With soaring inflation, a precarious supply chain, and an unpredictable workforce, many catering companies have recognized the value of doing more with less. And with a rapidly changing climate, a push for sustainability in the kitchen seems to align perfectly with a growing desire to maximize one’s resources and reduce waste.
But adopting sustainable practices isn’t a small matter of remembering to recycle or starting a compost pile (although both are wonderful steps to take!). For companies that work in the business of perishable foods, sustainability requires a mindset shift to embrace low-impact and zero-waste strategies to cut down on unnecessary excess.
So if you’re looking to save money, you’ll find it easier to do so when considering your company’s environmental footprint, as many sustainable swaps also reduce spending. Here are a few ways to optimize your kitchen by doing more with less.
Opt for versatile substitutions
Instead of buying a product for a single use, Matt Haggerty of DSquared Company suggests “using ingredients that can be reused or are already being used for many items.” Doing so can eliminate complicated purchase orders while reducing the environmental impacts of packaging, storage, shipping, and transportation.
“For example, if a recipe calls for macadamia nuts, but you don't use macadamia nuts for any other recipes, then switch up the nut being used so it is applicable to an array of items you make,” Haggerty explains. “This also allows you to buy in bulk which creates better pricing.”
When crafting client menus, consider how you can provide unique culinary experiences while using ingredients that overlap between dishes. It’ll be simpler, more cost-effective, and better for the planet.
Think beyond conventional serving ware
There has been a significant shift from single-use plastic and paper products, like disposable plates, cutlery, cups, and napkins. Yet, while moving to reusable items like china and glassware is a step in the right direction, it’s not entirely zero-waste. After all, they require electricity, water, dish soap, and labor to properly clean, sanitize, and store.
Instead, Mangia and Enjoy!’s Sarah Chianese recommends a creative alternative: “We love utilizing edible utensils/food holders and serving appetizers as an all-edible amuse bouche, eliminating the need for any disposable or non-disposable serve-ware. If every caterer utilized this method for even half of their dishes, imagine the difference!”
For instance, you might swap out a traditional glass bowl for a cored apple served with gelato in it. Or perhaps you replace metal spoons with a garlicky spoon-shaped cracker to serve with a tasty bowl of bisque. So get creative, and don’t be afraid to experiment!
Shop seasonal & local
Sourcing ingredients from far and wide can carry a significant price tag as you shoulder the costs of climate-controlled storage and transportation. Needless to say, shipping food around the world is not an eco-friendly solution either!
So instead, skip the shipping and handling surcharges and take advantage of your local food scene, including butchers, farmers, beekeepers, brewers, and other specialists.
“Utilizing our local farmers for fresh produce and animal products and purveyors of items like honey, jams, syrups, wines, etc. not only supports the local community but eliminates the need for trucking across the country for items we can find around the corner,” Chianese explains. “Whatever a caterer can source locally will help tremendously.”
Of course, sourcing locally means you’ll need to familiarize yourself with seasonal availability in your region and plan your menus accordingly. It might mean your strawberry cobbler becomes a rhubarb cobbler in the winter, but the benefits of seasonal menus are worth the flexibility.
“Typically, seasonal ingredients are more available so they can be cheaper or easier to find,” Haggerty notes. “We currently change our menus four times a year to reflect the season and allow for purchasing power.”
Not to mention, “it’s also a growing trend amongst consumers to ask for regional products in their menus,” Chianese adds.
More often than not, what’s good for the planet is also good for your local community. And what’s good for your community is good for your catering business! So keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try new approaches to sustainability that put your profit margins and your environmental impact first.