Reusable dishes return to Andrew Commons

Reusable dishes returned to the cafeteria at the end of April. Photo by Rongyan Song.

Andrew Commons has returned to providing reusable dishware after a period of using disposable dishes.

Michael Downey, Executive Chef of Bon Appetit at Lawrence, said that the primary factors in shifting back to reusable dishware were related to the staffing levels in the dish room. The staffing level was gradually increased over the past few months until the dish room was capable of handling the switch back.

“We’ve updated our staffing model and recruited new team members to account for the needs of the operation,” said Downey. “We also work with our staff to adapt to the changes and support them every step of the way.”

The primary reason for switching to disposable dishes was COVID-19, according to Downey. The need to provide more to-go meals compounded by the early Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines that suggested use of disposables over reusables led to the initial decision.

Staffing then later became a contributing factor as service ramped up. Downey also spoke on how the uncertainty of the pandemic’s ebbs and flows pushed Andrew Commons to maintain flexibility in service styles.

Downey stated that food service staff have been in regular communication with both Lawrence University and student groups on campus.

Emma Zelles, President of the LU Environmental Organization, commented on the return of reusable dishes and the upcoming return to reusable silver and cups.

Reusable dishes returned to the cafeteria at the end of April. Photo by Rongyan Song.

“I’m so, so, so excited that they’re back,” Zelles said.

Zelles looks forward to the impact of these changes on the school’s production of waste.

According to Zelles, the LU Environmental Organization met up with a fellow from Bon Appetit during the period of disposable dish use. Their conversations focused on what needed to be done and what the student group could do. The student organization presented several arguments for the return of reusable dishes, such as the resulting environmental impact and how reusable dishes ultimately cost less.

“They were really receptive to that,” said Zelles. “Bon App is such a big company, we expected them to be hard to work with. But once we were talking to the right people, I think that they really took to heart what we were saying.”

Zelles is happy to see the changes enacted but says that there is more that can still be done. She hopes to see the return of condiment pumps as well as reusable dishes in the café. The LU Environmental Organization also aims to get recycling and compost in the Commons in the near future.

Downey stated that there are plans to switch to reusable silverware and cups by the end of this term. He also said that there is an order in place for reusable to-go containers, but that supply chain issues have resulted in a delay of indeterminate length. However, the reusable containers will be switched in as soon as they arrive.