Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Feel Good News

It's Friday, and in my books, that means it's time to feel good. Let's set aside the doom-and-gloom stories for a moment and focus on some good news!


A few weeks ago I finally got to check out the new food court at Toronto's Eaton Centre mall. The name, Urban Eatery, is a little cheesy, but I guess the idea is to encourage mallgoers to think of a hip, modern foodie destination - rather than the greasy, littered, last-resort dining option usually associated with the term "mall food court". And modern it was, with the layout and decor envisioned by Canadian designers as part of a $120 million revitalization of the basement level's north end. The glass, stainless steel, marble, and wood impressed me, as did the variety of seating options that are much easier on the eye than the uniform beige chairs and tables typically seen in food courts. I was also appreciative of the array of vendors: alongside a small number of fast food joints were take-out versions of some of Toronto's better restaurants featuring much healthier menus than I was expecting. But what actually made me smile was this:

Real cutlery! There are, in fact, over 100,000 pieces of reusable tableware in circulation at Urban Eatery, and somewhere on the order of 20,000 drinking glasses, too. As you can tell from the photo, plastic cutlery is available, but instead of automatically being handed your meal in a polystyrene foam container with single-use forks and spoons, you get to inform your server that you will be staying in to eat... and out come the real dishes! I'm not happy that the plates and bowls are made of sturdy plastic, but at least they're reusable.

This is what one of five collection stations looks like. Urban Eatery staff take the trays and separate food waste and dishes, bringing the reusable tableware to what I've been told is a giant, but energy-efficient, dishwasher hidden away in some back room somewhere. With 24 restaurants in the food court, I was surprised to see the stacks of clean dishes never run low, but then again, I also didn't see any of the staff slacking off. They just kept coming out with freshly washed plates, cups, and cutlery, and the whole system seemed to be running smoothly.

Three cheers for smart design: this is one of two hand-washing stations located right in the food court itself, i.e., not tucked away in a washroom. The soap dispenser, faucet, and paper towel dispenser are all motion-activated, which reduces waste and helps prevent the spread of germs. In fact, having a hand-washing station at all helps stop bacteria from getting around; I can imagine there are people who feel they're too busy to stop and walk all the way over to a washroom to wash their hands after eating. Those lazy fools have no excuse now!

That's right, help us preserve our environment. Looking around, I noticed only very few instances of trays being abandoned on tables. Whether that's due to efficient staff walking around to tidy up or due to a sense of shared responsibility, I do not know. What I can say with some certainty is that when a space is clean, tidy, and easy on the eyes, the people using the space are more likely to keep it in that condition. I hope this model is replicated all across the country!


  1. My only complaint: By the time I get to try this place out, it'll be December and therefore close to Christmas and therefore packed to the gills...

    But still, SUCH an awesome idea! Here's hoping it catches on!

  2. Melissa - You're welcome! I'm surprised, though, that you aren't disappointed that the reusable dishes are made of plastic. Out of all of my readers, you are the most fervent anti-plastic crusader! :)

  3. Marc - If you can wait until December, you can wait until January, after the sales. :)

    Also, it's worth noting that the space feels very big. High ceilings, tables not crammed right up against each other, etc. It may not be so bad, even when the mall is full of shoppers.

  4. Wow I love that. I bet the time saved by collecting trays is used to wash the dishes. I hate all the waste in a food court, especially the Styrofoam containers for almost everything. I hope it catches on! I bet it is cheaper for the vendors to help pay for the dish washing than to continuously buy more styrofoam and plastic.


  5. Colette - No Plastic ProjectNovember 6, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    Thanks Andrea. It's great to hear the good news stories! Our neighbourhood gelato place switched from using plastic disposable "taster" spoons to using real ones earlier this season: three cheers for retailers who are on board!.

  6. Sherry - Oh yes, not seeing foam and plastic everywhere is great! And not only does it save vendors money, it saves them time because they're not in the back room placing orders constantly. :)

  7. Colette - Brilliant, those little plastic taster spoons are a pet peeve of mine. I live in a predominantly Italian neighbourhood where those mini espresso spoons are everywhere... why not use those? Perhaps on a quiet day I'll go in to the local gelateria and suggest it.

  8. This is great good news! Love seeing more places like this cropping up! Yeah!

  9. Thanks Katherine. I'd like to see every mall in the country redo their food court to look and function like this. :)