Hackathons are international events, and the attendees often have a wide verity of tastes and dietary restrictions. After wifi and venue, food is the third most important thing on a hackathon to contribute to making participants happy.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner
- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner need to be available to all attendees
- Buffets are generally the best option, as people can pick and choose what they like and don't like. Find ways to allow as many people as possible to serve themselves at the same time. One line to feed an entire event never works.
- Quality vegetarian and vegan options are mandatory.
- Vegetarian main dish examples: Pastas, rice dishes, grilled mushrooms, lentils, and other warm/substantial dishes.
- Vegetarians will not be happy if their own option is a side salad.
- Put non-vegan sauces on the side so that vegans can eat the foods as well
- Other eating preferences/restrictions to consider: Gluten free, lactose intolerance, kosher.
- It is good practice to ask what people's eating restrictions are during registration, so that it is not a surprise at the event.
- Don't do this unless you actually have the ability to change the menu based on the answers.
- If you can not accommodate someone, tell them in advance and suggest local restaurants and groceries.
- Use signs on the tables to label food with all their ingredients, so that people know what they are eating and don't have to ask.
- Keep the main meal's food available for long periods of time, so that people don't have to rush (breaking their workflow) and create a large crowd, to get it.
- Don't serve the same thing multiple times in a row; try to have a variety of food.
- If the event is in a location known for its food, you should serve the speciality at least once!
- Publish menus in advance on wiki and make sure it includes information for people with dietary restrictions.
- If your event is close to a supermarket, people with dietary restrictions and/or different tastes will have the option to get their own food.
- Consider people from different cultures. Some people need spicy food to be happy and others need food without spice to be happy. Creating a balance for everyone is an art!
- Considering finding catering companies that have dealt with complex international groups in the past.
- There should be various snacks available 24 hours a day: something sweet (cookies, candy), something salty (chips, nuts), and something healthy (fruit, granola bars).
- Overestimate the amount of snacks people need; have them available in multiple locations; provide variety.
- The night time snack bar has saved many hacking projects!
- 24 hour water is mandatory. Make sure there is plenty of water, ideally in a large dispenser which allows everyone to refill their own containers. Having the option of choosing a glass or bottled-water is nice; Bottles allow people to not worry about spilling on their laptops, and glasses allow people to not waste plastic.
- Coffee must be available at all times. Tea is good, too.
- There should be multiple types of soda and juice available as well
- A common complaint is that vegetarian meals are often overlooked, and consist of just a salad and a side dish. It is nice to make sure that vegetarians have multiple options, including actual entrée options. If there is only one meat option and one vegetarian option, there will probably still be people who dislike (or are not able to eat) what is available.
- Another common complaint is poor quality coffee. The better the quality of coffee is, the happier many of the participants will be.
- Sparking and still water options is very appreciated.
- Have quality non-alcoholic drink options during social events. If you spend effort making those that drink happy, you should also consider those that do not.
Even with an unlimited budget for food you will never make 100% of your participants happy. But if you do your best to inform and include everyone, people will appreciate it!