Game Night Food Etiquette – Ask The Bellhop

Today we’ve got a two for one special on food based tabletop game night questions.

Drew Sanderson asks,

Game Night food etiquette. How important is it?

Ivan Sorensen asks,

What is the best way to organize the food run, so it doesn’t cut into game time?

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The Short Answer:

Of course food is important, but it’s not the be all end all. Food isn’t needed to enjoy a game night. All that’s needed for that is some games and some gamers to play them.

Terraforming Mars being played at Extra LifeThat said, I know many people who like to include snacks during their game nights and other people who like to include a full meal as part of their evening. I personally prefer to keep the two things separate.

The thing is, if there is going to be food at the game table there are some things to keep in mind. You want to protect your games, you want to be courteous with the food and you want to watch what you are eating and stick to board game friendly foods. Sleeve your cards, laminate your player aids, use coasters and if you can, keep food on side tables. Stay away from sticky powdery things. No wings or Doritos on game night.

As for organizing a food run, this goes along with being courteous. Either plan it so that it happens before or between games. Even better have someone deliver the food or get a non-gamer friend to do you a solid and pick it up for you.

The Long Answer:

You may or may not know this but besides being The Tabletop Bellhop I’m also the big dude behind Big Dude Likes Food, a hobby food blog talking about some of the amazing food I’ve eaten. It’s something I used to do more regularly that has taken a back burner to this whole Bellhop gig.

The point is, I love food. I would say I’m a foodie without being a food snob. I like to eat good, I like to try new things and I take food seriously. It’s far more than sustenance to me.

Windsor Style Pizza is the best pizza in the world.The thing is I don’t usually include food along with my gaming, at least not at the same time. A perfect day for me may include meeting up with friends for ramen before heading to the FLGS, then having everyone stop at a local pizzeria for some Windsor Style Pizza before heading back to my place for some more games. So there’s food and gaming involved but they aren’t at the same time.

It does happen though. For example, at our Gaming in the New Year party we ordered in pizza and we had some cheese, crackers and sausage as snacks throughout the night. Plus I’ve been to many game nights at other gamers places where food has been part of the experience.

So here are some tips and tricks when it comes to combining your love of food with your love of games.

Pick the Right Foods:

Some foods are just better to go with gaming than others. What you want to avoid are greasy, powdery, saucy and sticky foods.

Super messy coney dogs right next to a copy of Terraforming Mars!You don’t want anything that is going to get onto a player’s hands while they are eating and then transfer to your game components. This goes for full meals as well as snacks. So avoid the wings and ribs for dinner and save the bags of Smartfood Popcorn and Nacho Chips for Netflix and chill nights.

The other thing to consider is that if people are going to be playing and eating at the same time you probably want finger foods. Something people can hold onto with one hand while still being able to play with the other. You don’t want a big serving plate with three courses on it that all require to be cut up with a knife and fork getting in the way of your game of Power Grid. Sandwiches, cheese and crackers and even pizza fits well here. Just watch out for overly greasy pizza.

One of the last, but most important, things to consider when picking what foods to have during game night is the opinions of the players. Maybe one player is vegan, another is doing the whole Keto thing and the last just can’t stand mushrooms. It’s important to take peoples dietary needs and preferences into consideration when planning food for game night.

Be Courteous:

Don’t hog all the food to yourself. Don’t skip lunch because you know the GM is going to put snacks out and you can just fill up on those. Don’t race through slices of pizza hoping to get one more slice than everyone else. Bring money if you know people are going to be splitting on a meal later. If you aren’t interested in sharing food or a meal let the host know ahead of time. Don’t talk with your mouth full.

Basically all the rules for visiting a friend’s place or meeting up for any other meal apply to game night as well.

Protect Those Games:

If you know there is going to be food around your games you can and should prepare for that.

Star Wars Destiny being played at a local coffee shop.Sleeve your cards. Consider laminating any player aids or thin boards. Laminators can be gotten very cheaply now a days and most local business supply shops and educational stores will laminate things for you. Some even have heavy duty machines that can do things like game boards.

I know Snakes and Lattes actually uses spray varnish to lacquer all of their boards. Though I have also been warned that Testors Dullcoat can yellow over time.

Have a Food Friendly Game Space:

Besides actually taking steps to protect game components, you can also help protect your games by making the gaming area itself more food friendly.

Have coasters, lots of coasters, the kind with lips on them. Have paper towels and/or napkins readily available for those inevitable spills. Have plates, bowls or whatever you need, there and ready to be used.

If at all possible, use side tables. We have a set of wooden “TV Trays” that I put out around my main game table and I encourage people to keep their food and drinks on these instead of on the main table. That way if anything does happen all that gets messy is the table and maybe my game room floor.

You Don’t Have to Play and Eat at the Same Time:

Snacks are a common site at the game table. My personal preference is to pause to eat. When the pizza shows up we pause all of the games we are currently playing. We put the pies onto side tables. We get paper plates and napkins and we eat. No one plays any games. We sit and eat and talk about the night so far. What we’ve enjoyed, maybe what we will play next. It’s not until everyone is done eating that we get back to gaming.

Besides reducing the chance of a game getting damaged, it gives a nice break in the middle of a game night. It’s also a chance for people to use the washroom, get a new drink, step outside for a smoke, check their email, etc.

Getting the Food to Game Night:

To directly address Ivan’s question: the important part of organizing your meal time with your gaming is pre-planning.

You want to make sure everyone at the event knows the plan going in. They know that there will be a meal and what time that meal should be happening. They know how much money to bring and you know who’s in and who’s out before the game night even starts.

As I noted above, I prefer to have someone deliver the food and when ordering in, you can always specify a time you want the food to show up for. Most delivery places are good about that if you call far enough in advance. If, instead someone is picking up the food, it should be planned for a set time, allowing for driving time.

You are doing all of this so that you can plan your game night around it. If you know game night starts at 5 and food should show up at 7, then you know you have time for one 2-hour game or two 1-hour games. Then you will take a break and eat, and then get back into it with whatever is planned for the rest of the night.

Kicking it up a Notch:

So now that you know you are having some food with your game night and you’ve got some tips and tricks for making that a success, how about taking things up to the next level.

It’s time for a themed event. Pick a theme. Pick games that fit that theme and then pick foods and drinks that further reinforce that theme. Add even more ambiance by finding an appropriate soundtrack to play during the event.

Amazing looking bowl of RamenFor example I could plan a Japanese themed night. The pile of games would include TokaidoTakenokoSamuraiShogun and Yedo. I would get local gamer and owner of Kagerou Ramen House, Solon, to hook us up with some Ramen. For snacks there would have to be Pocky.  For background music I think I would pass on the J-Pop and go with some Kurosawa soundtracks.

While I love food, in general I prefer to keep my food and gaming separate. Not always though and I’ve been to many game nights that include food and drink as part of the fun. Do you like to have food out while you are playing? What are your food filled game night tips and tricks?

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