How The Westin Calgary (@WestinCalgary) Teamed Up with The Chef Table to Feed The Hungry

December 5, 2012



Via Shawna McKinley’s “Sustainable Destinations” blog, I learned about a partnership between Westin Calgary and The Chef Table to supply surplus food to The Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre. The surplus food goes to feed the hungry. “What a brilliant concept,” I said to myself.

People are hungry, while restaurants often produce surplus food. The Westin Calgary’s partnership with The Chef Table helps feed the hungry, while reducing waste at the same time. Win. Win.

Connecting with The Westin Calgary

On #GivingTuesday (November 27, 2012), I taking in all the giving (on Twitter) when I came across this tweet from The Westin Calgary:

Having read about their efforts in Shawna’s blog, I reached out to @WestinCalgary via a direct message on Twitter. I was put in touch with Michael Bitcon, Director of Food & Beverage at the hotel.

What follows is my interview with Michael on this wonderful program.

Background and Program Overview

Q: Tell us about your role at The Westin Calgary?

A: I am responsible for the food and  beverage operation.  This includes leading the Kitchen, In-Room dining, our restaurant – Essence, our lounge – Liquid, Starbucks, and Banquet teams.  A role that I have held with pride since February 2011.

Q: You started the partnership with The Chef Table in January 2012. What’s been the impact on The Westin Calgary?

“Our associates feel a greater sense of pride knowing that their efforts are helping to feed those in need.”

A: There have been many and all have been positive.  Our culinary associates create gourmet meals on a daily basis. There are times (especially for our Banquet & Catering functions) where we over produce. Prior to the program being launched, we would simply throw away this overproduction.

There is nothing more disheartening for our associates to see food go to waste, especially if you have been the one to prepare it. Since launching the program on January 27th, our associates feel a greater sense of pride knowing that their efforts are helping to feed those in need.  They have learned and buy into the program because it is to maintain; there is no real extra work to keep it alive.

We’re able to reduce what we put into our landfills and also; our customers  love the program.  When we speak about our partnership with The Chef’s Table and the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre and pre-events or on site visits, they encourage us to keep pushing for more hotels to get involved which in-turn, keeps our energy high and keeps us motivated.

Food Handling & Distribution


Q: Tell us about some of the meals that you’ve provided recently?

A: Our meal offerings that we provide are as extensive as our banquet and catering menus; here are a few items we have sent recently:   Seasonal vegetables, chicken, salmon, hash browns, pork sausages, three cheese  tortellini, and roasted turkey.

Q: Are there particular types of foods or meals that “travel” best (i.e. maintain their quality before reaching the recipient)?

“Everything we send travels well.”

A: This is the best part of the program. We adhere to strict policies when it comes to food safety and we only use food items that have not gone out into public space (i.e. onto a buffet). Once properly cooled, we freeze the items in aluminum containers and these containers are delivered via refrigeration truck to the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre once a week (Friday). Everything we send travels well.

On Getting Other Hotels Involved

Q: If a colleague called to ask you whether to run a similar program at his/her hotel, what would you tell them?

A: I had a very similar call with a sister property just last week and said, “why aren’t you involved in the program already?” There really is nothing that I can see that would prevent or hurt a hotel from opting into this program and helping out their local community; it’s just that easy.

Q: What should colleagues NOT do when embarking on a similar program?

A: Be afraid to “do the right thing.”

Q: In addition to food, are there other items that hospitality providers could consider providing under a similar model?

A: One item that comes to mind especially for hotels and many have similar programs; would be the bath and shower amenities such as soap, shampoo, and toilet paper.  We donate ours to the Calgary Drop-in & Rehab Centre too.

Event and Meeting Professionals

Q: How can event and meeting professionals help further this cause?

A: Some of our meeting and event partners have been instrumental in helping us get the message out. Some have made mention of the program as a small statement during their event/convention and some have lobbied for us by calling other hotels in our city and saying they would not earn their business if they did not get in touch with us and learn more about the program. These efforts have been overwhelming and we’re very proud to have customers and partners that would do that.

Q: For 2013, what’s in store for event and meeting planners with regard to food and beverage?


Not to let too many secrets out of the “kitchen”; we recently hired a new Executive Chef. Meeting and event planners can look forward to a complete overhaul of our banquet & catering menus showcasing Chef Hoffmann’s passion for “cuisine” while we continue to focus on a “Eat Local, Think Global”  platform.

Many of our guests have unique dietary needs and we want to ensure we can help them stay well balanced while away from home or while attending an event. I certainly would like to extend an invitation to you and your readers to visit us at The Westin whenever their travels have them staying in Calgary.


Photo source: User Hobolens on flickr.

Q: I’ve never visited Calgary. When I come to visit, what are the 3 sights I must see?

Calgary is a beautiful city and one that I have called home for 16 years. Must sees are the Calgary Zoo, the Glenbow Museum, and cycling (or running) on the many pathways and trails that will guide you through natural parks and wonderful, romantic communities, such as Kensington and Inglewood.

Newspaper Article

Download a PDF of a newspaper article re-print, “Surplus hotel food feeds the needy” about The Westin Calgary:

Contact Michael

Feel free to contact Michael:

Michael Bitcon
Director of Food & Beverage
The Westin Calgary
320 4th Avenue S.W. Calgary, Alberta T2P 2S6 Canada
T 403.508.5213
F 403.265.7908

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

What the San Francisco Food Bank (@SFFoodBank) Taught Me about Volunteerism #GivingTuesday

November 27, 2012

#GivingTuesday: November 27, 2012

Today, November 27, 2012, is #GivingTuesday. Learn more about #GivingTuesday and consider getting involved.


The San Francisco Food Bank

Recently, I volunteered at the San Francisco Food Bank (@SFFoodBank). I joined the Northern California chapter of my college’s alumni association and spent two hours sorting, packing and sealing one-pound bags of rice.

The rice would be going to partner organizations, to be prepared and served on Thanksgiving. Volunteering at the food bank was quite rewarding — and at the same time, it taught me a number of things about volunteerism. Let’s explore further.

1) Together, we can solve big problems.

Volunteers in the kitchen of the San Francisco Food Bank

Image: My volunteer group at San Francisco Food Bank.

I was delighted to see well over 60 volunteers participate in our volunteer session. In addition to our alumni group, there were college students, individuals and families. Broad and complex issues exist (e.g. hunger, homelessness, etc.) but together, with the spirit of volunteerism, I think we can make a difference.

2) Break large and complex problems into solvable chunks.

Food Banking graphic

Image source: The Global Food Banking Network.

A fairly sophisticated supply chain helps to feed the hungry. Suppliers donate food items to food banks, volunteers help process and package the donated food, the food banks distribute the food to partner organizations and the partner organizations prepare the food and provide them directly to those in need.

In addition, national and global organizations exist to provide services across entire networks of food banks. One such example is Feeding America. So in short, no one organization does it all. Instead, organizations exist inside a supply chain and play a particular role. They receive input from another organization and drive output (which becomes input to yet another entity).

At the San Francisco Food Bank, we used another sort of supply chain, in the form of an assembly line. The volunteers at each table had defined roles:

  1. Pour rice from large bags into a bin.
  2. Approximate one pound of rice (into a bag).
  3. Measure the bag to precisely one pound.
  4. Seal the bag.
  5. Confirm the seal and pack the bags into a box.
  6. Seal the boxes.

3) Be specific about the impact of volunteering.

While sorting and sealing the one pound bags of rice, we were told that rice would be prepared and served on Thanksgiving. So each bag that we packaged could feed one person (or more). At the end of our shift, we were told that the group collectively packaged 3,360 one-pound bags of rice.

So we did a small part in helping thousands of people get a Thanksgiving Day meal. Knowing the specific impact of your effort makes the volunteering more rewarding – and, encourages you to come back again. Next time, perhaps, you’ll sort meats that will go to feed thousands more.

Similarly, I love the model of, a web site that accepts donations for specific classroom needs (posted by the classroom teacher). With charitable giving, you sometimes don’t know where your donation is going. With DonorsChoose, it’s just the opposite, as your donation funds a particular need – and, you’ll even receive a progress report from the classroom.

4) Be specific about the impact of donations.

Three ways you can help the SF Food Bank

Speaking of donations, food banks depend on financial donations. And right up front, the San Francisco Food Bank tells you the impact of your donation: “For every $1 you donate we’ll distribute $6 worth of food!”

Similarly, Feeding America shows different donation amounts, along with the number of meals they can purchase:

Make a difference by donating to Feeding America

Image source:

5) Encourage participation by groups.

I performed my volunteer shift along with my college’s alumni group. I also saw families (including kids!) and groups of college students. Encouraging volunteerism via groups is a win/win, as more people participate, which means that more people go home and spread the word. In addition, a group volunteering activity can bring the group (i.e. a family) closer together.


Volunteering at the food bank convinced me that we can make an impact on the world, a dent in the universe. This Thanksgiving, in fact, the San Francisco Food Bank delivered over one million pounds of food! The great thing about volunteerism is that it’s so easy to get involved. If you don’t have time, consider donating money. If you don’t have money to spare, consider sparing some time.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

Can I Get A Woo Hoo For Virtual Events?

February 7, 2011


At department stores and supermarkets, I’m often asked to make a small donation to a charity at the cash register.  Truth be told, I often choose not to donate. The other day, however, I encountered a scenario in which 100% of customers donated – and, I went to the checkout counter asking if I could donate.

How They Did It

The store was able to accomplish this with a fairly simple tactic.  After each donation, the cashier would get on the loud speaker and proclaim, “We just got another donation to the American Heart Association! Can I get a woo hoo?”  The request was then followed with a loud “woo hoo!” from a number of people.  While shopping, customers would hear these announcements every few minutes.

How could I possibly relate this to virtual events? Well, like an email promotion for your virtual event, the donation was a call to action, in which potential donors needed to understand the value of taking action. Let’s consider some of the particulars.

Be Different

Announcements over the loudspeaker have been done before, but the use of the “woo hoo” was different.  Every time the “woo hoo” was announced, I got a chuckle out of it and other customers did as well.  While requesting a “woo hoo” for your virtual event may not be effective, consider ways in which your marketing and promotion can stand out from the many emails in everyone’s inbox.

Reward Users

Give value back to your users.  For the donation, the reward was very basic and yet, customers continually opted to receive it.  When I approached the cash register, I told the cashier that their “system” was quite clever.  Her response was, “So, do you want your woo hoo?” The donation, while important, become secondary to the acknowledgement.

Involve Your Team

At the store, managers had party horns – when a “woo hoo” was announced, the managers would yell “woo hoo!” and then blow the party horns.  It felt like a New Year’s Eve party and the horns added to the awareness and fun.  For a virtual event, encourage your team to share and promote the event within their social circles, both offline and online.  With the vast reach of social networks in the online world, your own team can make a big difference.

Make Participation Infectious

This can be challenging to achieve – after all, you just can’t “make a video go viral”.  That being said, I believe that our natural inclination is to “follow the herd”, which is one reason the donation did so well.  People donated because everyone else was.  But, it had to be easy (the donation was simply added to your purchase at the register) and it had to be well promoted and shared (the loudspeaker).  With these elements in place, along with “being different”, the store got every single customer to donate.


Instead of doing the same thing over and over when marketing your virtual event, consider new and creative ways to involve your audience, reward them and keep them coming back.  If you can achieve infectious participation, you won’t need to send out as many email blasts.

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