping of food that takes place as a result of having one's hands full. And no, today's news media can't afford proofreaders. You're on your own, readers! Just as we're on our own when carrying food at the cafeteria, pumping our own gas and now checking out our own groceries at the supermarket.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:18 a.m.

This is idiocy in action. The UM has some good ideas for sustainability. This isn't one of them. The students pay a goodly sum for their room and board. They are entitled to something as simple as a tray to carry their food. I'll bet one place you won't see this is at the athletic training tables for the football players. The cost of cleaning the trays is the cost of operations and are well-covered by those board fees the students pay. What next? Eliminate showers to save the cost of running water? We'll see how much food is saved as students drop plates onto the floors while trying to balance a bookbag, a laptop and a plate, a drink and some fruit. Remember, the students congregate at single dining rooms and may not be living at the dorm where they are eating. So, they will be bringing stuff from class and for the next class. I'm no student, nor a parent of a college student, but I find this demeaning, chintzy and unhygienic. This was dreamed up by administrators who get too many of those University-supplied catered lunches during meetings.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:54 p.m.

Use the laptop for the tray! If you're carrying that much stuff to the dining hall you've got to use your tools wisely.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:03 a.m.

"The amount of chemicals and water it takes to wash trays, if you can reduce that you're helping the environment," OH Please.......this is all about reducing the amount of food that we eat while charging us the same or more for our meals. In other words, this is about increasing the bottom line. The water savings is just a nice little extra for the school. Why is it every time an organization claims to help the environment it means we pay the same or more for less. Next they'll take away my bridge card...oh wait...the government already did that.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:16 a.m.

So, it increases the bottom line, helps the environment, reduces waste, and reduces waist. Sounds like wins all around.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11 a.m.

EMU has been trayless for three years.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 10:21 a.m.

College will to have to find something else to sled on. Maybe "college students will have to find something else to sled on" Hire a proofreader!


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 8:44 p.m.

@Jim Knight A2comments pointed out TWO grammatical errors in the opening sentence, not just one. While your staff did fix the first mistake by adding "the missing word," they forgot to take out the extra "to" before "have.

Jim Knight

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 11:30 a.m.

A2comments: Thanks for the note. We added the missing word.

this guy

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 10:26 a.m.

Also, "In its first year", not "In it's first year".