With price inflation top of mind among event planners, we asked top Toronto meal planning and group catering experts to share budget-stretching strategies that also help reduce food waste.

1. Start collecting information as early as possible

It can be quite a balancing act to ensure that enough food has been ordered for a business or gala event, but not so much that anything goes to waste. That’s why planning ahead is so important.

“The earlier communication can take place, the easier it is to plan the menus, purchase, have minimal leftovers and keep waste to a minimum,” says Shawn Whalen, Executive Chef, InterContinental Toronto Centre.

2. Ask attendees to weigh in on their needs

The return to in-person events is a great opportunity to survey attendees during the registration process “about what’s important to them,” advises Leslie Anderton, CMP, Director, Conference and Catering Services, Chelsea Hotel Toronto.

“A big breakfast may not be necessary based on personal routines. Perhaps a small grab ’n go snack before the first session and then a more substantial morning break would be better appreciated.”

3. Be strategic and keep it simple

The Chelsea Hotel looks for ways to streamline kitchen production so that savings can be passed along to clients, says Anderton. “We feature a Daily Luncheon Buffet, which is one menu for all groups to enjoy. If a planner wants to change it up to the Make It My Way Buffet, there is a nominal cost to do so.”

4. Challenge the schedule status quo

Instead of a 6 p.m. full sit-down meal, planners may wish to host an early evening cocktail reception with canapes and a few food stations so that guests can nibble and then dine out on their own afterwards, suggests Natalie Stanbra, National Director, Event Sales for Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality. “You’re providing enough but not creating an over-the-top experience for every meal.”

5. Re-evaluate the menu

As the price of beef rises, planners might consider serving smaller cuts or switching it out for chicken or seafood, suggests Stanbra. “Having the flexibility to switch out items is where we find the most wiggle room on prices.”

6. Revisit buffet presentation

At one time, buffets were constantly refilled so that they looked just as plentiful to the last guest as they did to the first in line, says Ernesto Castillo, Director of Food and Beverage, InterContinental Hotel. “That has completely changed. Now you ensure that there’s enough for everyone and that the buffet is presentable, but it doesn’t have to look exactly the same the entire time.”

7. Monitor waste closely

The Chelsea Hotel engineers its menus and monitors the preparation process to ensure minimal waste, according to James Cushinan, Director of Food and Beverage. “Observing the food as it’s put out and recording the waste coming back has been a great tool for us… to reimagine a menu item or adjust the set-up to enhance the value but not over produce,” he says. 

8. Donate the leftovers

Ensure your host venue or preferred caterer has the systems in place to store and deliver leftover food to community partners, such as St. Felix Centre, or food rescue services like Second Harvest