Can Creative Catering Align With Sustainability?


Crafting the culinary experience for special events offers an interesting way to weave a theme through your conference or gathering. With our increasingly interconnected world, a culturally diverse menu is boundless allowing for a range of menu possibilities. Of course, there is also a sustainability focus to choose local but sometimes, especially for those of us in the Prairies, fresh and local do not always coincide.

However, thinking sustainability while food costs escalate is a key factor in today’s inflationary times. The allure of providing a global cuisine often clashes with prioritizing locally sourced ingredients. Striking a balance between exotic menus and sustainable catering means doing as little harm as possible to the environment, while still delivering amazing cuisine for your attendees.

Navigating the challenges of dietary restrictions and preferences, from halal and kosher observances to a myriad of food sensitivities and lifestyle choices, demands finesse and flexibility from your catering team. The challenge lies in orchestrating menu items that cater to individual preferences without sacrificing sustainability and ensuring food is not wasted.

Attending a gala dinner last week with my Muslim husband who was observing Ramadan, the kitchen correctly held his meal, ensured that no pork was included and delivered the meal hot and fresh to our table right on time. This experience stands in stark contrast to a meeting at a local hotel where the specially prepared meals languished untouched as attendees gravitated toward the buffet.

How can we champion our sustainability desires while still providing a healthy, tasty, and interesting menu? The answer integrates creativity with eco-conscious practices. Prior to signing your venue contract, we recommend the following:

1. Meet with the venue catering team to investigate the chef’s willingness to diverge from their regular menu and tailor specialty options that support your theme using local ingredients.

2. Prioritize understanding the venue’s approach to leftovers from your buffet. One of the conference venues I use frequently works with a support kitchen to pick up food leftovers weekly maximizing social impact and minimizing waste. The venue decides which buffet items can be saved and stored for the weekly pick up. If your venue doesn’t offer this, provide options for them. For instance, will they let you take all the leftover cupcakes to the homeless shelter?

3. Review your venue contract for clauses tied to catering expenditures. Estimate your lowest attendance numbers and calculate the menu costs ensuring alignment between your budget, the contract and surplus buying.

4. Consider your audience. Sometimes a full day meeting package (preset breakfast, morning break, lunch, and afternoon break) is much more food than your attendees want. Tailor your meal package to avoid excess.

5. Be mindful when requesting dietary preferences. Eating a microscopic amount of the wrong food could lead to anaphylaxis for someone with a food allergy. People with food sensitivities on the other hand, might be able to ingest a small amount of the bothersome food without a problem. The venue catering team can help you to create your registration question to ensure it is concise.

Embracing sustainability in event planning is a commitment to responsible stewardship in a world where we have so many food choices. By thoughtfully considering your theme, your audience, the locale and their community, you can create a positive experience that nourishes both the body and the soul.


Kim Ali is owner of On Purpose Events, a leader in the design, planning, management and execution of events, meetings and conferences. A skilled and experienced professional she dedicates herself 100 per cent to client service and satisfaction.


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