You are here

Trayless cafeterias—less salad and more dessert

Wansink, Brian & Just, David (2013). Trayless cafeterias—less salad and more dessert. Public Health Nutrition. 44(4), S20-S21.

Recently, there have been several initiatives in eateries at colleges, work places, and hospitals to reduce the amount of food wasted by consumers, the most prominent of which is going trayless.  With trays diners are inclined to take a salad, entrée, and a dessert, since few trips are required to get those items. We hypothesize that diners may leave one or more items behind when trays are removed because it is not as easy to carry multiple items. Diners may also return to the buffet more often which may contribute to additional waste. 

We conducted a field study in a university cafeteria during two evening meals. 417 students participated in the study. On the first night, dinner service was conducted with trays as usual; on the second night, there were no trays. The meals during both experimental periods were the same. We noted whether each student selected a salad and/or dessert in addition to an entree. Exact measurements of plate waste were taken during both meals. In addition, diners were asked how many trips they had taken to the buffet.  The variables of interest were the percentage of people taking each of the salad, entrée, and dessert, and the grams of food each person wasted on each of the two days.

The reports showed that the students were less likely to take a salad during the trayless meal  Selection of salads decreased by 65.2%. The percentage of students who left dessert behind, 24.7%, was not statistically significant. In addition, students were less likely to eat all of their entrée (38.8% vs. 85.7%), salad (53.6% vs. 91.7%), or dessert (52.7% vs 90.7%) when trays were not available.  Trayless diners threw away marginally more of their entrée (80.14 vs. 60.56g) and their dessert (75.43 vs. 44.43g), but not their salad (44 vs. 53.5g).

These results show that diners who go trayless are more likely to take less healthy options and waste more food. The percentage of diners who took salads decreased, but not the percentage of diners who took dessert. A better means to reduce food waste would be to change the shape of the trays, make them smaller, or introduce compartments where food types should go. Reducing waste and costs for an eatery should go hand-in-hand with trying to make diners “slim by design.”