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Serveries may drop trays

By Michelle Jin     2/5/09 6:00pm

Away from home and their mothers, some Rice students are not eating everything that's on their plate, and as food costs rise, Rice is looking to keep down costs by encouraging students to avoid taking more than they can eat. In October, the South Servery introduced Wasteless Wednesdays - a day when trays were prohibited - as part of a class project sponsored by Director of Sustainability Richard Johnson. The benefits of these Wasteless Wednesdays included a 30 percent reduction in food waste, and not washing the trays saved 11 percent in water and chemical usage at every meal.

Student Association President Matt Youn proposed a resolution to the SA last Monday in support of Housing and Dining's plan to phase out trays from all serveries, provided H & D continue to seek student input.

Having the serveries go trayless could greatly reduce food waste by limiting the amount of food students can carry out of the servery. It would also result in energy savings because water, soap and electricity would no longer be needed to wash hundreds of trays every day, according to Director of Residential Dining David McDonald.

The responses to Wasteless Wednesdays were mixed, as were the responses to the resolution to remove trays from all the serveries.

Some students are supportive of the resolution and see it as a way to limit the amount of food that people will carry out of the serveries.

"I think it's generally a good idea," Baker College freshman Ari Berlin said. "You definitely take more food with a tray as opposed to just with plates."

Others believe that changes need to be made to the serveries if the plan to go trayless is implemented.

"It's a really important and good idea," Hanszen College junior Kristina Miller said. "But the servery needs to fix things, like putting drinks outside." McDonald believes that going trayless is a great way to combat the rising food costs, which have gone up almost 7 percent in 2008 and are projected to rise between 5 - 9 percent this year, he said.

"Dining Services has to find a way to work within a fixed budget in order to save money from the rising food costs," McDonald said. "If our costs increase during the course of that year, we have no way to recoup those costs like a regular restaurant would. A restaurant would raise the prices on their menu to recover the rising food costs, and a lot have, but we are unable to do that. So we are looking for creative ways to save money."

Several factors have led to Housing and Dining's tight budget this year: Rising fuel prices last spring led to rising food costs; then, when Hurricane Ike hit last semester, the serveries offered meals to many more students than it usually served; and around the time of the hurricane, the economy took a steep downturn and food prices continued to rise.

Many other colleges across the country have already gone trayless. University of California at Berkeley, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Texas Tech University and the University of Houston have all removed trays from their cafeterias to reduce food waste and save water, McDonald said.

Some students see the negatives of going trayless as well as the positives.

"It'll definitely save some water [in dishwashing]," Lovett College sophomore Sean Zeng said. "I think there are two sides to it, though. If people can't get everything on a tray, it's an inconvenience. Then people might try to pile too much on one plate, and it will cause food to spill out and create more of a mess. We won't know until we implement it."

McDonald acknowledges that despite the serveries' buffet-style setup, people will generally take all their food at one time rather than taking one plate and going back multiple times to get more. However, he believes that putting silverware and napkins in the commons areas will make the transition to going trayless easier.

"It would be a great thing if the student body would pass and approve the resolution to go trayless," McDonald said. "That says a lot. Most universities across the country go trayless when the dining director says 'We're trayless.' And I do have the power to do so, but I don't want to do that. I would love to work with the student body on this together.

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