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Catering to the Food Waste from Caterers

Collect food surplus following large catered events and create pop-up serving stations.

Photo of Hannah Chatham
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We are two friends who currently work at a catering company (no name is needed, many catering companies operate in similar fashions) and have an inside look into what happens in the kitchen after major events. Sometimes the extra food is given to staff members, and more often than not, the food is thrown away, on the spot. 


Our idea is that there could be a company who comes to pick up the extra food immediately following the event and re-serves it to those in need at designated location. Those in need could receive an alert on their phones when the food is ready and being served, as event end times vary. 

We would need to work with a health/food service professional to determine what food is safe/unsafe to re-serve. 

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

There is ALWAYS leftover food at catered events. We are simply missing a system of how to re-route the waste.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a industrial design student with a background in design research. My friend is experienced in restaurant business and food hygiene.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Delia Kulukundis

Thanks Hannah Chatham and Sachin Bhide for your thoughtful discussion of this!  I know that in some areas, health regulations make it difficult to rescue/redirect prepared food that has already been served to the public (as in a buffet), while the extras in the kitchen that haven't been served can be legally donated.  (This is the case with the health code in my area, as I found out when researching City Harvest - food rescue at scale in NYC ) So that makes me think that caterers plating food, rather than serving it in a buffet, could lead to less waste, or could leave more of the excess food in a condition to be donated.  Come to think of it, I'd really love to see a rigorous experiment done (maybe in some corporate cafeteria somewhere) to compare the different amounts of food waste from a buffet setup versus having the food plated.  

Photo of Kate Rushton

Thank you Hannah Chatham for your research post! I would love to know your opinion on how Sachin Bhide dealt with food waste at his wedding -  

Is this similar to what you envisage? 

Photo of Hannah Chatham

Hi Kate Rushton !

Thanks for your comment. Yes, it seems Sachin Bhide and I are addressing similar problems! We are both considering excess food after large events, namely weddings. He is right, in that weddings (which make up a majority of large events) are often intertwined with cultural traditions and having large amounts of food is a signal of celebration and wealth--characteristics most people want to "show off" at a wedding. I want to acknowledge that, and not try to change that ideal.

I like that Sachin focused on improving the RSVP system, and serving food buffet style. I certainly think those ideas help the situation. I have seen food served both buffet style and on plates, and waste seems to be about the same in my opinion..Maybe Sachin Bhide  can share his view there?

In my opinion, I don't think the food waste at events like weddings is the responsibility of the guests/attendees. I think it is the responsibility of the catering companies and party planners. These people need to price/buy accordingly, and take care of waste afterwards. (In fact, waste is to be expected, because no good catering company or good host for that matter, would run out of food mid-event.)

In short, any arguments made in this catering-related vein should be in economic terms, appealing to the catering companies directly. It should also be considered that events are time constrained activities. Once an event ends, everything is shut down as fast as possible, and everyone goes home exhausted, that is immediately. That is to say, staff at the event just want to clean up and go home, not deal with delivering extra food somewhere.

It is my idea that an outside entity (maybe its called "the Picker Uppers" or "After Event Dinners" ... exact name TBD) be in charge of swooping in at the last moment of an event and picking up & re-distributing the food elsewhere.

Any thoughts on what I could be missing in this plan? How could it be better thought out? I'm open!


Photo of Sachin Bhide

Kate, Hannah--

It is a fantastic idea of having some group or an agency to pick up food in the end of the wedding and deliver it to a location. This could be volunteers or paid services. This could be a good activity for wealthy housewives, students on holidays or retired people hoping to do something good for the community. This part of the society is generally waiting for someone to show them the right direction. When I start an NGO, this is what i will tap in. 
Hannah's observation is right. People waste food irrespective of whether it is a buffet or plates. But like i mentioned in my replies to comments on my post, we need to make wasting food, inconvenient. The buffet system does precisely that. People have to make sure they don't spill food on their clothes. They are worried about the weight of their plates to carry it to their seats. Most of the times, people are lazy to go back and get more food. Now here we can tap into the inherent human nature of "convenience over conscience". Buffet system is more inconvenient than the plate system and hence it is an elegant solution. Also its societal acceptance helps the hosts be OK with it.

At my wedding, I was also thinking of keeping thin plates which will hold less food. People will take less and hence waste less. Also, I thinking of paying the waiters to take plates from only those guests that have finished their food. And to add on to that, keep the garbage bins far away from the hall so that people wasting the food may find it embarrassing and tedious. Then my wife came swooping in and told me that I was taking it too far. :)


Photo of hannahchatham .

Hi Sachin Bhide ,
Thanks for the response! Yes, making waste a bit more difficult is part of the solution. Makes me think of hand towel machines that only give you one length of paper towel at a time, so you only pull out what you need. 

I do think there is a line between making something inconvenient for people and punishing someone for an action. To me, a thin plate would make me annoyed, and I would not make the connection between taking less food and my thin plate. I'm going to have to side with your wife here, haha.. 

On another note, you mentioned you want to start an NGO and tap into a particular demographic.. what kind of NGO are you interested in?

To me, the main problems in this "pick up food at end of an event" scenario are:
1. Finding appropriate vehicles to do pick up drop offs. (Another post mentioned utilizing existing transit systems like Lyft and Uber here)
2. Making it a win for the catering companies to even care about allowing/facilitating this
3. Partnering with distribution centers--ie., community centers, food kitchens, maybe even individual's homes?
4. Making it legit/safe with invested advice from a food safety professional

Photo of Sachin Bhide


Thank you for the reply. You are right. Thin plates would have really taken it too far. :)

I have worked in under-privileged children's education before and my life's goal is to start an organization for children's education. But to make it naturally attractive to poor families, I want to have mid-day meals, good clothes, good facilities. I want to give incentive to parents to send their kids to school. Food is something that always motivates people. For sustainability, I would like to club the food waste problem with providing food to kids who will come to my school. I am going to run it as a private enterprise where I am going to hire teachers and social workers and set targets for them. So to save money, I can pay the catering companies at a lower price to consume the food that is anyways wasted. Just an idea at this point.

All the problems you pointed out are absolutely real. Lot of thought has to be put in it to make it economically viable and safe. I do not know how this is going to work out. Will have to figure it out eventually. thoughts from someone like you are really useful. I am glad I found a community to collaborate with. Thank you.

We will keep talking.


Photo of Julianne Scott

Hannah! Yes!!! This is a problem that has driven me crazy for years. There MUST be a better way to use perfectly good (if not GREAT) food in a more sustainable, efficient and thoughtful way. I have a few ideas on how this intermediary "food saver" service could work. I guess we wait until the idea phase??

Photo of hannahchatham .

Hi Julianne Scott , 
I have not participated in an OpenIDEO challenge before, so yes, I think we jump onto solutions in the next phase.. 

Do you have experience in the restaurant/catering industry?


Photo of Julianne Scott

Yes, I have worked in the hospitality industry for over 10 years wearing many hats as hostess, server, caterer, part-time manager, etc. I have worked many caterings and always struggled with seeing and participating in the waste of food.