Catering for 300+ people is a serious undertaking. If you get these arrangements wrong, a lot of people are going to be very dissatisfied. This is why you need to establish good relationships with the people who work at your venues early on, so that they can help and advise you.

During the course of a conference day you should provide:

  • refreshments on arrival (anything from drinks and biscuits to a cooked breakfast - let your attendees know what you’ll be providing, so they can decide whether or they need to have breakfast before they arrive)
  • tea/coffee/cakes mid-morning
  • lunch (and perhaps tea/coffee after it)
  • tea/coffee/cakes mid-afternoon

These are not always provided during sprints, but it’s a good idea to do it if you can, as it encourages participation.

You may, depending on your budget and venues, also be able to provide a conference dinner as part of the event and/or a contributors’ dinner (for speakers, volunteers and sponsors).

Catering is most likely to be the greatest single cost of running your event - between 55% and 75% of your total expenses.

Food waste

Some caterers have a very lax attitude to food waste. At the end of a lunch at some events you will see shocking quantities of expensive food being thrown away. Not only are you paying for this food to be thrown away, it’s a disgusting waste and you should not allow it to be a feature of your conference.

You need to make it clear with your caterers that you do not want food to be prepared unnecessarily, and you are not under any obligation to your attendees to provide huge mountains of food or protect them from the shocking sight of empty food trays.

Your part in this is to ensure that your caterers know exactly how many people to expect at each meal. This means requiring your attendees to give you that information when they register; the simplest way to do that is to require answers on the registration form to the question: which of the following meals will you require?.

Dietary requirements

There are few things more miserable than going without food because you can’t eat anything that has been provided and no-one thought to ensure that there’d be something for you.

For religious, medical or other reasons some people can’t eat certain things. If you’re taking people to a restaurant or feeding them, you need to know how many special dietary requirements need to be catered for, and to supply the caterers with that information in advance.

It will often be the case that what people with special dietary requirements most need is information about the food being served. If someone has a kosher or halal diet for example, then simply labelling the food adequately will be enough for them to make suitable choices.

You need good communication with your caterers; they need information from you, and you need them to ensure that food is appropriately labelled (for allergies, vegetarians, etc), and if people need to ask for specially-prepared meals, it needs to be clear that they have to ask and whom to ask.

It will help your attendees, and save you time because then people won’t need to ask you, if you’re able to provide good information about food, in advance, to attendees.