I wanted to head this post with a diagram of a formal European place setting, to really put a visual sting on the rant that is to come, but I was so disgusted by the images I found (not only in content, but particularly in execution) that I gave it up as a bad job.
In lieu of that, let me provide you, instead, with a list of the serviceware at the disposal of...say...the University of New Mexico for the purpose of catered meals.
Charger plates with the UNM seal
Butter Dishes (affectionately called monkey dishes)
hot tea pitchers
When used in service, all of these items must be washed.Now, bear in mind that it is more than conceivable that ever single item on this list might be used for a single event, and that if that were the case, most of these would be in multiples (two wine glasses, two goblets, multiple dinner plates for multiple courses...) Now imagine, if you will, a five hundred person banquet (this is not terribly uncommon at all). That's one thousand salad and dessert forks alone. Consider the amount of water, energy and detergent it takes to wash just the salad and dessert forks. Consider now that it is common practice to run the silverware twice to ensure cleanliness. Add to this the five hundred dinner plates (if it's a single course!) 500 dessert and bread plates, 500 saucers...and so forth...I won't even go into the time, energy and sanity of caterers that is consumed in the prep, service and cleanup of such an event. Allow me instead to leave you with this parting gem: I personally know someone who threw away more than 300 plates, on the orders of supervisors, because some asshat that ordered catering cut their numbers at the last minute. That is three hundred portions of food, three hundred complete meals. In the trash.
And the best part? Health code prohibits anyone to remove food from a served event. So even if the caterers wanted to give the leftovers to someone they would be risking their jobs to do so.
People at catered events are generally all served the same entree, in the same portion. Needless to say, not everyone likes the entree, and a staggering amount of food gets left on the table itself, in addition to the food wasted by poor planning and inability to estimate.
So If ever you feel the need to cater something- your wedding perhaps?- just think about what you're doing, how much waste you are incurring, how utterly and unreasonably excessive you are being. Have a pot luck, get food from a favorite local restaurant, cook it yourself!
I could go on for days about this, but instead experience it for yourself. Poke your head into the SUB ballrooms someday and observe the gluttony and waste firsthand. And next time you find yourself at a catered event, stop to think about what you're participating in.
FYI- The most economical and environmentally friendly option for any event would be hours d'oeuvres, which usually go fast and can be packed up and taken home by the guests, and require no more serviceware than a few trays and some napkins.