Hotel buffets and catered events are notorious for wasting food, which got the World Wildlife Fund’s attention because wasted food means wasted crop land. Precious wildlife habitat is being overtaken by agriculture, so for the love of everyone from big cats to tiny frogs, WWF spent months visiting hotels to compile a toolkit for reducing waste in their operations. Their work was aimed at hotel management, but some of their takeaways can also help if you’re planning a party at your home. Here are seven tips for your own parties, inspired by WWF’s audits and resulting toolkit. Also make sure to check out our earlier post about using their advice in your everyday cooking.
1. Hosting a lunch event? Go light on dessert. WWF’s audits revealed that lots of desserts were routinely left over at lunch events.
2. Think luxury, not abundance. Rather than serve an overflowing trough of rolls, why not plan one roll for each guest, offering them fresh out of the oven? Or, WWF suggests, arrange your rolls in pretty lines, rather than overflowing in a basket.
3. Rethink how much bread you need. While we’re talking about rolls…In our low carb/no-carb, gluten-free world, what are the odds that all of your guests actually want bread to begin with, let alone multiple pieces?
4. Beware of food volume “insurance policies” when planning a party. WWF found that at every planning step people assumed other people had underestimated the guest count. So, the client rounded up, then the event manager did and finally the chef did and the ultimate quantity of food could be something like double what was needed. A simple gathering at your home may not have as many layers at risk of skewing your numbers, but it’s still worth using tools like the Guest-Imator from the Natural Resources Defense Council to help avoid making too much food.
5. Make sure you know about allergies and dietary restrictions early. It seems like a given, but how often have you seen a cheese and meat tray where the cheese disappears much faster than the meat?
6. Use extras as a garnish. For example, if you’re cooking with squash, roast the seeds and sprinkle them on a soup or salad. If you peel asparagus, use the exterior ribbons to decorate a plate.
7. Get your guests on board. Reducing food waste doesn’t need to be, and really shouldn't be, something you’re quietly doing in the background. WWF found that when hotels used signage about conscious consumption, plate waste decreased. No one is suggesting you give a public service announcement at your next dinner party, but there are ways you can cue your guests. When you send out invitations, for example, encourage people to bring containers for leftovers. And share the stories of your food, noting, for example, that the pesto contains carrot tops or the drinks are garnished with pickled watermelon rind.