What about the food?

Tray of cookies

Last year I shared some thoughts about course food in an email. As a result of some unexpected comments I’ve received recently, I decided to revisit the topic.

Food@Incus

First, some background. As you will know if you have attended a course at Incus Data, we have an area where refreshments are served during the day. This is continually replenished. You will always be able to have tea, rooibos tea, coffee, hot chocolate, water or Game. And two kinds of rusks and a wide variety of home-made biscuits. And mints and other sweets.

At lunch time, we serve a balanced, cooked meal: meat or chicken, a carbohydrate like potatoes or rice, a vegetable dish and a salad. Plus juices and colddrinks. (Ok, we often cheat on Fridays, and have pizzas.)

We take the catering seriously. I spend time planning the menu for the caterer to ensure variety and colour, and we monitor the quality of the food carefully.

Why? We pride ourselves on being professional. And that extends to everything in our environment, from pristine bathrooms to the assortment of biscuits.

The real goal

But ultimately the food doesn’t matter. Our goal is to teach programmers new skills. That’s the really important objective. We want each delegate to walk out after the course knowing significantly more than he or she knew at the start of the course.

Delegates love the food

But it sometimes seems that the food is more important to the delegates than I expect.

I have been surprised by how often people comment on the great food in their course evaluations. I was even more surprised when we received a complaint in 2018 that we didn’t serve breakfast. (No, we don’t serve breakfast. We’re not a hotel. Why did you expect breakfast?)

Virtual food isn’t the same

With the rise of COVID-19, life has significantly changed for most of us. In South Africa, lockdown was imposed from midnight of 26 March 2020.

For us at Incus Data, it has meant a complete shift to virtual training. This year we have given more virtual courses than classroom courses. Our virtual courses have the same lecturer, the same material and, as far as possible, the same energy. But the one thing they obviously don’t have, is the food.

With the move to level 2 lockdown, and now level 1, some people have asked when we will start classroom training again. As the risk of infection has not changed, I didn’t understand the request. Why would people want to take that risk, when they can attend the course from home?

So we asked. And the people who ask for classroom training have one of two reasons:

  1. They are struggling with either internet access or privacy at home. I understand that – it’s a real issue for many.
  2. They miss the food.

Really? 

How important is the food?

Am I the only one who finds this strange? I admit I’m not a “foodie” — as long as I have a good supply of tea and chocolate, I don’t care about food or restaurants.

So I have to ask. When choosing training, how important is the food really?

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