One thing I hear frequently from event planners is concern about the cost of implementing sustainable practices. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by the Events Industry Council, 75% of events will only pursue sustainable programs if they are cost-neutral or cost-saving.
Thankfully, there are many ways to go green and save money at the same time! This is the first in a series of blog posts focused on budget-friendly sustainable best practices for events. Today let’s look at ways to plan a cost-saving sustainable menu.
1. Replace lamb and beef with other protein options
Did you know that lamb and beef are the two meats that emit the largest amount of greenhouse gases during their production? According to the Environmental Working Group, lamb and beef emit significantly more greenhouse gases than pork, fish, poultry, or non-meat proteins like tofu and beans.
Replace lamb and beef menu entrees with lower-cost poultry—or even better, a meatless entree—to save money on catering costs and reduce your event’s greenhouse gas emissions.
2. Avoid air-freighted ingredients
Another way to potentially reduce both catering costs and environmental impact is to avoid air-freighted foods like fresh fish or tropical fruit. Shipping by air is both expensive and has a large carbon footprint. Ingredients that can be shipped by less urgent methods like truck, rail, or ship are likely to be less expensive and release a smaller amount of greenhouse gases.
3. Incorporate “imperfect” produce
“Imperfect” produce refers to fruits and vegetables that are not aesthetically perfect, but still have the same taste and nutritional value as their more attractive counterparts. Misshapen fruits and vegetables are often rejected by vendors because they don’t meet shopper’s ideas of what those items are supposed to look like, meaning perfectly healthy and delicious food goes to waste every day.
Make a few calls to local grocery stores or farms to find out what they do with their imperfect produce. Often these items can be purchased at a discount because they would otherwise be thrown out.
4. Reduce the number of courses
At plated meals with several courses, attendees often leave food on one or more of their plates. Guests may fill up before the last course is served, or they may try to save room for the later courses by eating less of the earlier courses.
If you frequently plan multi-course meals, start actively monitoring how much food is left on plates after each course. Partner with your catering staff so they can keep an eye on this as they clear plates. If fewer than 75% of plates are mostly empty when they’re cleared from the table, consider reducing the number of courses in the meal. You may be providing more food than your guests want to consume, and cutting a course will return money to your event budget.
5. Practice portion control
Even if your meal already has a trim number of courses, keep an eye on portion size. If fewer than 75% of your guests are nearly emptying their plates, you may be providing more food than they want to eat. (Or, heaven forbid, they may find the food unappealing!) Consider serving smaller portions of high quality, widely appealing foods. Your caterer may be able to adjust pricing if the serving size you request is smaller than usual (such as requesting a lunch portion to be served at dinner), and you’ll also ensure your catering budget doesn’t end up in the trash can.
If you’re truly concerned about guests going hungry, add a tasteful note on the menu saying that guests are welcome to ask their server for a second portion of any dish they enjoyed. If some of the surplus prepared food doesn’t get served, it’s still a promising candidate for donation to charity because it’s been kept in the back of house.
6. Replace traditional desserts with a small sweet bite
A decadent slice of three-layer cake may be a treat for some event attendees, but for many guests, it may be something they prefer to leave uneaten on the table. Many guests are increasingly health-conscious and may avoid rich desserts because they’re watching their calories or sugar intake. Guests with diabetes and gluten sensitivities also often have to avoid traditional desserts.
Even attendees who don’t mind indulging in dessert may simply find themselves too full after enjoying the delicious meal that came before it. Those who do power through the cheesecake are likely to end up feeling stuffed and lethargic, rather than ready for whatever activity your event has in store for them next!
To cap off a meal with a touch of sweetness that isn’t overwhelming, consider replacing traditional plated desserts with a simple square of fair trade, organic chocolate. (Make sure it’s vegan and gluten-free as well to best serve as many guests as possible.) The cost of the dessert course will go back into your event budget, you’ll avoid the tragedy of tossing delicious desserts in the trash, and your guests can satisfy their sweet tooth without feeling weighed down.
Want to reduce food waste at your next event? From smart planning to community donations, I’ll help you keep perfectly good food out of the trash. Learn more about food waste prevention services >>