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Wedding Halls - Food Waste

I have really been getting on people about food waste lately. I was at a wedding last night and everything was amazing, but I noticed that at the end of cocktail hour each station was loaded with food. Then during the night, I noticed that about 1/3 of the salads went untouched or half eaten. There was a pasta course which was a small portion, but I noticed many passed on this or just took a bite or two. Then during the main course, many people only ate 1/4 or half their meal, wanting to rejoin the dance floor. The most striking was the desserts during the Venetian hour. This wedding really went overboard with literally ten tables with hundreds of choices. Many sliced fruit or dipped fruit options. Despite there being about 150 there, only 3-4% of the food was actually eaten.

Does anyone work in a wedding or catering hall? What happens to all this food? If it is all thrown out, I may start protesting weddings. I can't imagine the amount of mouths it would feed.

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  1. I can't speak for the entire industry, but I used to do wedding coordinating, and the caterers I worked with were very good at portion estimating, based on the final guest count provided to them (usually one week beforehand.)
    Most often, the catering staff and and anyone else working behind the scenes ate really well after the guests were served and the buffets closed. Sometimes, the family asked for leftovers to be packed as take-away. One caterer had an arrangement with a local shelter to drop off any leftovers. Food costs and the labor involved in preparing and serving were always a factor for the caterers. I imagine the wedding you attended was not very budget-restricted, if there really was that much waste.

    5 Replies
    1. re: tacosandbeer

      Obviously entrees are easily predictable, but I was talking more about the cocktail and venetian hour. I would think it would be impossible to predict how many people will choose to eat a considerable amount during them for a variety of reasons....arriving late/leaving early, dietary concerns, disliking the choices, etc.

        1. re: pikawicca

          It's the 21st century term for the pastries and cookies that are often served at Italian/Greek weddings in addition to the wedding cake during the coffee hour/dessert. I'm Italian American, but I first heard the term at a Greek American wedding last summer.

          1. re: pinehurst

            It is a corruption of the term 'Viennese Table'

            In our area of southern Connecticut the Italo-American community decided that renaming this dessert spread as being Venetian was more appropriate than crediting the Austrians for the dessert tables at their affairs.

            Pinehurst>>>>this predates the 21st century. Back in the late 1970s when I was in the catering business in New Haven we offered Vienese Tables to our Eastern European descent clientele and Venetian to our Italo-American clientele. Same thing but the proposals were customized for the clients.
            The same dish might have 3 or 4 different names used on proposals, depending on ethnicity or the venue chosen (same plate price and recipe, might have a different garnish).

    2. This is indicative of catered events generally -- be it weddings, receptions, banquets, etc. (And, really, the entire restaurant service industry is probably guilty of this.)

      Some of it is driven by the difficulty in estimating the food consumption/needs, but alot of is driven by etiquette and showmanship -- who the hell wants to throw a wedding and run out of food.

      Given the choice of having too much versus too little food, just about everyone will err on the former. Food waste be damned.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        There's a chairity called Second Harvest the picks up food from such occasions and redistributes it to the poor.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I completely understand the concept of not wanting to run out...or even more so, not have the plates being barren towards the end, but it always seems to me, by the time you get into the area, grab a drink, mingle, settle down at a table, grab some food, nearly half the hour is over. I was able to get three small plates of various appetizers and basically tried about half of what was there. Obviously, for show reasons, they need to have that much stuff, I just wonder how much found the trash. Kinda sad.

        2. Which is more important - the work of the catering staff or the lives of the wasted carrots?

          Weddings have always been about conspicuous consumption, even in traditional societies. It's one thing for a bride and groom to choose a frugal celebration, it's quite another for a guest to criticize their choices.

          1 Reply
          1. re: paulj

            I was not criticizing anyone's choices, but that of the people who put out such an abundant amount of food. For every event I've been to, it appears that more and more food is left on plates or potentially finds the trash.

            Not clear on your first comment. Are you asking if I was comparing someone's ability to have a job vs food waste? Wouldn't a cut down on food waste (cost) allow a place to make more money, thus possibly find the need for additional staff? I'm sure the cost of the food waste for any one night of a wedding is more than than any one of the servers is making

          2. When my grandmother died, as per her instructions, we had a catered lunch after the ceremony. We remembered how much food was left over after my mother's funeral luncheon and all brought a bunch of take-out containers to pack up the leftovers for family to take home. (Is there any event where there is more food wasted than the death of a family member??) The staff stopped us and told us that according to PA law it was illegal for us to take home the food. I guess it was a matter of liability if someone got sick from the food. We managed to sneakily fill a few more containers before they took away the food. My grandmother would have been appalled at the waste. Unless, of course, all the employees took home the leftovers.

            5 Replies
            1. re: dmjordan

              I went to a wedding reception, about 300 people, 9 course chinese dinner, served family style for each table. Popo (grandma) had shown up at the reception with a mysterious huge sack that obviously wasn't a wedding gift.

              When dinner was about over she pulled out the sack from under the head table, and emtied about 100 styrofoam clamshells from it, loudly proclaiming... take home the leftovers, the food's paid for!

              After a moment of stunned silence . . . especially from the bride and groom, the room erupted in laughter, and the leftovers were soon all neatly packed away while the waitstaff watched what was probably their dinner disappearing from view. Every wedding has a 'special unplanned moment' that lives on in the memory of everyone who was there.

              1. re: KaimukiMan

                I love this. Every family needs someone like that.

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  That is a great story. Wish they had done that...I'm not a sweets person, but I would have stocked up on some cannoli anyway.

                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                    My best friend often invited me whenever his Chinese family was invited to a family/relative's weeding in NYC's Chinatown. As I understood it, the family brought a table....i.e, the family invited whoever they wanted to bring as well to sit at their table of 10 or 12. That meant children and friends too. If a course was not finished, a food pail was brought to the table for the leftovers. It was very common for the older families to eat very little and bring most of the dishes home. Also on the table were bottles of soda, a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and a bottle of Remy Martin VSOP. It was expected that whatever was not finished was to be taken home by the guests.

                  2. re: dmjordan

                    dmjordan, they were partially right. If you had a buffet, then you cannot take home the remaining food. No food on a buffet (in PA) can be wrapped and taken home.
                    If it was a 'sit down' luncheon and there were plates of food which were prepared and not eaten, each plate MAY be wrapped in its own take out container and given to the person that paid for the food. But that is entirely up to the discretion of the caterer. Many do not because it is a possible liability.
                    Generally, these places also have a strict "no food leaves the premise" rule for the same reasons, in addition, it discourages stealing food.
                    my father works at a high end wedding venue... the waste is terrible.
                    Last wedding he did, the bride had some sort of mango drink as her "theme cocktail" the display for the cocktails included these HUGE glass vessels, completely filled with beautiful ripe mangos... that nobody was allowed to take home at the end of the night.
                    The staff could gorge themselves on mangos after the event was over, but dare not leave with one in their pocket.
                    The rest... went into the walk in refrigerator... possibly repurposed for another wedding, but the food was not prepared on premise, so they probably went south and were tossed.
                    (how sad, right?)

                  3. Perhaps a follow-up wedding for the homeless?

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: beevod

                      While I know you were being a little sarcastic, it's not a bad idea. The place where the wedding was held had three weddings going on. It would be nice thinking the next day, 300 people at a shelter were being given a nice little catered party with some fine food. Doubt it though

                      1. re: jhopp217

                        And who's going to pay to staff that catered party? Who's going to pay to safely package and store the left overs?

                        You see food, and think, that shouldn't be tossed the garbage. The caterer sees that food, and asks how to economically dispose of it. The wedding hall is in the business to entertain people, and a major part of their expense is staff.

                        Every business factors in a certain level of wastage. I wonder if your perception of 90+% wastage was realistic. That's something that I suspect the staff has a better handle on than the guests.

                        1. re: paulj

                          That's why I asked for people in the business to respond, as I am just guessing. Do you have any insight to offer?

                          1. re: jhopp217

                            I do, if there truly was that much food wasted, the caterer wouldn't be in business for very long... it's their job to figure out how much food they need for how many people, they take into account some overage for staff, and for people like the photographer and assistant and the DJ or if there's a band... if you respond that 100 people are coming to your wedding, 50 of them are having chicken and 50 of them are having salmon, then they're making probably 60 of each
                            if you chose a cocktail hour with four different hot butlered horsdurves (I spelled that wrong) then they will make X number of each, based on industry standards. (generally they figure 4-5 pieces per person in total) and then cold hors dourves such as crudite and a cheese plate... caterers have formulas for every single thing...

                            1. re: cgarner

                              Having been a caterer, and also a client who made and paid for weddings and other similar affairs, please be aware that the caterer does not generally figure extra food for the Photographer, assistant, DJ, musicians, etc. The client is offered the opportunity to purchase 'vendormeals' for these people. These meals are not the same feast as the guests receive and do not cost the same either. At a time when we generally charged $50 a plate for a wedding dinner, a photographer's meal (Starch, protein, veg, or sandwich, salad, chips plus soft drink) was typically provided ofr a flat fee of $10 and not subject to the 18% service charge added to the guests' charges.
                              Our staff would be on the lookout for outside vendors such as these attempting to help themselves during the cocktail hour.
                              Smart (experienced clients) would tell us that they did not want the 'staff meals' and would tell us to give guaranteed meals allocated to 'no-shows' to the photog, etc.

                              1. re: cgarner

                                I worked for two prominent Kosher Caterers....we supplied all meals to staff and vendors gratis.....the vendors ate what was available to the party guests.....no restrictions ever. We even served them liquor. No host ever complained....and I doubt one ever, or even gave it a thought.

                                The staff regularly took home leftovers too.

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  The only outside vendor we had at our daughter's wedding reception was the band and the caterer did their meals at no additional charge.

                                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                    My boss was more than happy to feed everyone who worked the party. The only time I ever saw him show concern was when a band member was seen drinking a bottle of beer.....he immediately told him to pour it in a glass....very old school.

                          2. re: jhopp217

                            For about 20 years the greater New Haven area had a program called Rachel's Table. A paid staffer in a refrigerated truck picked up this type of leftover food from affairs and restaurants and distributed it to 'soup kitchens' and shelters.

                            Unfortunately, it fell victim to the health authorities who could not be guaranteed that all the food had been maintained at proper temperatures while being served (on the buffet lines) and transported.

                            NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED!

                            The catering company I worked for used to donate full trays of food that was left, but not anything that had been on the buffet and started. That food belonged to the paying customer and it was theri choice to have us wrap it and take it home, or tell us to feed the 'help'

                        2. Apparently none of my family was in attendance; we eat.

                          I work at a college where there are many catered events. I was told that because of the threat of lawsuits levied by folks who may have been sickened by eating donated/leftover salad that sat too long, any leftovers are thrown away; in other words, the administration considers it a food safety/legal issue.

                          But do go to the weddings with a joyous heart. The bride probably spent enough on her gown, hair and nails to provide an entire street of kids with school year clothing. The florist's bill could have been better spent in reforestation funds. Weddings are typically over the top affairs, and that's okay.

                          1. I'm not sure I can totally get behind your sentiments, jhopp. In the past few years a lot of my friends have been getting married, and I would estimate that by the end of this year I will have attended close to twenty weddings just in the past two years. I've gone to four weddings this summer, alone, and still have five more to attend before the year is out.

                            And here's the thing:

                            The worst weddings I've been to have ALL been marked by a lack of food and/or beverage. The venue, entertainment, and even the overall quality of the food and beverage generally pale in significance to the availability of food and drink when it comes to the enjoyment of the attendees. This much I have gleaned from discussions at these events over the years. Most everything involved in the planning of a wedding is a singular decision, to be made by the wedding planners; however, they can give the guests options when it comes to food and drink by providing a large assortment of said food and drink in sufficient quantities. This increases the enjoyment of the guests, which is an important object of the wedding planners.

                            When you are serving hundreds of people with differing tastes, preferences and dietary restrictions, and your objective to keep them satisfied, you are going to end up with significant waste, which often seems egregious.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: MonMauler

                              I agree..My husband's "people" are notorious for not having enough food....every single wedding i have attended of cousins and such over the last 20 years not once have I gotten to eat! UGH!

                              1. re: MonMauler

                                I completely understand what you are saying MonMauler, but my question wasn't trying to connect to happiness and good/bad weddings. My comment was only in the amount of waste and if people in the biz knew of it's demise.

                                This wedding was amazing and was not in anyway overboard in any sense, sans the Venetian hour. My guess is the pastries would be used for another group, but the amount of fresh fruit that was cut up was one of my "concerns."

                                I donate to food drives and companies who pick up from the haves and distribute to the have-nots and I worry about waste. I realize health laws aren't going to allow certain things, but I just worry that for every 20lbs of food that was provided that 5lbs of it is thrown away. If it's closer to 1...then I guess that isn't too bad.

                                1. re: jhopp217


                                  If the caterer is good (kitchen and planning skills) and relatively busy, not just weekend affairs, that cup up fruit may end up in fruit soups (we're in that season now), or pureed for sorbet, sherbets and ices. Some of the berries and pineapple end up as garnishes or seasonings on things such as baked ham. This works best when the caterer has its kitchens at the venue, some health authorities don't allow food to come back from a venue to a central commissary.

                                  When I worked for one particular caterer in 1978 he had a delicatessen and restaurant as well as the fine catering division. The catering commissary was in the same building as the deli. On Sunday and Mondays we would feature hot open Roast Beef or Turkey Sandwiches using the prime Rib and Turkey breast that came back from the carving stations at Saturday night affairs. Those baskets of rolls became stuffing or bread crumbs or bread pudding. Cakes were crumbed together, then we added rum flavoring, rolled golf ball sized balls and rolled again in chocolate or multi-colored sprinkles and set up in mini muffin papers as rum balls. Served as the included deserts in the restaurant or $6 per dozen in the pastry case.

                                  Smoked whitefish and sable that came back became whitefish salad, and so forth. Today the health authorities don't permit much of this when a central commissary and off premise catering is involved.

                                2. re: MonMauler

                                  I agree with you completely. I hate to go to any catered event (wedding or otherwise) and there not be enough food, waiting for food, or the only food available are the dreaded last dregs that are sad and dried out. I also hate long lines but that's another thread :-)

                                  For our daughter's wedding we did not want people to wait, or leave hungry or sober ;-)

                                  1. re: grangie angie

                                    see downthread, it is a corruption of the term Viennese Table, a lavish spread of cakes and baked treats and fruits, coffee and after dinner cordials that serves a a dessert buffet at the end of a catered affait.

                                  2. I got married a few years back in Phoenix, and we had a TON of food left over. Our wedding hall's event planner suggested (and arranged for) a non-profit to come pick it up around 11 p.m. They took it a shelter that night -- it sounded like this is what she normally suggested at weddings, so I would imagine this might be a common solution, as long as local health codes allow for it.

                                    And while I understand that over-the-top consumption is the norm for weddings, I don't think that means "throwing a bunch of food away" needs to be. One post pointed out that even "traditional societies" tend toward this over-the-top display of money -- but I know, for example, that in India, it is common to take leftover food from weddings and donate it to orphanages. Even in these "traditional societies" no one feels good about throwing tons of food into the garbage can. So I don't think the issue is "Should the bride and groom provide more food than needed?" but rather "If there is food leftover (as there probably will be), where should it go?"

                                    1. I am heartened to read so many of these responses. I was in charge of "hospitality" for many years for our Parish and we held numerous events ~~ from cake and coffee receptions to full blown dinners or luncheons throughout the year.

                                      We always had advance arrangements of what to do with the leftover food. (shelters ~~ whom we feed year round as volunteers) A certain home for boys in the community loved when we would bring sheet cakes on Sunday night. I know there is a certain amount of waste, but the community at large is well aware of the hunger problems in our country.

                                      1. For buffet tables, with the number of people who are intolerant/allergic, following restrictive diets either for health reason or by choice, it kinda becomes necessary to offer way too many choices which will obviously results in leftovers.

                                        But then, often the staff will help themselves once the food goes back in the kitchen, that's one of the "perks" of working such events sometimes!

                                        1. Depending on the venue/city/local charities, left over food may be donated if not put out for service. Food put out on the buffet may not be donated as it was exposed to guests. Likewise, plated meals not served to guests could also be donated. Also, unprepped product can be donated as well.

                                          Many charities that rely on food donations have a volunteer base to pick up meals if the caterer is unable to deliver. Some venues have composting programs in place for food that would normally be thrown out.

                                          1. I have been working in the catering business as wait staff for over 3 years now and since the beginning, I have seen probably close to thousands of pounds of food dumped. At first I thought that the manger staff wanted to save the food to feed us, the waitstaff, but boy was I wrong. Don't misunderstand me, they fed us, but they fed us small plates of whatever they have the time to throw together, like pasta and sauce, or eggs and rolls. Never making enough food to actually have to throw out. For the customers though, it's a very different story. I've always tried to approach the owner of the previous hall I worked for about the subject but he always dismissed me saying we don't have the time or the money to worry about something like that. And since then I've always bit my lip about it making my minimum wage. Another subject I tried to approach was recycling. For years I've tried making my own bin out of cardboard paper so I could fish through the garbage for recyclables I could bring home to dispose of properly. Of course a few of the managers had a big problem with that. God knows why, because out of all of the bickering I got because of it, I still don't understand. I don't think the managers even understood what their defense was to not recycling. But back to food, the biggest thing I've heard about why they don't donate their tons of food after every single party is because of liability. God forbid the food spoils while donating it to anyone, they are legally liable for people getting sick from the food. I'm positive there have been actual cases that THAT has never happened, but unfortunately, it seems that it has happened and perhaps more than once. So the real issue isn't exactly the snobby wastefulness of catering halls, bars, restaurants, etc., but it's the law that apparently forces that to happen. I'm sure many hungry people wouldn't give two thoughts about getting free food from a nice catering hall, but the law does. Just for the record, I personally do not agree that people should go hungry in the slight chance that they might get sick but from a hospital's POV I can't help but understand the mixed feelings.