Are Trays the New Nostalgia?

This week alone my food at two local eateries arrived, surprisingly, on heavy metal trays (see below). These are places that might otherwise have used good plateware given their style and relatively steep menu prices. Yet instead they employ an item that likely reminds people of the school cafeteria, prison or mess hall. Maybe trays instead of plates is a trend limited to Cleveland, but somehow I doubt it.


To be sure, restaurants are capable of surprising ways of serving food. Steak, for example, sometimes shows up on a cutting board. It’s usually been sliced by then. I’ve seen burgers impressively served (on a plate, however) with a huge steak knife rammed into its center.


The tray itself has a practical history in foodservice, being a tool that servers have used to tote food to table for millennia. Those trays nonetheless disappeared from view once the dishes were dropped off. My tray remained in front of me while I ate.


And yet I can’t help but think that — whether the restaurant owners are aware or not — trays remind diners of a time when they may have gathered at common tables to break bread with fellow students and friends. In that sense, the trays may be stimulating happy memories — welcome in a restaurant. And if not, well, the trays are something to talk about on social media and in blog posts. Thats not all bad, either.

Food on a tray.
Brisket sandwich and broccoli at Mabel’s BBQ in Cleveland..
Food on a tar.
Seasonal Pizza at Arcadia in Cleveland.