2. Leverage historical data to cut waste and plan giving
Trevor Lui, principal of Highbell Group often speaks to groups about food waste and is a fan of using historical data to disrupt the status quo. Rather than accepting that food waste is inevitable, he says, “What if we did it the other way around and said, ‘Let's measure how much waste we had last year.’”
That number is generally about 15% to 30%, Lui adds. “It's a big number, right? If you have those numbers, then you should look at clawing back on ordering for your subsequent events and see how that tracks.”
Next, rather than donating so many leftovers, Lui recommends ordering less and funneling some of the savings to community groups like food banks. “Let them use the money the way they want. The big thing about food waste I think we need to pay more attention to, is that you can tie in engineering your food waste to planned giving.”
3. Share your vision with caterers
To enact change, Kwong recommends choosing partners wisely and talking things through, “It always starts with a conversation with your caterer and knowing who's implementing what.” Many Toronto caterers already take lots of proactive steps, she says, including donating suitable leftovers to partners like Second Harvest. “In terms of cooking and scraps, are they being used for something else, are they being sent to a farm to be used as farm feed for animals? Again, just diverting food waste away from landfills,” she says.
4. Rethink food serving styles
Kwong and other forward-thinking event pros are also looking to encourage new service norms such as smaller, individual portions to avoid waste. “Buffets are very popular but what we do as an industry, trying to keep it looking full and fresh, means that food can't be donated afterwards. Whereas if it stays in the kitchen and is held properly in a warmer or fridge, then it can be donated or used at a later time,” Kwong says.
5. Communicate your ‘why’ to attendees
Communicating about changes is key to all of this, says Kwong. “So ‘We're asking you in registration if you're going to attend these meals because we're trying to reduce our food waste.’ And I think that's a really good prompt for people to reflect and think, ‘Okay, that's a good point.’”
Ultimately, Kwong says, “Nobody's against doing something that's better for the planet. But anytime you're trying to do something new, it’s best to always communicate the why to your attendees.”