How to be a Food-Waste Fighting Event Superhero

As a major buyer of catering service, event professionals have a significant opportunity to reduce food waste and save money.

Superhero kid

Global food waste is a major problem. In the two minutes it takes to scan this article:

• 15,210 tonnes of food will be produced
• 10,267 tonnes of food will be consumed
• 4,943 tonnes of food will be wasted
That’s enough to out-weigh 2,700 SUVs. In fact, losses incurred by food producers from this waste will exceed of $2.8 million USD globally by the time you reach the last line in this post. (Source: World Food Clock)

Fortunately, event professions have numerous opportunities to reduce food waste:

Will You Be Dining?

Predicting food and beverage quantities is tough. While historic records can help if you have them, so can asking attendees if they plan to attend certain meals when they register.

Portion Control, People!

Before ordering blindly, check with your caterer about serving size, and make sure it makes sense for your group. One conference planner I knew who did this was able to reduce her food budget by $150,000! For small parties check out the Party Food Portions tool by Love Food, Hate Waste.

Be flexible and Listen to Chef’s Choices.

If you permit them some discretion to respond to the prevailing growing season, Chefs can often leverage relationships with local producers to take advantage of produce that is in season and high supply, providing the freshest options, often at better prices.

Use Local and Seasonal Produce Finders

Look to online produce guides and share them with your Chef (Local Harvest (North America), Seasonal Ingredient Map (USA), Big Barn (UK)). Plan your menus to integrate produce that might be in season or surplus when your event is happening.

Plan Menus as Early as Possible

The earlier you plan your menus, the more affordable and local they can be, as purveyors can plant appropriate amounts in time to be fresh and ready for your guests. This advance insight into order volume avoids wasting produce that may go under-sold.

Increase Vegetarian Content

Kilo for kilo, it takes more resources to produce meat than it does to produce veggies. So be open to cutting back on protein by having a Meatless Monday event, or minimum 50% veggie entrees.

Leftovers Thinking

Remember the days when we roasted beef on Sundays, enjoyed leftovers in a dip on Monday, and sandwiches on Tuesday before slurping a hearty barley soup on Wednesday? Adopt the logic of stretching leftovers at your event by thinking about how they might be appropriately re-invented the second day.

Filter for Sustainable Seafood

We know we should buy better seafood where stocks of certain species are threatened. But did you also know that tools like Seafood Watch filter Good Alternative and Best Choices based on bycatch? This means you can feel better that your catch of the day does not deplete other species through wasteful fishing methods.

Little Service Tricks

Smaller buffet bowls, not pre-plating or pre-pouring and eliminating unnecessary garnishes are simple ways you can reduce waste when it comes to service delivery onsite.

Think Experience

Consider these unique ways to raise participant consciousness about this important issue:
• Food waste is FUN! Feeding the 5000 is a great example of how one organization is creating inspiring event experiences in the name of reducing food waste.
• Food waste composting program for attendees. Consider bringing composting front of house and involving attendees in the process.
• Preserves as gifts. Bottle up the flavor of your destination by partnering with local growers to preserve surplus fruit, and give it away as a memento to attendees or customers.

Bust the “Abundance” Ideal

Do you really need five courses? Or would three be enough? Must the buffets always look full, even when service is nearly done? We’ve become accustomed to the idea of abundance as luxury, when it can be a huge source of waste. So to help reduce waste, don’t panic if buffets are not brimming over, or replenished immediately.

Pay Attention to What Is Left Over

Record consumption using a food function checklist, and use this information to plan future orders. Visit the kitchen yourself to observe the type and amount of food being wasted. Don’t be afraid to look in garbage bins, which can provide insight into what menu items are being over-ordered. You can also ask for measurement of your food waste stream if your caterer separates organic waste. And remember: food waste tends to be the heaviest type of event waste, so reducing it can save landfill costs.

Make Sure Left Over Food Gets Donated

While avoiding overage at the outset is ideal, preventing surplus food from entering landfill is essential. Food donation is an option, and many cities support second harvest to ensure leftover food meeting health guidelines makes it to those in need. Choose a caterer and venue that support these programs (food donation programs in USA, Canada). If one doesn’t exist, consider working with a food donation agency, such as the Food Donation Connection or La Tablée des Chefs.

To view even more tips, tools and case studies check out the Food Waste Reduction Alliance Toolkit.

In Conclusion

There are few experiences as universal, or as wasteful, as food and beverage provision at events. Event professionals have a prime opportunity to become advocates for ensuring sustainable food supply by putting any of these ideas into action. The planet, and your bottom line, will thank you.

About The Author
Shawna McKinley
Shawna McKinley is a sustainability specialist who believes in the power of events to make the world a better place. She helps eventprofs take practical, smart steps through zero waste and carbon conscious choices that generate social good, business value, and happy event participants. Read more on her blog, Eventcellany.
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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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