How to Create a More Sustainable Menu for Your Event

June 17, 2019

Creating a sustainable food and beverage plan for your events isn’t just about reducing your carbon footprint. Ultimately, it’s about taking on the responsibility for making safe and healthy food choices for a number of people, says Tracy Stuckrath, president and chief connecting officer of thrive! meetings & events.

Stuckrath discussed sustainability and the ways that event menu choices can impact the well-being of attendees, budget and the planet in PCMA’s Bites and Sites webinar “Creating A Sustainable Menu for Your Event,” held live on June 6. Here are some key takeaways to consider when planning menus for your next event.

Ask the Right Questions

Between 30 and 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted, while the meetings industry in the U.S. alone spends $48 billion on food and beverage every single year. So, doing the math, that means somewhere in the vicinity of $21 billion of that waste is generated by meetings and events.

To reduce this number, it’s important to make sure that your food and beverage providers are following sustainable practices along the entire food chain — before that food even gets to your event as well as after it’s served, Stuckrath suggests.

A good way for planners to start is by understanding where their food is coming from, and what happens to any leftovers or discards. It’s also important to make sure the line cooks, banquet captains and banquet servers are following sustainable practices and know what they should be doing to help prevent food waste.

Questions to ask include:


  • Where are chefs sourcing food from?
  • How far away is it coming from, how will it be transported and kept fresh?
  • Are the organizations providing it fair-trade?


  • How is that food and beverage being managed once it’s prepared and delivered?
  • Will it be re-used in a different meal?
  • Will it be donated or just dumped?
  • Are the kitchens saving food scraps for reuse or compost?

Remember to FLOSS

Stuckrath recommends using FLOSS as a handy acronym to remember the five principles to follow when ordering event food and beverage: Fair, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Smart.

Fair: Buy food fairly traded by companies committed to creating sustainable development with better trading conditions, helping to secure the rights of the people working for them so they’re not starving or working in bad conditions.

Local: Try to source food that has been grown or produced, processed and sold ideally no more than 100-150 miles from your event location. Check to find local farmers and see if your hotel or convention center can partner with them.

Organic: Incorporate more organic foods into your menus. Organic means no chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers are used; no genetic engineering; planting is rotated from field to field, and (for farm animals) no hormones or antibiotics; organic feed, and the freedom to engage in natural behaviors.

Seasonal: Serve what’s in season within your region. Consider highlighting seasonal items on your menus. can give you a good idea of what you can buy.

Smart: Understand who you’re buying from. The production of food, fiber or other plant or animal products should produce healthful food without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same. For example, look for farmers who are regenerating their soil.

Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose

Food waste is discarded, uneaten food that is still safe and nutritious. There’s food wasted in both the front and the back of the house – for example, you ordered 500 meals and only 450 people showed up. Those 50 meals are still safe and nutritious provided certain food safety standards are adhered to, involving keeping food temperature controlled and using it within a designated period of time.  

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act and the U.S. Food Donation Act of 2008 were designed to allow organizations to donate food without liability, provided these safety standards are met.

Stuckrath suggests conducting a food audit at your event. What buffet food wasn’t eaten? Can you cut back on variety while still providing a wide enough range to fit your attendees’ dietary requirements and preferences? What meals (such as kosher or gluten-free meals prepared by advance request) weren’t picked up — and why? What happens to any extra meals left if attendance is lower than your guarantees? How much unserved food is left in the back of the house?

Helpful Resources

The following resources may be helpful when planning your event.

  • USDA Food Waste Challenge– tips for how to manage food waste
  • Rock & Wrap It Up– has relationships with 40,000 organizations across the country that will accept the food you want to donate, and will manage the process for you. The organization suggests you put a clause in your contracts stating that you will be donating to this organization and that they will take care of it for you.
  • Goodr– helps you donate, recycle, re-use, repurpose and track your impact.
  • Drexel University Food Lab– partners with local organizations to teach students how to better manage food waste.
  • Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic– helps with donations and making sure the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act is adhered to and can help you with your donation.
  • Hotel Kitchen– a partnership between the World Wildlife Foundation and the American Hotel and Lodging Association that works with hotels and meeting planners to understand how to manage food waste on the front end.
  • Seafood WatchandOceana Sustainable Seafood Guide– tell you what seafood to buy or stay away from in a particular area; helps you understand where seafood is coming from and if it’s in season.

Stuckrath also recommends looking at standards to help you come up with additional questions to ask your providers. The latest proposed sustainability standards from theEvents Industry Council are available for public comment until July 17.

For more valuable insights, suggestions and tools to help you select more sustainable food and beverage for your events, watch the PCMA Bites & Sites Webinar: Creating A Sustainable Menu for Your Event on-demand here.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. 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Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.