Cafeteria Service Design for Behavior Change

Design for environmental impact, Design Research, Design Strategy, Design for behavioural change, Human Centered Design
Design Research, Concept Development, Prototyping, Design Lead.
Akhil Chopra, Devanshi Sihare
Jan'18 - Present

The disposable culture research pointed out that using disposables have become a default behavior because of being cheap, fast and easy. One of the major contributors have been the food providers. The service design of food establishments encourage the consumers to use more single use dishware as it is more convenient for the provider and user both. We try to fix some of these flaws by introducing subtle design strategies.

We identified the flaws that lead to the wasteful behavior in The New School Cafeteria. The Cafeteria is the location of our in-depth observation for behaviors as well as the site for testing our behavioral change strategies or ‘nudges’. These nudges are introduced by making small changes in the interactions between the service design and the consumer, that makes using reusables a default and allows consumers to make a choice rather than accepting the default.

This is an ongoing project. The prototype testing and impact assessment is in process.

Once we establish that these nudges do help in reducing the amount of waste generated and we can cause a behaviour change in consumers, the aim is to develop these strategies into a toolkit that can be incorporated in OneNYC Zero Waste Guidelines and eventually act as a design guideline for food establishments to reduce waste.


The New School is dedicated to environmental justice and sustainability. The sustainability initiatives focus on the efficient design and operation of spaces on campus to reduce energy consumption and the resulting carbon emissions. However, we observed that the school still generates a lot of single-use plastic waste in the cafeteria. Students use disposables to have lunch, drink coffee and water multiple time of the day and fail to recycle them in spite of the availability of recycling bins. The school also uses compostable materials in the cafeteria, but only a small percentage ends up in the compostable bins.

We started the project by immersing ourselves in understanding the causes of such behaviors by students. We conducted interviews with students, cafeteria staff, school facilities, sustainability and operations department, drew empathy maps for students and spent hours in the cafeteria to identify the reasons for the excessive waste generated. One of the most important reasons was the service design of the cafeteria itself.

Behaviour Analysis and Ideation

We created student journey maps and identified their habit loops to find the motivations, needs and pain points associated with getting food or beverage.

Analysis of the interaction between user  and service design helped us in identifying the opportunities for intervention.

We identified specific behaviors and then brainstormed on the strategies that can be applied in the cafeteria to influence behavior change. The strategies will then be implemented  by operational changes, training staff and designing signage and messaging.


We developed these strategies into actionable items that can be implemented in the cafeteria. Feedback from the Facilities and Finance Department of the school was incorporated.  Prototype testing with users and impact assessment is in process.


The idea of this project to see if these small nudges help in changing user behavior and reduce the amount of disposables going into landfill. These nudges can be then adapted by various kinds of food establishments. We plan to develop an adaptive service toolkit that can become part of OneNYC Zero Waste Guidelines, thus helping food establishments to play their part in meeting zero waste goals by 2030. Below is the sketch framework for the toolkit: