So what is the main goal of an event planner? To oversimplify, “Wow the guests!” All logistics center around ensuring the guests enjoy themselves and walk away with something: knowledge, inspiration, business connections, or just a sense of community bonding. We can get caught up in pampering and impressing our guests that we in turn make irresponsible, maybe even unethical decisions. While there are numerous roads we could travel down when talking about waste and the stewardship of your event let’s focus on Food. When doing some research this statement stood out: “Even when wowing attendees, squandering food is not cool.”
When you see statistics like ‘$161 billion of food is wasted in the United States’ there’s probably a part of you that’s embarrassed. We live in a society where it’s nothing to waste food and the EPA confirms this with ‘218.9 pounds of food waste per person sent for disposal in a year’. There are numerous ways we as consumers can battle food waste at home. We have a blog highlighting some tips and providing helpful resources: What’s for Dinner?
As consumers we can better store our ingredients and get creative with leftovers but how do event planners take on the food waste battle?
- Know your Numbers
Before providing your final count to the venue, double check all your numbers for accuracy. Providing an exact number of attending guests allows the property to prepare the proper amount of food that is needed.
- Trust the Professionals
As a planner, talk to the venue and/or caterer about your goals and be flexible when they make suggestions. The food services manager may have suggestions for a sustainable menu that you could implement for one or two meals that are either meatless or based around locally grown items. Choosing the right menu options can not only cut down on food waste but protect other valuable resources.
- The Infamous Coffee & Snack Bar
A creative coffee counter, bustling beverage bar, stellar snack stand, or tantalizing treat table is a common want and request from event planners. Alliterations aside, it seems like all the planning guides encourage planners to add in snacks to their meeting or event. Eating is social and feels like it happens 24/7 at some events! The problem with snack bars is… it can lead to a lot of waste. For venues and caterers, don’t refresh these stations too often. You want to keep your guests happy and full however allowing an item to run out briefly is ok. Actually according to Shawna McKinley, director of sustainability for MeetGreen, “Our goal should be to provide just the right amount. So let service staff know when you want them to refresh and that it is okay to have the food diminish”.
An additional suggestion to limit both food and plastic waste is to move away from pre-packaged items to a serve yourself food platter. Not only saving the plastic packaging from going into the trash you allow guests to take the serving portion they want which avoids half-eaten packages from going into the trash as well. A disclaimer for this suggestion! Due to the recent pandemic, health and safety has taken number one priority in event planning and the trend is actually shifting back to individual, pre-packaged snack items to limit ‘hot spots’ of disease spread (utensils, beverage dispensers)
This is going to be a best practice for your venue or caterer. They should be thinking ahead to their meal schedule for the event and making provisions to use up leftovers on the buffet line. Unserved vegetables or potatoes can become a soup for tomorrow’s lunch, bread used as croutons on a salad bar, or chicken breasts revitalized in a steamer with an added alfredo or lemon, garlic sauce. When contracting the food service for your event, ask your venue what they do to limit food waste by using leftovers in their meal scheduling AND be ok with seeing an entree the next day cooked in a different recipe.
- Donating Leftovers
This is something you as a planner and a venue can do. If you brought in the food and supplies for your own coffee station or snack bar then first ensure everything is properly stored away so it can be used again. Think about what upcoming events the leftovers could be used for. If no additional events are happening think about handing them out to the planning team members, or you could donate them to a local food pantry. Research the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, a federal law that protects organizations and individuals from liability issues when they donate 'apparently wholesome food' in good faith to a nonprofit organization.
Food Waste has seen a recent movement through several pilot projects, campaigning from the USDA and EPA, and even a feature-length documentary. Pilot projects in the recent year have been testing innovative strategies for reducing food waste in the hotel industry. We wanted to share the sentiments of Christian Retreats Network and its network properties:
Our buffet, all-you-can-eat style of dining is a great way to please all members of your group! However, this style of dining can lead to excessive waste at times, so we encourage our guests to take as much as they want, but to eat all they take. We feel excessive waste goes against God’s call of us to be good stewards, and we know you would agree!