My perfect conference lunch

In a recent GoTime podcast titled “HallwayConf - A new style of conference” one of the topic discussed was how various conferences handled lunch breaks. Triggered by that I thought back at some of the lunch experiences I’ve had over the years at events like PyCon, WriteTheDocs, GopherCon, FOSDEM, KubeCon Europe, or the various dotConferences.

Ignoring FOSDEM for a second, most of them had some kind of buffet set up within a large room with lots of round tables, encouraging attendees to grab their food from the buffet and then sit down to chat with other attendees at these tables. This setup as a few problems:

  • Usually, that buffet is only available around the designated lunch-time. If you are not hungry at that time but might want to have something for later, bad luck.
  • Integrating lunch with things like coding sessions etc. is not easily possible (you really don’t want to sit with you laptop open on one of the lunch tables, trust me).
  • You might not want to actually chat with others while eating and so you’re pretty much sitting silently at a table either alone or with 5-6 other folks, trying really hard to avoid them.
  • The tables and the buffet are usually rather close to each other which makes the whole setup rather uncomfortable as people who want to get to the buffet have to someone make their way through the tables to get there.

Some conferences also provide lunch boxes (e.g. PyCon back in the days during the sprint days) but these also have a few problems:

  • Usually, the selection of meals is very limited. It’s not as bad as the usual airplane snack but the choice is usually binary (with meat or without meat)
  • Lots of plastic wrapping and single-use cutlery is involved, causing lots of waste

What would be my personal favourite lunch-style? A mix of these two:

  • On day one each attendee would get a portable bento box
  • During lunchtime, you could pick up meals from a buffet and put into that bento box. The meals could be quite flexible from soups or stews, to pasta, sandwiches, or salad. You just put what you want into your box.
  • Since the box is portable and tight, you could just take it with you throughout the conference venue (or even to some nearby park) and enjoyed your lunch under the sun or next to your work. If you enjoy the classic conference lunch experience, you could also eat your meal in a central location on round tables 😅
  • At the end of each day you return your box and receive a voucher for a new one that you can pick up in the morning again.

I have no idea how much actual effort something like that would be to set up but at least conferences with buffet-style lunches should have the infrastructure for cleaning those boxes so the only new component here would be around vouchers and handing out and returning the box.

If you’ve ever organised a large event also including something like a lunch setup, please let me know how unrealistic this idea is 😅

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