As individuals, we make choices every day: Paper or plastic? Window or aisle? Debit or credit?

As event organizers, we make choices too: Beef or chicken? China or disposable? Local or organic? Plated or buffet?

The choices we make about food and beverage are critical to the well-being of our guests, our budget and our planet. In addition to selecting menus for a large group, these choices have become increasingly complicated as guests have come to expect food that fits their daily way of life whether that is vegetarian, local, organic, or one of the many other options. Not only do we make choices about the food and beverages served, but also about how it is served.

Don’t get overwhelmed! Here are a few ideas to start with to make those decisions easier.

  • Choose food in season. From economic, health and environmental standpoints, choosing food in season and from the local area will bring great benefits. Buying locally grown products helps support the local communities and offers fresher, seasonal and regional choices without the transportation impact. It is also a great way to celebrate the local flavor of the region.
  • Choose sustainable seafood from sustainable fisheries. Increased consumer demand for seafood is depleting fish stocks around the world and harming the health of the oceans. Today, nearly 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully fished or over-fished. Simply choosing seafood from the guides will take the guess-work out of menu selection: The Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes Seafood Watch, a guide for consumers. They provide a free pocket guide you can download and carry.
  • Choose food based on the history of your attendee’s preferences and attrition. You know your group’s preferences and whether a hearty salad is plenty, or a full warm meal is required, you order accordingly. In addition, guarantee meals based on their history. Are they early risers and all show up for breakfast or do they arrive just before the general session rushing in at the last minute grabbing a cup of coffee? Do they skip the conference lunch to have smaller business meetings at local restaurants? If you don’t have this history, ask attendees to sign up for meals in advance. This saves both money and food.
  • Choose china service. Disposable cups, plates, and silverware not only add to the landfill, they don’t have the same “first-class” service experience for your guests. The Environmental Defense Council reports, “Using 1,000 disposable plastic teaspoons consumes over 10 times more energy and natural resources than manufacturing one stainless steel teaspoon and washing it 1,000 times.” Using cloth instead of paper napkins also adds to the experience.
  • Choose not to serve individual water bottles. Serving water from large pitchers or containers saves a tremendous amount of money ($5-10 per guest per day depending upon the venue). You do the math. For one client that was $25,000 in savings over the conference. It also saves all those plastic bottles from getting into the waste stream.

Take a look at our sustainable event resources that includes sustainable event tools such as  case studies, infographics like the Green Event Checklist, My Event Footprint, and other sustainable tools. Your guests, your checkbook, and the planet will thank you!