Did you know operating costs for a food court generally run at least 200% higher per-sq.-ft. than the rest of the mall? Approximately 50% of the waste in a mall is generated by the food court. Historically, cost reduction programs in the food court focused almost solely on lowering labor costs by outsourcing cleaning contracts and reducing staff. This often resulted in a reduction of service in this busy profit and customer service center.

What do customers see and experience in the majority of food courts? Unfortunately they are generally faced with eating off dirty tables, removing trays left by previous patrons, and fighting with full or overflowing trash receptacles. Dirty containers and floors — as well as waste being emptied and carted through the area — contribute to the unpleasantness of the dining experience.

‘Can't touch this’

Food court patrons aren't slobs. They leave their waste on tables for two reasons: because the waste receptacle is full or because the waste receptacle is unsanitary and they don't want to touch it. Rarely do food court patrons leave trays on the table out of laziness. So, whose fault is it food courts are in this type of state, particularly during peak periods? Are the cleaners not doing their jobs?

Actually, it's just the nature of the beast. People eat meals around the same time; fast food waste is bulky, often building up too quickly to be effectively handled during peak periods. As for the cleaners, they struggle to keep up with cleaning and returning trays, wiping tables and removing garbage. About the only times you'll visit a food court and not see dirty tables, unsightly overflowing bins and ongoing waste removal is early in the morning or during non-peak hours.

New solutions

However, in the past few years a few North American companies developed products eliminating the problems associated with fast food waste, especially during peak periods. And the real kicker is these products also significantly reduce food court operating costs. Furthermore, they have built-in promotional features enabling mall owners to communicate with patrons.

Sound too good to be true? Well, shopping malls are already familiar with the basic concept because virtually every mall has something similar in the form of a trash compactor. However, the new wave of food court products differs from conventional compactors in that they are placed right in the food court. This enables users to compact the waste at the source of generation — the customer.

Compaction benefits

Automatic compactors eliminate the need for constant waste removal and therefore improve the food court experience and increase sales. Following are a few of the many benefits a food court will experience by introducing automatic compactors:

  • Savings. Automatic compaction means less labor required to monitor waste and empty waste receptacles. In addition, significantly fewer trash bags are required. Ultimately, automatic compactors provide higher compaction ratios than are realized by outside compactor/dumpsters. Generally, at least double the compaction is realized. This increased compaction ratio further reduces hauling costs because more waste will fit in the dumpster.

  • Food court patrons happily throw away their waste. Why? Because these units are automatic. The waste deposit door opens automatically and eliminates the customer's need to touch a dirty waste receptacle. And this proves to be a winning idea. Architectural awards are won by shopping centers that eliminated doors on entrances/exits to public washrooms. Customers don't want to come in contact with other people's germs.

    By touching the handle to open the waste deposit door, customers put their hands where hundreds of others have gone before. This is why you often witness patrons using their tray to open the door. Of course, doing this also causes the problem of garbage (ketchup and such) on the door.

  • Food court patrons have fun and feel good about throwing away their waste. Why? These units talk. They can be configured to deliver standard messages — from thanking the customer for shopping at the mall or a particular retailer to any number of promotional messages. In fact, promotional messages can be sold to tenants who want to increase their traffic.

  • Food court patrons will never encounter a full or overflowing trash receptacle. Compactors automatically compact the waste, eliminating the need for constant monitoring or emptying.

    Food court cleaning staff can therefore concentrate on wiping tables, cleaning trays and replenishing tray supplies. Table turnover increases and the food court appearance improves. Best of all, it is no longer necessary to remove and/or cart away waste during peak periods.

  • Increased staff morale. No one likes handling waste, even if it is their job. And what about an employee that just can't keep up because there's too much trash? Being able to perform your job better increases job satisfaction, and that reduces turnover.

  • Automatic compactors are like having additional employees on staff. The difference? They cost a fraction, do their job without complaint, and save money at the same time!

This equipment can be purchased outright, leased or in some cases rented. Prices and payback vary depending on the manufacturer. However, payback on average is generally one year or less. Not bad for all the benefits!

Charlotte May is president of Enviro Waste Technologies Inc., manufacturer of the patents-pending Enviro-Packer 100, an automatic, talking waste compactor for the fast food industry. The company also sells other innovative waste- and food service-related products. For more information, visit www.ewti.com or call 888.206.0022.