Would you like a tray with that?

I wonder who dreamed up the food tray, a simple device which allows patrons to carry more food than they could hold in their bare hands. Was it an independent inventor who identified a need in the market, constructed a prototype, and brought it to market? I doubt it.

My theory is that its was a restraunt owner who decided that rather than paying waitors he would get patrons to order their meals at a counter and then carry it back themselves – it was a simple innovation that allowed them to cut costs while at the same time providing a service to customers who didn’t have to wait to get their meals ordered.

So what does food trays have to do we me and my blog? Well – I am sitting here at Canberra Airport waiting to dial into a teleconference and I decided that a pot-of-tea would be nice. I ordered the tea at the counter and then stood waiting for it to arrive which it did after just a few minutes. The problem is that tea is a multi-part affair which involves a cup and saucer, a pot of hot water and a small jug of milk. They are irregular shapes so they can’t be stacked on top of each other so a tray is required – but there was no tray to be found.

The cafe here at Canberra Airport made the sensible choice to not provide table service at an busy (cough) international (cough cough) port but at the same time removed one of the innovations which makes it possible. Instead customers are expected to carry multiple hot drinks back to their table and in many cases they are forced to make multiple trips.

This is relevant to the phone call that I will be making shortly because I will be discussing the configuration of a new (and hopefully innovative service offering that Readify will be launching in the future and I need to make sure that we have included all the trays that we need to ensure a happy customer experience.

Of course, a tray could be considered an add-on service and you could charge for it just like shopping centres charge a refundable fee for the use of trolleys – I certainly would have paid an extra dollar to not scold myself with the hot pot of tea.


3 thoughts on “Would you like a tray with that?

  1. Grant

    Here here Mitch!

    Sometimes I think it gives a better customer experience if you just charge a little more and include the things that people need/expect (trays).

    For example, there are fish and chip shops (fisho’s) that charge 25c per quarter of lemon… or 20c per sauce portion.

    So the knee-jerk reaction is to go up and yell at the shopkeeper when you open the wrapped newspaper and find that there’s no lemon.

    They then try and explain to you that it costs money and you either cave in (and they have to do another transaction), or storm off.

    All of this could be avoided just by factoring an extra 50c into the price of the meal – happy customers, happy staff.


  2. Wilecoyote

    I too ran foul of the cafe service in Canberra airport, I cant remember what time it was, but the cafe just closed, leaving us to sit in the chairs with not even a vending machine to serve us a cup of hot tea.

    I remembered thinking its a good job I wasnt someone important, before I realised that if I were I would probably be sitting in a flight lounge.

    In answer to your question of who invented it, the tray was an adaptation of the shield in european and asian and the americas, when it was noted the concave back could be used to carry all sorts of useful things, while the aboriginiees have used stringy bark trays since they have been, and the polonesians used banana leaves etc.

    I can see it now, some 3M scientist sat there and looked at an aboriginal gathering yams and thought, hmmm what if we made that out of plastic…. (we wont say it too loud, they might wanna claim patent rights to it).

  3. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hi Neil,

    I’m pretty sure that prior art would kill their patent application but you never know πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the background – interesting πŸ™‚

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