Catering

Distribution

For main meals, you'll need to sort of people with dietary requirements first.

You might need to keep people to only having one portion if you are dealing with certain businesses. This can be done with either a tick mark on their wristbands (like HackSheffield) or a card (like StudentHack) or even a QR code (like HackUPC).

For snacks, having a table and periodically adding new things to it as it gets emptied works. It's worth trying to time this after meals to avoid people getting full before a whole meal. Snack tables should ideally be out of direct sight of the hackers, especially at larger hackathons, to avoid the crab bucket.

What To Get

It tends to be preferable to get food the hackers can eat with their hands over things like curries.

It's generally recommended to have some food at midnight as the time between dinner and Breakfast is quite long. But budget-wise, this can be quite hard to do if you are tight on money.

Just some experiences and comments on various places. (We do appreciate comments on smaller businesses as well as other events nearby benefit!)

Main Meals

Food Trucks

You might find nearby food trucks capable of serving your event.

Food can be higher quality than the normal franchise and give attendees more of a choice, but does tend to be a bit more expensive.

The queues can be quite long, and if they setup outside in the colder months it might be bit too cold for attendees to stand outside for too long.

Advised against for larger-sized hackathons.

Dominos

Everyone love pizza.

Can be quite expensive, but depends on the hackathon location and nearest pizza delivery store. Cost quoted to CovHack was £8 per large pizza, where HackNotts pay £6 per large.

Need to get a good balance. Over buying Margarita tends to be an issue.

The vegan pizza is not well liked.

Papa John's

The vegan pizza, generally, is much better received compared to Dominos.

Subway Platters

Generally goes down well. They tend to need a lot of time to prepare, so lunch might need run later. Generally done as a Lunch either on the start or the end of the hackaathon.

Really good option for vegetarians! And they provide sheets regarding allergies, etc.

It's about £18-£20 per plater, with some volume discounts.

McDonalds

Very good for large orders and very well priced. Tends to go down well with hackers. Decent for vegetarians, if a little boring. They can take the order pretty close to the event. (Handy if you get funding late.)

CovHack had a really good experience with our local franchise and AstonHack has had it starting AstonHack 4.

Zizzis

Offers a good vegan pizza and has a whole menu for dietary requirements.

Breakfast

Heading to an Aldi/Lidl/Costco/Makro and picking up various things is what tends to work best. Breakfast never tends to be too well attended.

Many companies that provide breakfast simply do the Costco shop for you and charge you double.

Snacks

Usual Costco stuff works well. Various soft drinks, juices, crisps, sweets, etc.

Try not to buy purely caffenated drinks, if hackers would like to deteriorate their health let them do it, not you.

Dietary Requirements

Make sure you cater for people with dietary requirements first! This reduces issues related to cross-contamination.

It's potentially worth sending an email about what you are serving beforehand to find out issues beforehand.

You should keep note of who has requirements that can't be covered by your normal food sources and also maintain a list of places that can cover all the common requirements so attendees do not have to wait for several hours. Hackathons usually do this via their ticket booking system as it is recorded to the attendee.

Some common requirements to have are:

  • Vegetarians
  • Pescatarians
  • Vegans
  • Gluten Free
  • Lactose Intolerance / Dairy Free
  • Religious Requirements (eg: Halal)
  • Allergies (eg: Nuts)

Some sites that had relatively good information on these:

Vegetarians

Vegetarians are fairly easy to handle. Most places will offer vegetarian options at the same cost of normal options.

Worth considering is that some vegetarians don't consume eggs (some religious requirements cover this.)

Pescatarians

As you generally do not serve fish at hackathons, pescatarians can be handled the same way as vegetarians.

Vegans

Vegans do not consume animal products, which means even a lot of vegetarian options aren't suitable.

You can either structure your vegetarian food to be vegan, or get arrange it separr

Gluten Free

Some people suffer from various conditions that mean they can not consume gluten, which covers protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats.

A lot of places will offer food that is gluten free nowadays, but you have to check with everyone.

Lactose Intolerance / Dairy Free

Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as a dairy free. Those with dairy allergies can be very serious, so it's best to check with the hacker about how serious it is.

Not being able to consume dairy effects a lot of options, most chains will cover it though. Remember, eggs aren't dairy so they can be part of options for this.

Religious Requirements

Events normally cover religious requirements like Halal/Kosher with vegetarian options, but if you can offer it it would probably be appreciated.

Allergies

Allergies can be quite hard to handle due to how variable they can be. You'll have to ask attendees when they register and when they arrive so you can accommodate this. Make sure to also be extra careful with uncommon allergies that attendees have

One key thing to handle is cross contamination. Allow those with allergies to be served first, so the allergen options don't get cross contaminated from other options. This also ensures there are still available options before the rest of the hackers eat.

You can find some information on the NHS website covering common ones.

Try to keep an emergency contact for each of your attendees if they have a strange allergy.