Reducing Food Waste in Event Planning

Friday, September 29th, 2023

Food wastage has rapidly evolved into a pressing global crisis. Every year, staggering amounts of food, fit for consumption, find their way into landfills instead of being consumed. Beyond the glaring waste of resources like water, land, and energy, this discarded food releases methane during decomposition—a potent greenhouse gas. Astonishingly, the carbon footprint of this wasted food ranks as the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, only surpassed by China and the USA.

Given the imminent threat posed to our planet’s health and sustainability, the call to action is unequivocal. Diminishing food waste can simultaneously serve dual purposes: mitigating hunger and resource conservation while striking a blow against climate change.

With the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss & Waste on the horizon, the spotlight is firmly on strategies that can reduce food wastage, especially during large gatherings and events. Here are some effective tactics to consider during the event planning phase:


Precise Meal Estimations: Rather than making a generic estimation for meals throughout an event, specify counts for each meal. A full house is expected during lunches on opening days, but attendance might wane towards the end. During breaks, anticipate a 60-80% attendance, as participants might be preoccupied with other commitments.

Thoughtful Serving Techniques: Encourage caterers to serve buffet dishes incrementally and in smaller portions. Even the mere act of introducing smaller plates can significantly curb waste. Also, consider offering takeaway pouches for snacks and desserts, ensuring participants can enjoy them later.

Proactive Food Donations: Collaborate with caterers who are inclined to donate leftover food. Introducing a food donation provision in the catering contract could be immensely beneficial, although always remain mindful of local regulations.

Local and Seasonal Catering: Prioritising local and seasonal catering minimises your event’s carbon footprint. Sourcing ingredients locally reduces transportation emissions, supports the local economy, and ensures freshness.

Restaurant Associates

Caterers, Restaurant Associates, exemplifies the practical benefits of reducing food waste. Through meticulous tracking and refining production controls. For instance, holding back a portion of prepared food for large lunches allows any surplus to be repurposed. They’ve also introduced take-away boxes and modified their biscuit and breakfast offerings to reduce wastage.

In a noteworthy trial, GreeNudge3 found that a mere reduction in buffet plate sizes resulted in a 19.5% drop in food waste. The introduction of a sign indicating attendees could come back for seconds slashed waste by another 20.5%.

Spotlight on Charitable Organisations

A quick search on Google can help you discover local charities, like the ones listed below, that you can consider partnering with for your event.

FoodCycle: With a innovative vision of eradicating food poverty and waste, they diligently work to bridge communities. By creating spaces for groups to meet and eat and providing surplus food to the needy, they’re making an impact on physical and mental well-being.

City Harvest: Based in London, City Harvest offers an indispensable service by redirecting surplus food from potential wastage to those in need. They tackle London’s primary challenges of waste, inequality, and isolation, fostering deeper community ties in the process.

Guidance for minimising food waste in the event planning industry is crucial for meeting waste prevention targets. With factors ranging from overestimations to unexpected dropouts, the challenges are diverse. Yet, by implementing the strategies and understanding the significant financial and environmental benefits of waste prevention, significant progress can be made.

We invite our readers to share any additional strategies in the comments below. Together, we can strive towards a sustainable future where food is cherished, not wasted.

CFE – Community Food Enterprise 

CFE procure food that is surplus to requirement and redistribute it exclusively to charities/community organisations that are in the seven London Boroughs that forms East London.

Grounded Community – Bournemouth and Dorset area – Gets food to the people who need it.

AP LIVE’s Top 5 Food Waste Considerations during Event Planning

  1. Know Your Attendees:

Understanding the dietary preferences, restrictions, and habits of your attendees is key. Survey participants in advance to gauge their food preferences, any allergies, or dietary restrictions. This not only ensures everyone has suitable meal options but can also reduce the potential of over-preparation and waste of less preferred items.

  1. Menu Design:

Choose dishes that use fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients. These are not only sustainable but can also be repurposed easily if left unused. For instance, ingredients for salads can be utilised in other dishes or donated more easily than highly specialised or mixed dishes.

  1. Monitor and Measure:

Keeping track of how much food was consumed, and what was left over, in past events can be invaluable. This continuous learning offers a metric for improving estimates for future occasions. By understanding patterns, like which meals were hits and which ones had more leftovers, planners can adjust orders and reduce wastage.

  1. Collaborative Communication:

Engage in open communication with your caterers and suppliers. Share your goal of minimising waste and brainstorm ways to achieve it. They might have suggestions based on their experience.

  1. Plan for Leftovers:

Despite best efforts, leftovers are almost inevitable. Plan for how to manage them. This can involve:

  • Offering takeaway containers for attendees. Take away recycled bento boxes, with wooden knives and folks as a grab and go option before guests leave.
  • Having an agreement with a local charity or food bank for donation.
  • Coordinating with composting services for food scraps.


“In the UK, an estimated 12 million tonnes of food is wasted each year at all levels from plough to plate whilst 4 million people are affected by food poverty. At least 400,000 tonnes of this food is thrown away at retail level. At FoodCycle, we’re doing something about this by making use of edible food to create nutritious three-course meals for those who need it.


“Surplus food is food which is fit for human consumption, but has no commercial value for the retailer. This food, which may ultimately go to waste, may have become damaged in transit, might be past its ‘best before’ date or might have been over-ordered. It’s still perfectly good food and is a great resource for anyone who might be able to put it to good use and save it from ending up in the bin!”

Sophie Tebbetts, Head of Programmes at FoodCycle


By integrating these considerations with reducing food wastage during event planning, organisers can take meaningful steps toward sustainability.

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