WordCamp Organizing 101: Food & Beverages

WordCamp 101: Food & Beverages

This is part our series on organizing WordCamps. Check out Getting Involved: WordCamp Organizing 101 for the full series. If you’re an organizer with advice to share, or a potential organizer with questions to ask, please get in touch with us!

Food is a big deal. If it’s great, people will rave. If it’s bad, people will remember.

We’ve made food a priority since WordCamp Toronto 2011, and I like to think that we’ve set the bar pretty high. 🙂

The official WordCamp planning site lists some great suggestions for keeping your attendees hydrated and well-fed. Our recommendations are based on what we’ve done in the past, and what our attendees have asked for in feedback. (Keep in mind we average around 300-350 attendees for our event.)

Catering? Work with the small guys.

We’ve found that smaller caterers are more flexible, and their prices are more reasonable. WordCamp gives them some exposure that they may not have had otherwise, and it’s a nice opportunity to showcase local establishments for people who are coming in from out-of-town.

We include our caterers on the printed schedules and on the website, and provide the same sort of shout-out that we give to sponsors.

Ask about dietary restrictions during registration.

CampTix — the system that handles registration on WordCamp sites — lets you add custom questions to registration.

WordCamp 101 - Dietary Restrictions

We ask attendees to specify their meal preferences: Are they omnivores, vegan, or gluten-free? That gives us some indication of what food to provide, and how much, during the camp.

Food: Keep em’ fed to keep em’ happy.

Breakfast: Bagels, pastries, muffins, fruits.

“You don’t need breakfast.” That’s the official line. And while it’s true that you don’t need breakfast, we think it’s a nice thing to provide when you’re starting the day off early.

For what it’s worth: We’ve never had leftover breakfast items go to waste. If there’s food, people take it. 😛

Bagels, pastries, and muffins are good because they don’t need to be refrigerated. We’ve had some complaints about not having enough gluten-free food available for breakfast, but there’s only s much you can do with a tight budget.

Lunch: Offer Vegan & Gluten-Free Options

Speaking of gluten-free… Whatever you go for — be it catering or platters or boxed lunches — try to provide vegan and gluten-free options for lunch. We’ve found the demand for gluten-free to be rising steadily over the last few years.

Keep in mind that folks who don’t flag themselves as vegan or gluten-free during registration will probably grab the vegan and gluten-free food anyway, so you should prepare for that. 🙂

If you can prepare gluten-free snacks and desserts, all the better!

Have snacks available for the late afternoon.

Folks need a pick-me-up later in the afternoon. We addressed this by having extra trays of breakfast items and pastries left over from the morning and lunch.

Beverages: Drink up!

With food out of the way, let’s talk about the drinks.

Keep em’ caffeinated.

Coffee is a must-have, and you’ll need lots of it. Those little boxes of coffee you can grab at Starbucks? They add up quickly ($$$), and they won’t last long.

You’ll want enough coffee to keep people going through the entire camp. The best way to do this is either with coffee urns or large vats of coffee from caterers.

Urns are cumbersome, and the long brewing time means you’ll need to rotate between them, but at least you can keep the flow of coffee going.

Catering vats, on the other hand, come ready to go, and are one less thing to worry about.

Don’t forget about the tea drinkers! Keep hot water and cups on hand.

Provide lots of water.

We tried giving out water bottles a couple years ago, not realizing that the bottles needed to be washed in advance. (Woops.) Since then we’ve stuck to using bottled water.

We purchase the water in bulk from Costco, and place a few aside in each room for our presenters. The rest of the bottles were set aside with the rest of our beverages.

Fruit juice n’ pop.

As with the water, we purchase these in bulk from Costco. (Yep, “Costco Runs” are a thing. Find a volunteer with a van!)

Keep the receipts for everything you purchase so that you can get reimbursed afterwards.

Tight budget? Prioritize.

If nothing else, provide water, coffee/tea, and lunch. 🙂

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