This is the third in a series about food waste and the social license. You might recall from our first post that the concept of social license is about asking our customers to accept practices in the food experience that reduce waste. So far, we’ve discussed how the concept of the social license can reduce food waste in restaurants. Today we are going to tackle catering – a very complicated and difficult beast.
Reducing food waste can be more difficult for caterers because of the pressure to offer a perfect experience. Imagine this scenario: It’s a gorgeous autumn day. A beautiful couple just shared their wedding vows, and this couple and their guests are now headed to the buffet. It’s getting close to the end of the buffet line but – gasp – one of entrees has run out and is no longer available. Can you imagine the pressure that comes with potentially ruining someone’s special day? This is a caterer’s worst nightmare, and I bet any caterers reading this now are uncomfortable just thinking about it.
“When it comes to hospitality, there seems to be a moat around a moat to protect against running out of food. There is huge opportunity to reduce food waste and food costs here without customers ever noticing a difference,” says Dana Gunders, Senior Scientist at the National Resources Defense Council.
So let’s talk about how we can build some bridges across these moats so that together we can create an exceptional catered event without wasting food.
What can the caterer do?
- Display informational signs telling customers what it means to be attending a no-waste catering event
- Table tents
- Event website
- All means of communication should at a minimum include a standard line about “No-waste events”
- Talk to your catering client about what you plan to do if food gets low or runs out, and arm the client with “values-driven” talking points to share with guests
- Ensure that the culinary team does not prepare more food than what is instructed
- During all-day meetings with various services in one day, place remaining food items on smaller plates for guests to enjoy later
- Always follow safe food handling practices and coordinate with a local hunger-relief organization to take surplus
- For recurring events, make note of eating habits for future use
How can you engage the client or prospect?
- Agree that it’s acceptable for food to run low or out in some cases, with the understanding that no one will leave hungry
- Discuss how much food will be prepared, including pieces per person or ounces per person, so the client understands the caterer is preparing an appropriate amount of food
- Discuss the policy, if it exists, regarding how much extra food will be prepared over the guaranteed customer count
The key to a successful no-waste catered event is communication… early and often. There need to be open lines of communication between the caterer, the culinary team, and the client. They need to agree that it’s acceptable for food to run low or run out in some cases, with the understanding that no one will leave hungry or disappointed. In fact, if done right, everyone will leave with the sense of having helped both people and planet. Clear, constant and consistent communication between client and guest is equally crucial and the cater needs to ensure that takes place effectively.