Hospitality senior Danielle Irey is undeniably driven by passion.
Her upbringing in a NASCAR-loving family paved the way for her to seize every opportunity in the world of motorsports, including internships at raceways, work experience at NASCAR events, and the role of president of UNLV’s Rebel Racing team.
More recently, Irey was able to combine her fervor for motorsports with her academic pursuits.
“I knew when I transferred to UNLV that I wanted to do something with sports and event operations,” Irey said. “Being able to have a class that incorporated both sports and hospitality is really exciting.”
The New Jersey native’s dream became a reality when her TCA 410 class teamed up with Las Vegas Grand Prix, Inc. (LVGP), venturing into the fast-paced world of event management. Their project steered away from the more typical facets of events, such as logistics or guest management, and instead focused on a crucial, yet lesser-known aspect of the hospitality industry – food waste.
The LVGP asked the class to develop a food recovery plan for one of the organization’s high-end hospitality spaces. Over an intense five-week summer course, Irey and her classmates researched ways to redirect surplus food to a local food bank and repurpose food scraps into livestock feed, all while upholding the high standards of the Formula 1 Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix.
The underlying goal of the collaboration was to address the issue of food insecurity in Southern Nevada.
“Through this partnership, we are directing resources to address some of the most pressing challenges and opportunities for local families and communities, with a particular focus on alleviating hunger in local communities,” says Pilar Harris, senior director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Government Relations for LVGP.
During plan development, students toured the convention services department at a major Las Vegas Strip property, gleaning invaluable insights into the implementation of food recovery practices. They also visited Republic Services and the Las Vegas Livestock farm to gain a better understanding of the logistics involved in transporting and repurposing food scraps. Lastly, they learned the food recovery process and requirements of the Three Square food bank.
The experience reflects a profound shift taking place in the Las Vegas sports and entertainment industry, which is faced with balancing the guest experience while keeping an eye on sustainability and social responsibility.
“As an event professional, I’ve noticed an emerging trend in organizations zeroing in on event sustainability,” said TCA 410 instructor Heather Willden. “More and more organizations are focusing on reducing their environmental footprint while cultivating a positive impact on the communities they serve.”
Throughout the project, students faced a unique set of challenges. Given that the Las Vegas race is a first-time event, the students lacked historical data as a reference point for their planning efforts. Also, the inclusion of a food and beverage package with every ticket required the organization to prepare larger quantities of catering than usual.
Furthermore, the students had to navigate the logistical maze of food transportation in and around the Las Vegas Strip Circuit™, the expenses associated with trucks, and the requisites for preserving food until transport. Balancing the demands of event operations while maintaining an elevated guest experience presented another challenging tightrope to walk.
“We had to keep our eyes on the big picture while still paying attention to every detail,” Irey said. “We had to be mindful that our efforts didn’t compromise the experience, especially when guests are paying top dollar.”
As an increasing number of sports teams call Vegas home, more and more companies will be asking hospitality professionals to help develop their food sustainability plans. And with collaborations like the LVGP food recovery project under their belt, Irey and her classmates will be prepared to get them to the finish line.