Event clients, in particular millennials, have enthusiastically embraced the concept of creating menus from locally grown and sustainable ingredients--preferably those that are both. In a world where information is available instantly and at the touch of our fingertips, awareness of local and sustainable practices is only expected to grow, so we can bet that this trend is definitely here to stay.
Better for the environment and often associated with practices that make ingredients healthier overall, the concept is simple. Local and sustainable foods don’t generally have to travel--steeped in chemical preservatives--for thousands of miles before reaching the table. They are grown using practices that leave us, and our planet, a future to pass to the next generations.
Our venue recognizes that this demand is growing. So we make sure to educate our guests, who are happy to learn that at Wente Vineyards, we purchase our food from sustainable and local sources. Promoting this to our guests raises awareness and appreciation for the cause, whether they arrived with the expectation of them or are pleasantly surprised.
There is an element of education for caterers and clients alike that is essential to fully appreciating these practices. “Local” and “sustainable” are best when they go together, but they can be two different things. For example, items may be local, but not come from a sustainable source. In that case, you might be able to find a better product from a company that is sustainable, but not local. Being open about why you have selected the products you use helps your clientele understand, and allows you to offer more variety
Part of the culture shift around local and sustainable ingredients is a need for flexibility. The conditions and criteria for such products are by their nature harder to meet, so clients should be prepared to work with caterers to find the best mix of available items for their budget and season. Flexibility allows the chef more options when creating an amazing and locally sustainable meal.
The concept goes beyond just farm-raised ingredients. Clients are increasingly requesting local wines, beers and spirits for their events. This extends the guest experience, especially for destination events, and incorporates even more personality into a celebration.
There are some common mistakes that event professionals can help their clients avoid when discussing local and sustainable ingredients.
1. One is the lack of familiarity with what is actually available locally. We have clients request ingredients that are out of season or never available in the region. Increasing your knowledge of your area and the offerings that are accessible will help you nurture reasonable expectations and ultimately make happier clients.
2. You also need to prepare clients for the premium prices that are sometimes required to secure local and sustainable foods and beverages. If budget becomes an issue, work with your catering team to see if they have alternate recommendations, or if they can build a menu around some of the requested ingredients without compromising the overall quality and concept. You might suggest that the entrée for an evening be sustainable, while the hors d’oeuvres and desserts are conventionally sourced. Add as many local products as you can reasonably and focus on those when sharing their story with your clients and their guests.
Take time now to prepare yourself and your team to anticipate client demand for local and sustainable food and beverages. The trend is growing and is here to stay, so become the experts that your customer base turns to when they want the best and most innovative menus. You won’t regret it for a moment!
Heather Jones is the catering sales director for Wente Vineyards, a family-owned property in Livermore, Calif., that is home to a winery and vineyards, a golf course, restaurant, and a range of unique facilities for hosting weddings and special events.