Here are our 8 steps to set up a sustainable menu at your next conference or corporate event.
At GreenBiz we know we have to walk the talk when it comes to sustainability — we put on sustainability conferences, after all.
Over the years we have learned a lot about how to serve a sustainable food menu that is tasty, keeps waste low and can be enjoyed by all, while also giving attendees a push to try new plant-based lower-emission things. It has also been cost-effective; understanding eating habits and decreasing food quantities saves money no matter what.
In 2015 we stopped serving red meat, started donating surplus food to local community organizations and eliminated single-serving and plastic-packaged foods. And in 2022, we took a big swing, serving a 75 percent vegan and 25 percent vegetarian menu. (This year we reintroduced white meat and fish for balance and accessibility. More on that later.)
Here is our step-by-step guide to making the food and beverage service at your conference or corporate event more sustainable, without sacrificing taste.
Step 1: Pre-portion food and bring it out in shifts
Try to keep as much food in the kitchen as possible by pre-portioning the food and bringing it out gradually instead of all out at the same time for a “serve yourself” model.
For example, you’ll often see a tub of yogurt and a giant container of granola available at event buffets so attendees can self-serve. These bowls are rarely finished and the remainder has to be thrown away. (Unfortunately due to food regulations, once food is taken out of the kitchen it can no longer be reused or donated.)
So ask the kitchen to plate the food in smaller batches and replenish as needed. This way, any leftovers can remain in the kitchen to be donated.
Step 2: Use smaller serving platters
The hospitality industry is incentivized to ensure abundance. A crowded table with five different types of pastries, four jugs of salad dressings, a dozen condiments and an overflowing cheese board may look good, but it almost always results in food being overserved.
The easiest way to address this is to use smaller serving trays and bowls. Our own food waste audit at our event in June found that downsizing the serving vessels for syrup and butter led to a 60 percent reduction in the waste of each. It also saved the venue about $10,000.
Step 3: Put the meat and cheese on the side
One practice for nudging eaters toward plant-based options, is to serve meals deconstructed so the default option is plant-based. If attendees want to add animal-based and allergen-prone products, such as cheese or tree nuts for a salad, those can be available on the side. This is also great for general inclusivity, to make it easier for those with dietary restrictions or allergies.
That said, make sure to follow step 1 (pre-portion) and step 2 (smaller containers) to avoid an increase in leftovers when the accouterments are not used.
Step 4: Get rid of single use plastic
Plastic water cups? No more. Paper coffee cups? Nope, use mugs. For meals, switch to real plates and real silverware. Is it snack time? Instead of individually plastic-wrapped bags of nuts or treats, use bulk items that can be doled out into cups and bowls. Work with your venue to provide tables where attendees can leave used cups and plates that get whisked back to the kitchen for washing.
Step 5: Find the right partners
You’ll be asking your venue to make huge shifts that aren’t the norm. Find partners who can relay their knowledge of plant-based ingredients or waste reduction strategies, like Greener by Default which has helped us with lower-carbon menu design. Work with plant-based brands to make ingredients available so venue teams don’t have to find new suppliers for new ingredients. For Verge 23 in San Jose, CA next week, for instance, we’re partnering with plant-based food products from Meati, Just Eggs, and Akua.
Step 6: Work closely with venue coordinators and food service partners
Start to collaborate early with your venue coordinators and food service partners. Sustainable conference food is not just about ordering vegan and gluten-free options, but making sure the taste quality is up to the expectations of your attendees. After mixed results on the quality of vegan and gluten-free options at our own previous events, we learned that we had to play to our venue’s strengths.
Learn what your venue is confident in making. Most venues are happy to try something new, but prioritizing menu items they are comfortable with will help maintain the taste quality attendees expect.
Step 7: Offer trainings
Plant-based ingredients and recipes might be new and unfamiliar ground for a venue’s kitchen, or waste-removal staffers. Hire an outside expert like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (we’ve worked with them at the San Jose Convention Center) to come to the venue kitchen and help everyone get better acquainted with the ingredients, or Astrapto (we’ve worked with them at the Hyatt Regency in Seattle) to explain best practices for limiting plant-based food waste.
Step 8: Don’t push it
From our experience, many attendees appreciate moves to a largely plant-based menu. But we learned an important lesson, too: Don’t push unfamiliar vegan foods too far, as a sub-par culinary experience may turn a person off from trying these types of options in the future.
It’s OK if progress is not linear. And execution does not have to be perfect to deliver improvements and lessons.Learn 8 steps to create a sustainable menu for your next conference or corporate event. At GreenBiz, we know we have a voice when it comes to sustainability. After all, we are hosting a sustainability conference. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about how to inspire participants to try new low-carbon plant-based products while providing sustainable meal menus that taste great, reduce waste, and can be enjoyed by everyone. I learned. The price was also cheap.
Understanding your eating habits and eating less will definitely save you money. In 2015, we stopped serving red meat, started donating surplus food to local community organizations, and eliminated single-serve and plastic-wrapped food. And in 2022, we took a big step forward and now offer a menu that is 75% vegan and 25% vegetarian. (This year, we’ve reintroduced white meat and fish for balance and accessibility. More on that later.) Here’s a step-by-step guide to making your conference or corporate event food and beverage service more sustainable without sacrificing taste.
Step 1: Pre-portion food and serve in layers. Try to keep as much food in the kitchen as possible by portioning food in advance and bringing it out gradually, rather than bringing everything out at once to achieve a “self-service” model. For example, event buffets often offer cups of yogurt and large cereal containers for attendees to feed themselves. These bowls are rarely finished and the rest must be thrown away. (Unfortunately, due to food regulations, food cannot be reused or donated once it has been removed from the kitchen.) Therefore, ask the kitchen to prepare food in small portions and replenish as needed.Leftovers can be left in the kitchen and donated.
Step 2: Use a smaller serving plate The hospitality industry is encouraged to provide enrichment. A crowded table with five types of pastries, his four jugs of salad dressing, 12 types of condiments, and an overstuffed cheese board may look good, but most of the time the food is There are too many. The easiest way to deal with this problem is to use a smaller tray or bowl. Our own food waste audit at our June event found that by reducing the size of our syrup and butter containers, waste in each was reduced by 60%. We also saved about $10,000 in venue costs.
Step 3: Set meat and cheese aside His one approach to transitioning eaters toward plant-based options is to provide meals that are broken down so that the default choice is plant-based. If participants would like to add animal products or allergens to their salads, such as cheese or nuts, they can be served as a side dish. This is also great for people with dietary restrictions or allergies to include in general to make things easier. However, be sure to follow step 1 (pre-portioning) and step 2 (smaller containers) so that you don’t have excess left over when you’re not using the accessories.
Step 4: Get rid of single-use plastics A plastic water cup? no longer. A paper coffee cup? No, use a cup. Switch to real plates and cutlery when eating. Is it snack time? Instead of individually wrapped bags of nuts and treats in plastic, use portions that can be portioned into cups or bowls. Work with your venue to provide a table where attendees can place their used cups and plates, which they can take back to the kitchen for cleaning.
Step 5: Find the right partner The venue will require significant and unusual changes. Find partners who can share their knowledge about plant-based ingredients and waste reduction strategies. For example, we helped design menus for carbon reduction, such as Greener by Default. Working with plant-based brands to make their ingredients available eliminates the need for venue teams to find new suppliers for new ingredients. For example, next week’s Verge 23 in San Jose, California, we’ll be collaborating with plant-based foods from Meati, Just Eggs, and Akua.
Step 6: Work closely with venue coordinators and hospitality partners Start working with venue coordinators and hospitality partners early. Sustainable conference food is not just about ordering vegan and gluten-free options, it’s also about ensuring the taste quality meets attendees’ expectations. After receiving mixed results regarding the quality of vegan and gluten-free options at previous events, we learned that we needed to play to our venue’s strengths. Find one that the venue trusts. Although most establishments prefer to try new things, prioritizing familiar menu items helps maintain the quality of taste that patrons expect.
Step 7: Provide training Plant-based ingredients and recipes can be new and unfamiliar territory for venue kitchen and waste management staff. We hired outside experts like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (we worked with them at the San Jose Convention Center) to come into the venue kitchen and give everyone the ingredients and astrapt (we worked with them at the San Jose Convention Center). worked with them). (at the Hyatt Regency in Seattle) to share best practices for limiting plant-based food waste.
Step 8: Don’t overdo it In our experience, many participants welcome the change to a predominantly plant-based menu. But we also learned an important lesson. That said, don’t eat too many unfamiliar vegan foods. Because a below average dining experience may deter someone from trying this type of option in the future. It’s okay if your progress isn’t linear. Also, execution doesn’t have to be perfect to gain improvement or insight.