As the general session started and participants had already moved from the continental breakfast to find their seats, a man rushed up to me and he was furious. “There is one flavor of yogurt left, the selection of pastries is dismal,” he yelled, “and the only fruit left is apples!” I agreed and explained while more options had been available earlier, there was still plenty of food. He would not go hungry but clearly, was not going to be happy.

The hospitality industry and hosting organizations have set guest’s expectations high–the first person through a buffet line and the last both have access to the same amount and choices of menu items. As meeting professionals, we are concerned about “how it will look” to see an empty spot in the buffet line or just a few pieces of cheese on a platter. We value overwhelming abundance at our events, hoping afterwards, it can be donated or served again to staff. While I strongly advocate for a donation program, it shouldn’t be the first course of action.

If you are like me, growing up our food was always served family style, food was passed and you took your portion. There was enough to go around, but not everyone saw the same large amounts as the first person. At community events, a buffet line of potluck dishes is first come, first served and no one will go hungry, but Mary’s Famous Apple Pie might be the first to go. It is part of being a family or belonging to a community. Isn’t building an event community what we talk about today? What we are striving for with social media, online apps and new ways of connecting?

As an industry, our first course of action is to rethink the extravagance we associate with hospitality. As an event organizer, it is time to re-educate participants that while food will be plentiful, it will also be responsibly planned and ordered to minimize food waste. A buffet line with half-full chafing dishes shouldn’t reflect badly on either the caterer or the organizer, instead it shows an understanding of the value of food and the values of the guests. It wasn’t more than a year ago when, in the last days of summer, a green lawn was a status symbol. Now with the water shortage, in my neighborhood a green lawn is a symbol of selfishness. Will food waste be far behind?

A recent study by Save Food, reported that one-third of all food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted comprising about 1.3 billion tons per year. Let’s do our part to minimize the waste and redefine the “abundance of events” as connection, caring and learning…not mass quantities of food.

Join me in the “No Cookie Left Behind” campaign.