Food waste – a Day in the Life of an Event Planner (3/4/13)

Salads and side dishes
Salads and side dishes

My work experience during my youth, and my career as an adult, has always been in the food and beverage realm. Over the years I have seen and been involved with the issue of food waste, in the flesh. It is a constant struggle I have being an event planner.

When I was on the catering side of things our chefs would constantly try to reduce production to increase efficiency and reduce waste (and money). It is in the caterers’ best interest to have as little waste as possible. The challenge caterers’ face is the desire to create enough quality food for their client. As the planner, we want to impress our guests with the overall event experience, and food and beverage play a large role. One of the worst things that can happen at an event, for the caterer or planner, is to run out of food. Or, is it?

Breakfast pastries
Breakfast pastries

As planners what can we do to help reduce food waste? I ask myself that after every event, when ultimately and unfortunately, there is food left over. I have made it my own personal goal to make small strides in reducing this waste by packing up leftovers and re-distributing food across departments. But truthfully, I am not satisfied with this, and feel there is something more I (we) can do. Figuring out what that is, is the issue!

Here are a few tips that can help when it comes to ordering catering for an event:

1. Guest count – A common attrition rate for events is 10-20%, so do not order for all of those who replied “Yes.”

2. Analyze your audience – Is it a group of students? Young professionals? A social group? Each group dynamic is different and won’t require the same catering needs. Keep this in mind.

Leftover meats, cheeses, and breakfast burritos
Leftover meats, cheeses, and breakfast burritos

3. Timing – Based on the time of your event you can review your catering requests and see if you can reduce your order. For example, if the event doesn’t start until 8pm, your guests are likely to have eaten dinner already, so you might want to consider doing a dessert reception or providing small bites. That way there will still be plenty of food, but you won’t end up overdoing it.

4. Menu planning – I know many people think the more options the better. This is a common misconception, but many people feel overwhelmed by too many options! Scale down a bit.

5. Leftovers – When appropriate, it is always nice to put out to-go containers once the event is over. Some guests will really appreciate the option to take home leftovers. (Liz Manotti)

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