News & Events

18th December 2019

Food for thought this Christmas

Before we shut-up shop for Christmas, an important activity, which forms an integral part of our year-long CSR programme, is to pay a visit to our local food bank and donate much-needed supplies.

This year’s visit got me thinking about food waste at events, particularly from a venue’s perspective and how in 2020, with the rise of veganism and more complex dietary requirements, a renewed focus on the best approach to serving food at events is required.

Earlier this year, the international association IACC, surveyed 250 meeting planners from five continents for its Meeting Room of the Future report. When they were asked ‘what frustrates you the most in terms of event food and beverage offerings?’, planners indicated that the excessive waste of food was a key concern. In fact, a staggering 62 per cent of respondents said that they look at how a venue manages its food waste before booking their event.

Excessive food waste at events appears to be driven by Fear of Running Out. #FORO, as it’s been dubbed, may explain some of the strange behaviour we’re all responsible for when working on events.

Any planner will tell you that almost half of all delegate feedback concerns the food. Attendees will forgive almost every other aspect of an event – the AV failing, queues at registration, even poor venue Wifi, but running out of food will always be considered a cardinal sin.

It’s why a hotel or venue kitchen will often prepare an extra 10 per cent of meals to make sure the event is able to cater for any guest who hasn’t provided a dietary requirement, or who changes their mind at the last minute.

If we’re staging an event for 2,000 guests, that’s potentially an additional 200 meals which are going to waste.

Standing in a food bank at Christmas, surrounded by tins of beans and packets of cornflakes, 200 high-quality, high-value main courses going to waste suddenly seems quite obscene.

As consumer behaviour towards food changes, so too will event menus. Many clients are requesting plant-based starters and mains with more confidence and making policy decisions to limit red meat from larger attendee menus.

Choice however will remain important. Therefore, getting the balance right between managing a venue’s #FORO and helping the client to serve more responsible food options, is going to be one of the biggest organiser challenges for the year ahead.

As for managing event food wastage, I hope we’ll start to see more app-based services in future, such as OLIO (a Spanish word for a dish of many ingredients).

Event planners and venues can use OLIO to recruit food-safety trained local volunteers. These volunteers then collect any unserved food and store it safely in their domestic kitchens, where it can be collected by local charities and food banks.

With 1.5 million users already on the platform and more than three million meals donated, OLIO appears a perfect example of how technology and events need to work closer together to solve these important issues.

As the founder of OLIO told one industry trade magazine recently: “Can we solve it all? No. Are policy and regulation really important? Yes. Are we going to solve the climate crisis with a food sharing app? No. But, do we believe that billions of small actions got us into this mess, and that billions of small actions can get us back out again? Absolutely.” 

One of the major anniversary events that 2019 will be remembered for was the passing of 50 years since the first moon landing. Our collective responsibility for billions of small actions is, in the famous words of Neil Armstrong, our one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind (and womankind). It’s a footprint we should all be striving to leave behind.

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