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Discussion on: What could be better than pizza and beer? Why you need to provide more inclusive food at your tech event.

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Brian Rinaldi

As an event organizer, I struggle with this. Obviously, I want everyone possible at the event - the more the better, whether this is a free or especially if it is a paid event. Doing anything that might potentially turn away an audience member just isn't in the typical event organizer's DNA.

That being said, there's always the balance between what can I do to please the largest number of people on my budget while still accommodating everyone as best I can. So, first, let's differentiate between a paid conference and a meetup. You focus on pizza and beer, which is generally not the paid conference menu, but a meetup menu.

Keep in mind, most meetup organizers that I know of pay for the food for everyone out of their own pockets. Some meetups do have sponsors or patrons that help, but in many, if not most, cases, the organizer either pays for all or a large portion of the food and drink. In some cases, a host will sponsor, but not give organizers a lot of option for food. I personally spent hundreds of dollars every year running meetups that were free to attendees...food/drink sponsorships were rare and thus I didn't feel in a position to place extra requirements on them for what they provided.

In fact, I spent hundreds of dollars buying pizza even when I didn't eat pizza (I was significantly overweight and pizza was not in my diet). I planned ahead for myself, preparing food for myself at home before I went. To this day, I generally try to avoid pizza and beer at meetups, and I generally assume that this is what a meetup will provide.

I do think you provide a nice compromise solution that, whenever possible, the organizer note what kinds of food will be served. This will allow people to decide whether they can partake in advance.

I think it is fair to expect more from paid conferences. Keep in mind that, in my experience, food is generally the single biggest cost for an event. Big conferences in conference hotels/convention centers often have a lot more flexibility and generally can, should and do accommodate different dietary restrictions. Smaller "community" conferences often have to make concessions to the limitations of their budget and catering options (depending on the venue). I think it is still fair to expect more from a paid conference than a free meetup, but its still important to keep in mind that not all events have the same resources available to easily make significant accommodations on food.