Tray Trends

An attractive tray presentation has a huge effect on patients’ appetites. And there are plenty of ways to transform a tray from institutional to appetizing.

“Tray presentation is getting more and more attention, especially with the increase in room service,” says Bill Klein, principal, Don Miller & Associates (DM&A) consulting, Chula Vista, Calif. “Attractive presentations have a very direct effect on satisfaction scores.”

Klein shared several of DM&A’s tray presentation best practices. They start with the tray size. “You need a big enough tray to present all the meal elements without cluttering or crowding,” he says. Anyone who’s ever used anything other than a 15” x 20” standard tray knows it can create a domino effect of capitulations and headaches.

For example, one hospital we know sized its trays to fit very narrow bed tables. The trays were custom sized, more expensive, could only fit 7” plates and required custom carts to transport them. In a recent renovation, the facility was able to call the shots on the bed table dimensions, and that, in turn, allowed for standard-issue sizes on everything else down the line—tray, plate and cart.

When shopping for trays, it’s imperative you test your options in the carts you have or the carts you’re planning to purchase. Some of the new room service trays, for example, upscale-looking versions with dye-cut side handles, either won’t fit or will fit too tightly in certain makes of carts. Others will fit fine; you have to check.

Wear, Tear and Care

How well trays wear is an issue, too. “We make a point to run prospective trays through our warewasher for a few months,” says Linda Foster, systems manager, Northwest Community Hospital, Arlington Heights, Ill. “It gives us a good estimate of how long the trays will last.”

Teach dish room employees to not rap trays against the side of the garbage can and you can add years of life to your tray stock, as well, according to Tania Nelson, Cambro’s director of marketing, Huntington Beach, Calif.

Black looks elegant when it’s new, but it tends to show water spots and wear more quickly than lighter colors, according to several sources. Lighter colors, on the other hand, will show stains after time. “We recommend a soak in a lime-away type solution every once in a while,” says Paul Schick, regional sales executive, Burlodge USA, Winston-Salem, N.C. “And for plastic ware, your warewasher should be equipped with a blower to eliminate water spotting.”

Ultimately, though, you really need to stop and take a look at what you’re putting in front of patients. If the trays–and for that matter, dishes, bases and domes–are beat, it’s time to buy new. “These items, washed two to three times a day, simply don’t last forever,” says Jacqui Gustafson, v.p. of sales and marketing, Dinex-Carlisle, Glastonbury, Conn. “You need to retire them.”

Paper Trails

Klein and his team recommend paper tray liners. “We consider them part of the cost of doing business; cut somewhere else before you cut the tray liner.” Plenty of beautiful designs are available. Some of the paper-goods manufacturers have introduced non-skid versions of their paper tray liners. “Skid-proof liners are ideal if you’re delivering meals over long distances or up any kind of incline,” says Dan Mastronardi, sr. v.p. for MedFare, Inc., Boca Raton, Fla. “The liners grip the dishware to prevent spills.”

Another trend is to imprint liners with environmental or hygiene information.

University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, for example, uses a liner with “Preventing infections is in our hands” in large type and states (in multiple languages around the border) that patients have the right to sanitize their hands before they eat.

And that brings up another tip; more and more facilities are including anti-bacterial wipes on the trays to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. “It just makes sense,” Mastronardi says. “Hospital personal wash their hands before serving patients, but how is an ailing patient supposed to reach the sink before a meal?”

Jerry Peters, president of R&R Enterprises, Brandon, Miss., agrees that wipes are a good preventive measure, but cautions operators to be aware of the affect on odor and skin allergies when they’re choosing wipes. “Unscented is best in most applications,” he says.

Back to the tray, Klein suggests napkins should be large, good quality and color coordinated to your dinnerware. “A cheap, white or natural fiber napkin that doesn’t do the job just frustrates patients,” he says. DM&A’s best practice is to place metal utensils right on the napkin (lower right corner of the tray, by the way), but some facilities prefer to deliver utensils covered, either in pocket-fold napkins or in silverware pouches. There’s a perception that it’s more sanitary to deliver utensils covered. Enclosed or free, how you deliver utensils would make an excellent patient survey question.

Trends: Green’s Looking Good

If sustainability is an imperative in your facility, a couple of manufacturers have introduced products to help the cause.

Cambro recently introduced two items, reusable CamLids and Non-Skid Camtrays that eliminate the need for paper liners.

“We’ve calculated that a 100-bed, long-term-care facility uses close to 330,000 disposable lids on bowls and cups a year,” Cambro’s Nelson explains. “That tonnage can be diverted from the landfill with reusable lids.”

Brand new from Burlodge is the Eversio line of environmentally friendly, single-use dinnerware items made from sugarcane. Turned into bagasse pulp, it’s then formed into 8” plates, domes, 8-oz. soup bowls or 32-oz. entrée bowls, cups, dessert/side dishes, low- profile square dishes, casseroles, and cutlery packs.

A couple of characteristics set the line apart from most disposables, beyond the fact that it’s fully biodegradable in 31 days, according to the company. “The Eversio material is very hardy,” says Neil Kirven, president. “Operators can microwave these dishes and they withstand temperatures from -40°F to 302°F; that means they’ll work in cook-chill applications and in heated transports.” If you’re using Styrofoam, which is not recyclable or compostable, it’s worth checking out this new line. Kirven says the company has made a point to price Eversio very competitively.

What Else Is New?

During our conversation with DM&A, we heard about another brand new, rather revolutionary product from R&R Enterprises. The company debuted a new room service china plate and dome at a DM&A Annual Good to Best conference in March. Called the Savannah KISS, it comprises a china plate and dome combination that holds hot or cold temperatures super efficiently for 30 mins. (40 mins. plus for cold)—an ideal room service delivery window. The plate and dome combo eliminates the need for any induction base warming system.

“The 8” china plate is made of clay mixed with aluminum oxide,” Peters says. “What makes the plate so versatile is that it can go hot or cold; that’s unique.” The plates will warm in a traditional plate warming unit or chill in a walk-in. It takes about 30 mins. for the plate to absorb the hot or cold temps in order to hold them 20 mins. more.

The dome, which fits over the plate and sits on the tray, is lined with a light-weight, radiant barrier insulation from TempTroll. “It looks shiny, like the inside of a Thermos, but it’s sealed in the dome, so the dome is washable,” Peters explains.

While the plate itself is 43 percent heavier than a typical china plate alone, the Savannah KISS dome and plate together weigh almost 75 percent less than a regular plate, induction base and dome combined.

Read on for a selection of great tray top products and let us know about any good tips, trends or products you recommend. E-mail Beth Lorenzini at

Product Gallery


Do you want to get all the benefits of decorating for the holidays without the expense and carryover of single item cases?  Hoffmaster’s new Seasonal Celebrations and Fall & Winter Holiday Traymats offer 100 placemats in five different designs for seasonal decorating for all the major holidays.




Introducing Fenwick tray top insulated ware; the latest in the Dinex series of high-quality meal delivery products. Add a touch of style to your patients’ trays in a variety of designer colors. All Dinex tray top ware is designed to maintain hot and cold food temperatures on the tray, and deliver quality meals for maximum patient satisfaction. Mugs, bowls and entrée domes are foam insulated and mugs feature a sturdy 3-finger grip for stability. Disposable lids, designer tray covers and napkins and other tray top accessories complete the meal presentation and also preserve the quality of the tray during delivery.




You can save the cost of paper tray mats by switching to Cambro’s new Non-Skid Camtrays. Depending on your facility size, your department also can reduce waste by several tons each year, helping to meet administration’s green initiatives. Non-Skid Camtrays provide a great grip for smooth meal delivery. The trays can withstand temperatures up to 210ºF making them safe for heated carts and low- and high-temperature dishwashers. They’re available in three models and two sizes, 14”x18” and 15”x20”. All models have a 2-yr. warranty. Visit for a personalized savings calculator.

Cambro Mfg.



With new Ready-Chill from Aladdin, it’s never been easier to keep beverages, desserts and dairy products cold. The Ready-Chill base contains an innovative phase-change material that releases cold energy as it melts. It’s an efficient, economical system that requires very little change to cook-serve tray lines. Ready-Chill works with any cook-serve pellet meal delivery system, including Aladdin’s patented Heat On Demand and Heat On Demand On Tray. Cold items can stay at proper temps for 1 hr. when covered with the Aladdin Excel clear dome. Even without the clear dome, cold items stay cold for 30 mins., making Ready-Chill perfect for room service applications.

Aladdin Temp-Rite



If you’re hoping to get away from the institutional look of opaque cups for fruit, gelatin and other side dishes, but you’re worried that nice swirl cups will get taken, R&R has the solution. Black or clear disposable swirl (or tulip) cups give you the elegant presentation you want without worrying about the cost of replacing permanent ware. Disposable lids available for the swirls, too.

R&R Enterprises



Doctors, nurses, foodservice employees, aides—all are trained to wash their hands before dealing with patients, and they have access to sinks. But what about your patients? You can help reduce the risk of infection by including anti-bacterial wipes on foodservices trays. MedFare’s wipes aren’t made of rice paper like most wipes; they’re made of a lace fabric to endure a thorough use. You can order packets customized with your facility’s logo as well.

MedFare, Inc.



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