When Bernice Zubrzycki, owner of 31 North Banquet and Conference Center and Classic Events Catering in McHenry, renovated her 6,000-square-foot location in 2011, green became more than a paint color.
“I wanted to be energy efficient,” says Zubrzycki, a longtime recycler. “With all the changes happening in our environment, we need to do all we can to sustain our resources for future generations.”
Her 30-year-old building, formerly the Warsaw Inn, now has motion-controlled LED lighting, energy efficient windows and insulation. Restrooms are equipped with high-efficiency hand dryers and low-flow fixtures. In the kitchen, an energy efficient dishwasher saves water.
Though the initial cost was higher than it would have been for conventional items, “Once I decided to do it, I went full force,” Zubrzycki says.
A year later, she says her utility bills are lower.
“Over the years, I will see a substantial savings,” she says.
Pleasing the palate
Local caterers are finding ways to be more environmentally friendly, including using local ingredients, reusable equipment and offering biodegradable options for throw-aways.
“We get quite a few requests from clients to use area purveyors,” says Debra Mindham, pastry and catering chef for Tarts and Truffles Patisserie and Bon AppetEAT Catering in Hebron and Lake Geneva.
“There’s been an increase in awareness, and more people are asking for it.”
Rocco Gailloreto and his wife, Sally, owners of the Flatlander Market in Marengo, use Prairie Pure artisan cheeses made from local milk both in their catering business’s cheese trays and as an ingredient. Local fruits and vegetables are used as well, and this past summer, the Flatlander’s eatery served a Marengo Corn Chowder made from local produce.
“This summer, it was great to be able to [go] out and hand-pick melons for our fruit trees, tomatoes, peppers and corn,” Gailloreto says.
The caterers also see more demand for menus tailored to specific diets.
“Every event seems to take vegetarians into account, and customers want to make sure everyone has something they can eat,” Mindham says. “I didn’t notice that so much five or six years ago, but now people are very concerned about it.”
“Gluten-free, vegetarian and non-dairy are the most common, but everyone seems to want healthy choices, such as grilled meats rather than fried,” she says. “We don’t have anything deep-fried on the menu, though I’ll make it on request. People still love our fried chicken.”
Striking a balance between nutrition and comfort food can be a challenge, but Gailloreto says incorporating flavorful, fresh produce creates healthy, good-tasting food.
“We serve a panini with grilled apples, onions and Gruyére cheese on 100 percent whole wheat,” he says. “It’s meatless but still a warm, toasted sandwich.”
Pleasing the planet
Instead of disposable serving trays, plastic plates and tableware, the caterers say they encourage the use of reusable items.
“There’s a huge amount of waste that happens when you just drop off, so we encourage clients to bring the stuff back to us with a deposit, or we can come and get it,” Mindham says.
For some functions, such as box lunches, disposables are unavoidable, but Mindham says that approximately 75 percent of her catering business uses non-disposables.
“We do a lot of weddings, and customers want the nicer, reusable equipment,” she says.
Washing and restocking equipment is more labor-intensive and adds costs for water and detergent, but the caterers feel it’s worthwhile.
“We have more time and water to wash, but one way or another I think it’s better to just clean the dishes,” Mindham says.
“It becomes easier once you get into the habit,” notes Zubrzycki, who also has made small changes to how she serves certain items, such as using biodegradable wooden skewers for fruit rather than spooning it into disposable bowls. “It’s just a little thing, but it adds up.”
For times when disposable utensils are necessary, biodegradable tableware and plates are available.
Both Mindham and Zubrzycki offer them as an option, though so far, few customers have requested them.
“Customers in Chicago seem more receptive to it,” Mindham says.
Gailloreto uses some corn-based biodegradable plastics and is considering a switch to disposable tableware made from either bamboo or pressed wood. The shop also uses electronic media and texting for its promotions rather than printed flyers and coupons.
“It’s most important to provide quality food, but if we can use [biodegradable materials] and be more environmentally conscious, that’s a nice thing to promote,” he says.