Catering customers are increasingly concerned with the impact their events has on our wider ecosystem – as a result, they’re requesting “sustainable” faire for weddings, conferences and other events throughout the year. Whether your firm is trying to compete in a new niche as a sustainable caterer or simply evolve with the changing demands of your traditional market, we’re here to offer some suggestions and options for upping your sustainability game.
What is Sustainable Catering?
Though the answer varies wildly depending on the convictions of the person you’re asking, sustainability at its core is about making things that last, don’t destroy or deplete natural resources and can be used with minimal waste. In terms of catering, this means choosing efficient cooking methods, eco-friendly serving and tableware, and most importantly opting for fresh, local suppliers wherever possible.
This means spending a little time at the local farmers markets to get to know area suppliers – but also, it is important to visit the farm sites whenever possible to be sure that they’re really living up to their sustainable claims. Taking the time to get to know your supply chain is the most valuable investment you can make in sustainable catering.
Making Sustainable Choices
The good thing about sustainable catering is that you’re virtually forced to have a seasonal menu – this means you can always offer existing clients something new and special for their conference menus. The downside is that there’s a little more legwork required than calling a bulk supplier who can bring you everything in the back of one truck. You’ve got to follow the “paper trail” for your entire supply chain and really know where the ingredients you’re choosing come from before you add them to the mix.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the farm up the road from your office really is the most sustainable choice – investigate how they grow their crops and where they source everything from their power to their seeds to get a feel for how “green” their operation is. One thing that clients interested in sustainability are good at is research – expect them to ask where their food is coming from, whether the chicken on the menu was raised in cages, and if those tomatoes come from true heirloom seeds.
Accept that some things just aren’t locally available. Particularly if you live in the Northernmost states, an ingredient like fresh lime or mandarin orange is likely to be shipped from elsewhere, so research the most sustainable way to provide these if they’re key ingredients in flagship menu items.
Before you start feeling overwhelmed with finding new suppliers and sourcing local ingredients, try to remember that a lot of the food you prepare for banquets already is based on traditional, favorite recipes. This often means you can easily create “sustainable” versions of your catering favorites with little effort. Consider these recipe guides for inspiration.
- Simple Penne Pesto – featuring a bounty of fresh basil and other local herbs, fresh local parmesan, garnished with local nuts and fresh black plum heirloom tomatoes
- Green Taco Bar – offering grass-fed local beef as well as plant-based alternatives, featuring a wide variety of local lettuces, fresh small-batch salsa, and local cheese served with artisan tortillas.
- Savory Samosas – these crisp, flaky pastries can be stuffed with a wide variety of curried seasonal vegetables, local nuts, vegan cheeses, tofu or even small amounts of sustainable meat.
- Blackened Trout – carefully selected spices paired with local herbs and fresh, local fish for a sustainable twist on a popular classic.