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Sustainable Catering in Events: 6 Areas To Consider

Catering is such a vital element of an event. The event itself could be perfect, organised seamlessly but if there is an issue with the food, you can be sure you’ll hear about it!

Now, as well as providing good quality delicious food, it is important to consider the origin and sustainability of the products you’re offering to further reduce your event's impact on the environment. Inclusive and sustainable catering is always at the forefront of our minds when designing events, so we thought we'd list several ways you can use sustainable practices to influence stakeholders and design events that create a sustainable catering experience for all.

Local, seasonal and organic produce

A platter of fresh organic fruit and vegetables

As an event organiser, you should be working closely with your sustainable caterer to request that ingredients are organic, and fruit and vegetables are in season and to strongly encourage meals to include a high number of fruit and vegetables. Not only are these delicious, but they are proven to be healthy, high in vitamins and minerals providing delegates with natural energy in turn increasing productivity.

If possible, to reduce food miles, food should be locally sourced within 40 miles of the event venue prioritising community farms which has the added benefit of supporting local farmers. Having local produce decreases the energy and carbon emissions in transporting the food to the venue as well as supporting suppliers and farmers near the event destination. Eating locally also means you're more likely to be eating in-season food which further supports our health and it'll probably taste better too!

There are probably quite a few people that may argue that tea and coffee is vital to productivity at certain events and conferences. We might agree sometimes too! As a conference staple, it only makes sense to focus on this and therefore you can look to have all hot drinks certified organic and fair trade whilst always providing oat milk and other milk alternatives. If possible, you can also encourage delegates to bring their own reusable coffee cups to reduce the need for disposable serveware.

Eat less meat

Decreasing fish and meat consumption will have a huge impact on the planet and therefore you should be trying to increase plant-based menus within your events for both delegates and staff. Red meat especially beef and lamb are particularly carbon intensive so we try to avoid these foods when designing menus for clients. For other meat such as pork and chicken, ask caterers to use free range, organic, or source from an identified local small producer. Eggs should also be free range and organic whereas fish should be on MSC’s “Best Choice” List, organic, or RSPCA assured.

Vegetarian food and vegan offerings have exploded in popularity and quality over the past decade and although it can be difficult to change delegate behaviour, when using the right caterers, you can still provide a tasty plant-based food experience to the most hardcore of meat eaters. You can look at different cuisines that are more reliant on vegetables without sacrificing taste, or even use plant-based meat alternatives that keep the same texture and flavour which can sometimes be indistinguishable to the real thing if done well. If you're looking for a credible sustainable catering company, be sure to check out our friends at Eden Caterers.

Packaging & serveware

A selection of fruit and vegetables placed in unusual glassware

Events are in their nature designed to bring people together to share ideas, experiences and innovations which is a big reason to try and avoid takeaway food and encourage sit-down meals therefore reducing single-use serveware and further waste. Crockery, glasses and reusable napkins are prioritised (although make sure they're suitable unlike the above photo!) and if we do have to use disposable items, you should aim to have these recyclable. During the venue source stage, you can prioritise working with venues that have eliminated single-use straws, cutlery and bottles and prior to the event, communicate to attendees to bring their own reusable cups and bottles.

Single use plastics and bottled water should be a big no no at events. Instead, encourage delegates to bring their own reusable water bottles and provide jugs of water with glasses and water refill points throughout the venue. This might sound basic but is an effective and easy way to ensure delegates are in the right mind frame before even arriving at the event.

Food surplus

It seems there is always leftover food at events as organisers and caterers overcompensate to ensure no one goes hungry. Although this is a good idea in principle, it often ends with a large amount of food going to waste. To solve this issue, you can request that caterers review portion sizes and provide serving staff at buffets who can provide suitable serving sizes for delegates. During the event registration, we can ask certain questions that will provide further guidance on how much food is required. These can include opt-in questions for certain meals and even courses. Not everyone may want to indulge in dessert!

To create an inclusive catering experience for all attendees, you can design the catering to involve vegan and gluten free options, and avoid common allergies such as nuts and shellfish. Dietary requirements have been and are still very important in the world of events and once you receive these details from both the delegates and the crew/staff, you can provide this data to venues and caterers to create a menu that caters for as many people as possible.

Reducing food waste

A person prepares vegetables and puts the peelings in a compost bin.

In the eventuality that there is food waste at the end of the event, you can divert this from landfill and use any inedible food for composting with edible items being redistributed within the destination. We regularly work with food waste charities such as City Harvest who collect surplus food directly from the venue and redistribute this to those in need.

You can also work with certain sustainable caterers that create menus with a 'root to stem' and 'nose to tail' ethos with the aim of using as much of the ingredient as possible to reduce food waste. This also provides some interesting and creative dishes that delegates may not be used to and serve (no pun intended) as a talking point for the event.

Measurement & reporting

After the event and during the debrief, you can report and measure on the greenhouse gas emissions of audience and staff catering, drinks, serveware, food surplus and waste. You can then use this data to calculate the carbon emissions and offset with credible projects. Within the report, look at areas where you were successful, and where you can improve.

You can also look at food choices to see which caused the most emissions and how to reduce this next time. Looking at serveware, you should aim for reusable options but if disposable items are necessary, use lightweight recyclable materials such as paper based serveware. And with waste management, it is key to look at this in the event design stage and see what can be recycled and if the items are even needed in the first place!

We believe that food matters

You only have to look around at an event to see how important food is. The busiest spots always tend to be near the food stations! Therefore, it makes sense to create a positive change by adapting your catering plan to be more sustainable. In doing so, you'll be able to reduce waste and emissions whilst also creating a sustainable eating experience for your delegates that they'll be talking about for years to come. On top of this, you will also be able to learn more about the food you eat and how to be healthier whilst boosting productivity.

Need corporate catering?

If you want some advice or support in creating a sustainable catering strategy for your next event, drop us a message.


About Zentive Agency

Zentive is a sustainable events agency in London focused on doing good. By integrating technology and following sustainable event practices, we create eco-friendly events that help you connect, reward and motivate your audience whilst leaving a lasting positive impact on the world. We believe in constantly pushing the boundaries of event planning and execution, embracing cutting-edge technologies, creative concepts, and immersive experiences. Our goal is to ensure that each event we organise leaves a lasting impact on attendees, participants, all stakeholders along the value chain, and the planet.


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