Last week the UN Food & Agriculture Organization released a report stating one-third of food goes to waste. The equivalent of 1.3 billion tons, or the weight of 3,400 Golden Gate Bridges. In the US this amounts to 253 lbs of food wasted per person every year, according to Valerie Jaffee of the NRDC.
The food waste issue is particularly relevant for events. Audits of actual events reveal approximately 18% of event waste is organic material: food. The number is even higher when you factor in packaging and service ware. So what can we do to turn the tide? After all, it's not only nourishment that we're tossing out, it's money, too.
Avoid pre-plating and pre-pouring. Once food is plated and it leaves the kitchen it can't be donated. So unless you're absolutely certain every single banquet chair will be taken, don't pre-plate. In addition pre-poured ice water and ice tea must be poured down the drain if not consumed, so consider having wait staff pour this once guests are seated.
Eliminate or request minimal edible garnishes. Food decoration may look nice, but if it's not likely to be eaten, maybe you can do without it. If you feel compelled to garnish for presentation reasons make sure it will be an appropriate edible ending to the course, rather than something that is left over.
Practice portion control. Although none of us want guests to go hungry, leaving them stuffed can be detrimental to the experiences we want to create, too. So check in with your chef about portion size, and discuss if it needs to be adjusted to prevent waste.
Double-check serving size of sides. I once worked with an event planner who eliminated $150,000 from her food and beverage costs by asking the caterer to do something I'd never thought of before: adjusting the serving size of buffet sides. She noted over 2 successive events at the same venue that there were consistently higher quantities of side salads and starches left over, while mains were gone. So she asked the caterer to adjust for this, cutting food waste and costs.
Be on top of guarantees and make them as accurate as possible. A no-brainer, really, but worth underlining! Analyzing previous event patterns and harnessing your registration system to have special meal requests and opt-in/out for meals may help. It saves money and reduces food waste.
Provide sauces, jams, sugar, cream and other condiments in bulk. Single-serving foods contribute to wasted food and packaging. It's also often cheaper and more attractive to provide it in bulk.
Choose a venue that has a food donation program in place. Contrary to common myth, it is possible to donate perishable food. So select a venue or caterer that works to divert un-served food to the needy. PCMA's Network for the Needy offers links to US and Canadian food banks.
Choose a venue that has composting. If you're feeding people at your event it's inevitable you'll have food to throw away. So choose a venue that provides a landfill alternative for your prep food waste, table scraps and service ware (if used). Composting can reduce your event waste stream anywhere from 10 - 40%. If you're being charged for waste that's a big difference!
Would welcome other examples where you've been able to reduce food waste at your events!