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September 15, 2017


How often are you invited to parties and events where so much food is plated and served, yet almost 50% are not eaten or taken? I was just at a series of events last week—at a convention center and one at a hotel, and the same thing happened—a lot of food wasted.

Caterers only follow what clients want, but there should be a better way of offering menus for banquets. One is finding out what the market wants. People want:

  • Better Coffee. When coffee is not freshly-brewed, people tend to put sugar and cream to make the taste more acceptable. When coffee is not of very high quality (meaning a blend of cheaper beans bought in bulk) people will sweeten it as it may be sour and acidic. That’s when you see them asking for sugar and more sugar, more sweeteners and milk, too. In this case, caterers will give non-dairy creamer as it is cheaper  to dispense and store than liquid or fresh milk .
  • Better snacks. Better could be fresh fruits (caterer will say it’s perishable) instead of buns and doughnuts, cassava cake and empanada which are all high in fat and sugar. Think of the crowd—a roomful of women conscious about their figures and their sugar intake. I can guess 75% of the food was wasted during snack time.
  • Better food choices. The hotel food was bland except for the taste of too much butter on the steamed vegetables. That was the only vegetarian choice. An ASEAN meeting will have Moslems, Buddhists, vegetarians, pescetarians, and more diverse diet preferences. It is best to have more vegetarian choices, Halal choices and less of the sinful heavy meats (cheap cuts which require a lot of sauce and potatoes).

At the conference room, there were plated sandwiches and cinnamon rolls, which of course the women just tasted a bit of. Do men plan these menu choices? Are they not aware that women eat less, and are more particular about too much oil, fat, sugar, etc?  I think hotels and caterers should be more conscious of the changing trends in responsible consumption. People, especially women, choose to eat healthier.

But male clients and diners are actually also more careful now because a family illness like Diabetes has been surfacing in later years (think businessmen who attend conferences and a majority will be using artificial sweetener in their coffee). They also, albeit secretly, now prefer healthier food, whether it’s doctor’s orders or the fear of having a life-threatening illness.

So a forward-looking chef or menu planner must keep all of these in mind. The measure of a caterer’s success is the amount of food left on the plates. There should be nothing left especially in buffets. As people get only what they can consume, there should be NO food wasted. In plated meals (where waiters serve the meals portioned already) we will find some waste as guests have their choices of what sidings they prefer. They teach you that in culinary school. To know what your guests avoid, look at the plates after they eat. What do they leave behind?

I was aghast at the food waste all around the room . Platefuls of snacks served and almost untouched by the time the next meal is to be served. What a waste! Sayang! Think of the labor and ingredients that went to waste. This could have been helped by proper planning.

On another note, the caterer was thoughtful to have vegetarian and pescetarian choices for me and my co-chair. The food was also malinamnam or tasty and right to the palate. The menu choices were many at the buffets in the convention center. It’s just the snacks I was so sorry about. Imagine over 600 uneaten snacks to be thrown away? That is clearly FOOD WASTE.

When I worked at a hotel in my younger years, the desserts at the coffee shop would be handed down to the employee cafeteria after each meal. So the lunch desserts became the employees’ dinner dessert. I would spy on the desserts and think “I will have you for dinner!”. That was then. Chefs also recycled the main courses (roast beef, steaks) into other dishes for the employees. That was then.

Even at home, we should be more conscious of food waste. Do not cook too much as you may not like to eat the same viand everyday. Now, people want to have choices. From as young as three or four, I remember my sister in the USA asking her 3-year-old son what he wanted for breakfast. I said, “We were never asked. We just sat and ate what was offered at the dining table!” But she says times are different now. Children also want to have choices. Hmmm…we were raised to eat what was on the table.

How to avoid food waste? Know your market. Ask your customer. Tailor fit your menu.

Better coffee.

Better snacks.

Better food choices.

Responsible production and consumption. Try it.


Select photos from Wikimedia Commons



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