Policy Memo

To: President Carol Quillen

From: Becca Ravitz, Davidson College Class of 2018

Date: March 2016


Commons Dining Hall is buffet style, so customers can take as many helpings of food and drinks as they would like, as long as they do not leave the building with food. Commons provides trays for people to fit more plates and drinks at one time. The used trays go through a constant wash cycle that uses up a large amount of water. The amount of energy it takes to heat the water used to wash the dishes and trays, the water itself, and the leftover food thrown away can all be greatly reduced if the right policies were implemented. Reducing energy waste at Commons is a win-win situation because the college will save money while becoming more sustainable. Davidson College takes pride in its conservation efforts, but the tray dining style at Commons is a step backward in conserving energy. Recently, Davidson implemented a mandatory meal plan for students graduating after 2017 in order to generate more profits to provide a wider variety of food (“Meal Plans” 2016). However, this mandatory meal plan has unintended consequences, such as students feeling the need to pile on more food and drinks on their trays to get their money’s worth. In this memo, I compare four potential policy options using a decision analysis formula to determine the most feasible and effective option. I propose that Davidson College adopt a trayless dining style at Commons to allow the school to save thousands of dollars from food and energy waste, become more sustainable by wasting less energy, and help students avoid over-eating.

Analysis of Policy Options

  1. Do Nothing

Doing nothing would continue the current cycle of wasting excess food and energy. There would be no change in costs or sustainability efforts for Davidson. This option may please students the most because they would not have to change their dining habits at Commons. This option is feasible because no steps are required, but ineffective because it does not reduce food and energy waste or save money.

  1. Trayless Commons

This option would make the trays unavailable for people eating at Commons. People would not be able to carry as much food at once, which will likely reduce the amount of food consumed and wasted. This will save the school money on food costs, water costs (from washing the trays), and the energy costs of heating the water and running the dishwashing cycle. Students and staff may disapprove of this change because it is less convenient. A study released by the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found a 32% reduction in food waste and a 27% reduction in dish use when trays were no longer an option at college dining halls (Kim and Morawski 2012). This plan is very feasible because the only necessary step is removing the trays.

  1. Raise Meal Plan Costs

Raising meal plan costs will raise more money for Davidson, especially because Commons is the only dining hall on campus so it is on high demand, and all classes after the Class of 2017 have mandatory meal plans (“Meal Plans” 2016). The extra money raised would offset the high energy costs of washing the trays. Higher costs may also dissuade students from choosing the higher priced meal plans, which would reduce food and energy waste, but also reduce profits. Additionally, the increase in price will anger students because the current meal plan prices are already steep, and students are already upset about making meal plan mandatory last fall (Ey 2014). This plan does not guarantee environmental benefits because it does not directly reduce food and energy waste.

  1. Change From Buffet Style to Individually Pricing the Food

This option will follow the Union Café model of dining. Foods would be priced individually, and students would get a certain amount to spend that would count as a meal swipe. This option would also allow students to use dining dollars, declining balance, or other forms of payment if they wish to purchase additional food. This method will eliminate the most food and energy waste because students will be forced to choose less food if they don’t want to spend more than the meal plan accounts for. This option would save the college money because of the avoided costs of energy and food waste. However, students would likely be opposed to this option because they wouldn’t be able to afford as much food compared to the buffet style. This plan would also be difficult to implement because the layout of Commons would have to change and time and effort would be needed to come up with the details of the new policy.

Decision Analysis Table

Criteria: The four factors that make up each option’s score are effectiveness, administrative feasibility, social (or consumer) costs and benefits, and environmental costs and benefits. The scoring is ranked as follows: 1 equals low feasibility and low effectiveness with the costs outweighing the benefits, 2 equals somewhat feasible and somewhat effective with the costs equal to the benefits, and 3 equals highly feasible and highly effective with the benefits outweighing the costs.

Recommendation- Trayless Dining Plan At Commons

Based on the option scores, I recommend implementing the trayless dining plan at Commons. This plan will significantly lower the amount of food and energy that is wasted each day at the dining hall because trays will no longer need to be washed, and people will be forced to take smaller portions if they don’t want to make multiple trips and keep waiting in line. The only criteria that did not receive a 3/3 was the social costs and benefits because trays are convenient, but many colleges and universities including St. Joseph’s College, Middlebury College, Williams College, Elon University, University of Vermont, University of Virginia, and University of Pennsylvania have already introduced similar policies without student backlash (Foderaro 2009).

Final Remarks

An Aramark study on trayless dining discovered that out of 186,000 meals served at 25 colleges and universities, days without trays saw a 25 percent to 30 percent reduction in food waste per person (Levin 2012). Eliminating the usage of trays at Commons would save Davidson money and help the environment by reducing food and energy waste. This option is very feasible for the administration because the only necessary step is to remove the trays. If there is still hesitation, Davidson should consider a trial day or trial week without trays to see if it is successful. The College could also compromise by settling with “trayless Thursdays” or trayless during Earth week or even a trayless month each year. Any amount of tray reduction would be more environmentally friendly than keeping the status quo.

  Effectiveness Administrative Feasibility Social Costs and Benefits Environmental Costs and Benefits Option Score Weighted Option Score
Do Nothing 0 3 3 1 2 1.75
Trayless Dining 3 3 2 3 3 2.75
Raise Meal Plan Costs 1 2 1 2 2 1.5
Union Setup 2 2 2 3 2 2.25
Criteria Weight 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25    


Works Cited

Ey, Caroline. 2014. “Not Just About Food.” Davidsonian.

Foderaro, Lisa W. 2009. “Without Cafeteria Trays, Colleges Find Savings.” The New York Times.

“Meal Plans.” 2016. Davidson College. 2016.

Kim, Kiho, and Stevia Morawski. 2012. “Quantifying The Impact of Going Trayless in a University Dining

Hall.” Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 7(4): 482–86.

Levin, Amelia. 2012. “Green Tip: Trayless Dining.” Foodservice Equipment & Supplies.



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