Looking to introduce sustainability and social impact into your event? In a recent webinar for Visit Alexandria, Mary Cline, Wolfgang Puck’s regional director for catering and sales for the East Coast, shared her expert advice for incorporating plant-based menus and sustainable catering practices into your future event plans.
1. Introduction to the Plant-Based Movement in Events
Plant-based menus and sustainable practices in the events industry may have started as a trend, but time has shown that what began as a trend is now a movement with staying power. As vegetable-focused diets are perceived as healthier, focus on super foods and total wellness has increased. The sustainability (including plant-forward) movement has permeated every corner of the food and beverage business, from grocery stores to fast casual operations and, now, the events industry, as guests look for their personal lifestyle choices to be reflected in event offerings.
When it comes to the plant-forward branch of sustainability in events, your options run the gamut. A major component is the emphasis on plant-based proteins in catering, from chickpeas to chia seeds, and almond butter to edamame. Caterers are also introducing specialty blends, such as mushroom and beef, to curb meat consumption. Another element of the plant-forward movement in events is whole plant cooking. Juicing and no-waste soups are growing in popularity, where the little remaining plant product can be composted. Keep reading for more ways to incorporate the plant-based movement into your events.
2. Sustainability and Social Impact Through Events
When it comes to bringing the plant-forward movement into your events, presentation can be everything. Wolfgang Puck Catering specializes in made-to-order chef action stations, breaking down meals to their rudimentary, freshest ingredients to create a customized experience for guests and emulate a restaurant meal. Visually, this can look like a lush station laden with produce and herbs. At Wolfgang Puck Catering’s olive oil bars, guests create their own infused flavors for the perfect end-of-day engagement and takeaway.
Whole product cooking is another way for event planners to marry plant-forward meals with epic presentation. These creative surprises can include cocktails prepared in a watermelon shell, hors d’oeuvres served in hollowed out sunchokes, etc., to reutilize parts of fruits and vegetables before they become compost or waste.
Furthermore, planners can promote plant-based dining by developing a symbiotic partnership with local farmers and artisans. Cultivating these connections could mean taking the team out to visit a local farm, beekeeper or farmer’s market. At your events, these partners’ displays can create a market-fresh feeling, perhaps with sustainably-printed cards explaining the food items’ origins.
Beyond food prep and presentation, food recovery and “foodprint” reduction are increasingly relevant aspects of event planning. Attendees are ever more socially conscious, and some planners may be asked by guests and clients about their leftover food policies. Planners may even consider including sustainable practices as an element of their RFPs. Planners can also help the catering team by providing the most accurate guest count possible, while caterers adjust the prep list for as long as possible as the number changes to reduce waste. Certified “Green Caterers,” such as Alexandria, Virginia-based Windows Catering, will already have a system in place to close the sustainability loop by connecting their locally-soured menus with local charities.
Additionally, planners can coordinate with catering to find organizations serving as middle parties between event producers and charitable organizations. These groups do the matching for you, ensuring that your event’s leftovers reach the most needy. For example, the Los Angeles-based group Chefs to End Hunger facilitates redistribution of prepared foods from hotels and restaurants to those in need. In 2017, the organization diverted 2.5 million pounds from landfills. Check with catering partners, city missions and CVBs for potential partners.
3. Implementing Plant-Based Menus
What can you do to develop a plant-forward menu for your event? Experiment with incremental changes. While the events industry has increasingly embraced this sustainable approach, it’s important to remember that not every guest has bought into the plant-forward movement, nor is every location in the U.S. equally equipped for composting and other sustainable practices.
Even as you adopt plant-based initiatives, best practices dictate providing something for everyone. Many—if not most—guests still want and expect something sweet, as well as meat, at events. When Wolfgang Puck recently catered the Oscars, an impressive 70% of their menu was plant-based, yet 30% still included meat and dairy.
Take a menu you would serve and consider if it will appeal to your audience as you incorporate more plant-based options, whole-plant cooking or even aforementioned blended proteins, made with some meat and some plant substitutes. Hotels partners may also have developed plant-based menus, such as The Westin Old Town Alexandria’s veggie-packed “Eat Well” menu. You can also bring the chef into the conversation by discussing clients’ needs, wants and wishes, and let them flex their creative muscles. This can lead to classics reimagined, such as Wolfgang Puck Catering’s development of plant-forward pot pies, utilizing substitutions such as cashew butter and almond milk.
As plant-forward dining establishes itself as a lasting fixture in the food and beverage industry, culinarians grow more and more creative, and the end user, your guest, is often none the wiser.
Insider Tip: Watch the full webinar from Mary Cline, Wolfgang Puck’s regional director for catering and sales for the East Coast, to learn how to incorporate the plant-based movement into your events.
Header Image Credit: Cameron Davidson for Visit Alexandria