DebConf15 was all-in-one-place, so food was served by the youth hostel canteen three times a day. Additionally, snacks were available from the bistro, which was open between 10:00 and 02:00 every day.
A problem we've been experiencing with DebConf and the ever-growing number of people who are conscious about their diet. In previous years, we had to ensure that people with preferences would be served separately, or else it happened occasionally that their supply ran out, as omnivores chose to sample tasty food elsewhere. We set out to address this problem at DebConf15.
Fortunately, we had a strong partner. The youth hostel's manager was already toying with the idea of serving more of a vegetarian baseline, and within minutes into the contract negotiation, we had an agreement that we'd try it. To cut to the chase, they did a great job.
We collected food preferences as part of the registration process, offering the choice between eating anything, vegetarian, and vegan. To cater for other preferences and allergies, we provided an additional option for people to e-mail us their needs. These numbers were passed on to the kitchen up front, allowing them to prepare a different choice for each meal, in sufficient quantities to allow everyone to try whatever they liked. This was very well received.
Three meals were served daily, all buffet-style.
Breakfast could be best described as "continental", with rolls, a meat & cheese & vegetable selection, jams, honey, and a chocolate spread. Müsli was on offer, as well as various yoghurt flavours. Every now and then, boiled eggs were available. Obviously, hot beverages, as well as milk (incl. soy and almond milk), and syrups (instead of juices, a German youth hostel tradition).
Lunch and dinner were generally hot, and varied throughout the conference. We had traditional German food (Spanferkelbraten), Asian-style stir-fries, Italian and Greek specialities like Lasagna and Gyros, all accompanied by a salad buffet to fill up your plate. Given the hot temperatures that melted deserts in the first couple of days, a selection of fruit was provided on alternate days.
At the bistro and the outside bar (a brewery wagon strategically placed next to the beergarden the venue built for us), attendees could buy their choice of drinks (Club Mate, Fritz Kola, juices, and lemonade), as well a selection of regional beers and wines. Snacks were served during opening hours, which the venue extended to meet our nerd needs, and included fresh sandwiches and wraps, and the regional Flammkuchen, a style of thin pizza.
Following our day trip on Wednesday, the hostel brought out their barbeques and prepared grilled dinner, again catering for special needs. On the morning following the end of the conference, we were treated with brunch — a gradual transition from breakfast to lunch, that meant that food service continued through the normal 10:00 to 12:00 hiatus, so that people could eat at times that suited their travel plans.
The feedback we received on food was remarkably positive. People were grateful for the diverse offerings and the friendly, efficient staff. We did install Debian on the laptop of one of them during the week. Even the vegans were happy, which needs to be pointed out especially because Germany is far away from supporting a true vegan lifestyle throughout, and many of them were quite sceptical before arriving at DebConf15.
All in all, it was very beneficial to the atmosphere and the intensity of collaboration to have food right on-site. The cafeteria was usually filled, but many also took their food into the courtyard, the beergarden, or sat on the lawn to eat it.
Usually, at DebConf, attendees venture into nearby towns for food, especially towards the end of the conference. It says a lot about the quality of the meals and the cafeteria that our assumptions about people who'd skip a given meal were woefully incorrect and even the venue commented on us being almost always complete. Yet, the venue managed to never leave a mouth unfed.