Conferences Should Publish Menus

When organising conferences and other events, you often end up feeding people. This is a surprisingly fraught endeavour, but one that can be made less so with this one entirely sensible trick: Publish a menu in advance, ideally with an ingredients list.

Doing so gives people a much better understanding of whether they’re going to be able to eat anything at your event1, or whether they need to bring their own food.

People are complicated to feed. Many of us have dietary requirements of varying degrees of specificity, and many of those requirements are borderline incompatible. As a result, trying to cater for everyone’s preferences in a large group of people is legitimately hard.

People with complicated dietary requirements are used to this, but the ambiguity is a source of considerable annoyance – it’s fine bringing your own food, but it would be nice to know if you have to bring your own food. Having this information in advance is very life improving, and is significantly lower effort for venues to provide than trying to cater for everyone would be.

In addition, there is a significant curb cut effect – even people who are well catered for will find this information life improving, because they will spend less time hunting for the one or two things they can eat, and will have a better idea of what to expect in advance – this will significantly cut down on wait times and generally improve the dining experience.

You should do this even if you think you are doing a very good job of catering for a wide variety of dietary requirements, because the reality of the range of possible dietary requirements is inevitably much larger than you think it is. e.g. I can’t eat raw onion, lamb, or broccoli, and I bet those are not things you have taken into account in your planning. By publishing information about what food you are providing, you allow people who are experts in their own dietary requirements to make that judgement.

This does not, of course, mean that once you have published these menus your obligations are done. Most people are not that hard to cater for, and yet are still reliably badly served. There is definitely low hanging fruit that it is worth any event of a sufficient size (say 20+ people) catering for by default – e.g. providing a vegan and gluten free option (a more specific example of low hanging fruit is to serve actual fruit in breaks as well as just pastries) is not that hard and will help a lot of people – but even if you decide not to do that you can still publish the menu and at least make that visible to the people it affects.

  1. This post is partially prompted by the fact that a conference managed to have an entire menu containing literally nothing I could eat.
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