2007 Catering Study: And the survey says ...

The desire to operate foodservice in a more environmentally friendly manner isn’t necessarily a driving force in catering.

Buffets are up and sit-downs are down for many non-commercial catering operators, according to the FSD 2007 Catering Study. Learn what trends are driving catering, and what challenges non-commercial caterers faced in the last year.

The environment is certainly one of the hottest topics in non-commercial foodservice these days. But the desire to operate foodservice in a more environmentally friendly manner isn’t necessarily a driving force in catering, at least according to FoodService Director’s 2007 Catering Study.

Although anecdotal evidence suggests that most foodservice departments engage in recycling efforts with regard to catering, most operators have yet to make the switch to biodegradable or compostable serviceware, the study revealed. Only 33% of operators surveyed say they offer customers the option of using such serviceware. The largest percentage of operators making this option available are found in colleges and universities (38%) and the smallest percentage in B&I (24%).

However, most of those that do offer environmentally friendly tableware make a solid effort to encourage customers to make the choice. According to the survey, 71% of operators who offer such serviceware do not pass the cost onto the customers, even though it  is more expensive to purchase.

Interestingly, the sector most likely to be most environmentally friendly is also most likely to charge more. Thirty-eight percent of university caterers say they pass the cost on to clients.

Of course, not offering biodegradable serviceware does not necessarily mean that a caterer isn’t environmentally conscious. For example, at Harvard University, Crimson Catering tries to reduce its environmental footprint by minimizing the use of disposables.

“We encourage the use of china wherever possible,” says Madeline Meehan, director of Crimson Catering. “In addition, all of our delivery vehicles  run on bio-diesel fuel. We have light sensors in all of our catering areas so we don’t waste electricity, and food salvage is sent to a local pig farmer.”

But other operators cite reasons why environmental efforts are lagging. At Eastman Chemical Inc., Kingston, Tenn., the company makes a major effort to recycle such items as plastic bottles, cooking grease, cardboard boxes and aerosol cans. But Jean Petke, senior employee services coordinator, notes that her contractors aren’t as active.

Reasons noted by Petke’s contractors include lack of space and a lack of interest from customers. Greg Saunders, catering director for Troutdale Catering, which handles events at the Eastman Lodge, notes, “This is our most challenging area. A large part of our business is using disposable products, but we have had success in washing and reusing some of the more durable ones. Space is a huge concern for us as far as recycling.”

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