Today I drove out to Dearborn to visit Restaurant Depot. They're a supplier of food supplies to restaurants, and I thought I'd see how their prices compared to Costco for ConFusion consuite purposes.

They have some very good prices on meat and produce, but not for the sorts of things ConFusion uses. And they have weird membership requirements that means that AASFA wouldn't actually qualify for a membership. You need to be a nonprofit, which AASFA is, sort of (we're a domestic nonprofit corporation in Michigan), but what they really mean is tax-exempt nonprofit, which we are not. That said, the desk staff did allow me to get a membership on behalf of my cohousing community, because they didn't actually check to see that I had the appropriate documentation. I'm not going to use said membership, and will probably call to have them cancel it, because it required signing something that says we are tax-exempt, and we're not.

But it was definitely interesting seeing the gigantic (and I do mean gigantic) bags of dried chiles, and whole frozen lambs and other oddities.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I went round the corner to Advance Restaurant Supply, which is always fun to look around. (Although perhaps most the first time, as their stock doesn't change much.) I got an airpot for the ConFusion consuite because it was on clearance, and picked up a few little gadgety things for around the house. I nearly bought two more half sheet pans for the common house, because I'm always running out when I'm cooking, but I decided against it. They are the best bargain in the place, at only $5.40 apiece! Buying a similar piece at kitchen store pricing would cost you $20 or more.

And since I'd borrowed Eric's car for all of this, I got to try out the built in Bluetooth phone connection in the Prius. It's way cool. Now I know why [livejournal.com profile] eviljohn was jonseing for a Treo 650 for so long.
Yes, January is a long way away, but it's good to start thinking about these things early.

I will be running the consuite at ConFusion again. Unlike last time, I'm only in charge of the main consuite - smoking consuite and Green Room have their own heads. Anyone on my flist planning to attend ConFusion and want to be on my staff? [livejournal.com profile] dlacey - you were an amazing second last time, are you up for working with me again?
So, I posted this last weekend, but since a few people who I know were looking for it didn't comment, I'm thinking it may have gotten lost in weekend LJ backlog.

Anyway, I've posted it over on conrunner.net, for anyone who's interested.

(Ignore the stuff at the bottom of the page - [livejournal.com profile] netmouse had created the page for me because I was having trouble, but by the time I got my content up there someone had already put stuff up that really shouldn't be on a page called "Sample Shopping List." So I just put mine on the top, and hopefully the admin will come along and move that other stuff to a more general page. I'm wiki-imparied, or I'd do it myself.)
Well, some of you, anyway.

I finally got all of the ConFusion receipts and have put together the master list of food that I purchased. There were about 720 people at the convention. This list is mostly for consuite/smoking consuite. It includes some things that were shared with green room (they got portions of the lunch meat, veggies, etc), but not things that were purchased specifically for Green Room. The following list represents $2,875 of the $3,377 I spent. The rest was on rental of beer equipment, paper supplies, food/drink supplies for the special events (beach party, Howard's wake), additional Green Room expenses, decorations, the Thursday night concom-GoH gathering, etc. Of the $2,875, I spent 40% on drinks (soda, juice, water), 19% on alcohol (beer, hard cider, wine), 23% on "real food" (sandwich fixings, fruit, veggies, cheese), 10% on snacks (chips, pretzels, candy) and 9% on breakfast food. The drinks total includes deposit on the 2,564 returnable soda cans we purchased - so we'll get some of that money back when I get around to returning the cans that are sitting in the cube (must do that soon, definitely before spring!).

Without further ado... )
So as I said, Friday night I mostly spent feeling like I was running behind. Saturday morning I woke up early (of course), but at least that gave me time to catch up. I reorganized all of the food storage so that things made sense and it was easier to see what we actually had, then started developing restocking lists. I went to Meijer to pick up the things I needed there, and meanwhile, [livejournal.com profile] dlacey started counting soda, figuring out how much we'd used so we'd know how much more to buy. Then it was off for another trip to Costco, where we only filled one flatbed and one shopping cart, and were able to load everything into Matt's full size rental car.

Late in the afternoon I realized that I forgot to buy foam cups at Costco, and we are nearly out. So off to Mejier I go, with Erik V. Olson in tow. We picked up a bunch of different things, including more wine for Saturday night. We went through 8 bottles on Friday, so we bought 4 more assuming consumption would be the same on Saturday night. And ended up running out of wine at 11! Oh well. We also bought two hot rotisserie chickens, to bring back to the consuite as a special treat. As you'd expect, they were a big hit.

We did a bunch of things like that throughout the weekend. One of the reasons I think people liked this year's consuite so much was that we had a lot of variety. When looking at shopping lists from previous years, I could see that they'd spent about the same amount of money, but only on a few things. So they had carrots and broccoli for veggie trays, where we had carrots, broccoli, snap peas, cucumber, peppers, and grape tomatoes. Mostly budget neutral, but much more interesting. I bought a 3 lb package of pre-made guacamole from Costco, and we doled that out Saturday afternoon. Instead of buying a big jug of mediocre salsa from Costco, I spent more money on that line item and bought 7 or 8 different varieties of salsa in the regular size from Meijer. At any given time we'd have 4 or 5 available to choose from - extra spicy, green, black bean and corn, etc. Tortilla chips are cheap to buy, so you want people to eat them instead of the more expensive options, and this gave them a reason to do so. And was one of the main ways that I tried to add some "Tammy style" to the offerings. I did the same thing with mustard, having 6 or 7 different options there too.

I got comments from folks that they liked that there was always something different when they went into the consuite. Sure, you might be bummed that you missed the chicken, but you were there when the leftover shrimp ring came up from Green Room. Etc. I bought two big rounds of brie, and put quarters of those out periodically throughout the weekend. We cubed up the other varieties of block cheese that we bought, and I found that it didn't go as well that way, so next time I would keep those in bigger pieces and let people cut their own.

In the mornings, we had cereal, bagels, danishes, muffins, granola bars, poptarts, juice, etc. We ran out of milk for cereal on Sunday, and I ended up paying the hotel $12 to buy 10 little 8 oz containers of milk. Around 11 we'd put the breakfast foods away, and start putting other things out. At noon and midnight each day we put out lunch meat and cheese for sandwich fixings. And we kept out peanut butter, jelly and marshmallow fluff for sandwich making any time of night or day. At Diane's suggestion, we also had soup. The Cream of Broccoli that we put out on Friday got mostly ignored, so thought the soup idea was a failure, but the tomato soup on Saturday was much more popular. For fruit we had apples and bananas and clementines and oranges, and kept out a variety at all times. Veggie trays were another constant feature - no coming into the consuite and only having junk food to choose from. Things like cheese and hardboiled eggs and such came out every hour or so. We had a big 5 lb jar of animal crackers that got completely devoured by Saturday night, lots of Oreos, some Milanos, two bite brownies and some quickbreads. That was another example of buying a small amount of something, but having it go a long way - I bought one package of three quickbread loaves (banana, poppyseed, something else). Once on Friday night and twice on Saturday, we'd cut up a loaf, put it on a tray with some of the brownies, and we had our special thing for that hour. We had M&Ms, Mike & Ikes, and Skittles (it's important that candy choices not be individually wrapped, like Hershey's Kisses or Reeses - they make too much mess).

I ended up having to make one last shopping run to Costco on Saturday afternoon, when we realized that our soda buying quantities from the morning had been too low, and we were definitely going to run out if we didn't get to the store. Don't know what happened to all of our Diet Coke drinkers - they drank 5 cases of soda Friday night to Saturday morning, and maybe only another 5 all day Saturday to Sunday morning. But Paul bought up all the extra flats, so that was okay. As I thought, soda buying was my real challenge for the weekend - with almost no numbers to go from, I really had no idea. Now I've got the big spreadsheet, so it'll be much easier for other people in the future. I pegged the water nearly exactly - we bought 20 cases (of 35) to start, then 5 more cases on Saturday morning, which was a little too much, so we ended up with 3 cases leftover. So much for all the people that were looking at me like I was crazy when I talked about buying that much water!

Saturday night was pretty relaxing for me. I'd finally gotten things organized, and all the shopping was done, so I was free to enjoy myself. I went down to the masquerade, visited some room parties, and hung out with Eric for a little while. But mostly I was still bopping around the consuite, keeping things clean and tidy and stocked. Which leads me to staffing. In terms of staffing, I had a shift supervisor scheduled in four hour blocks for every hour of the day. On top of that, we had requested a volunteer for each hour (although we didn't always get one, particularly on Saturday night and Sunday). From 7pm to 3 am on Friday and Saturday, we had a bartender staffing the kegs and wine. On top of all those people were Diane and myself, who spent nearly all of our waking hours in the consuite. While we did occasionally trip over ourselves, for the most part, I found that having that many people was also a big asset in keeping things running smoothly and keeping things clean and stocked.
So, for those unfamiliar with the space, the ConFusion consuite is made up of a central hospitality parlor, and an adjoining room on either side. I made a few key changes to the space usage this year that greatly improved the flow. For the first time, we split the soda, putting the regular soda in the bathroom of the left hand side room, and the diet soda in the bathroom of the right hand side room. This meant we didn't have to stock tubs as often and could have a better variety at any given time. Also, the main room has a built in bar right as you enter. This would seem the obvious place to put beer, wine, etc, but it means you end up with a big crowd right at the door and people can't get into the room easily. So we moved beer and wine dispensing into the right hand side room. In addition to improving the flow, all of these changes also encouraged people to use the side rooms a little more than they had previously.

Another big change was in the space where the food gets laid out. I managed to get them to remove the big dining table, so we were able to create a U along the outside of the space with a cocktail round in the middle under the chandelier so people couldn't bonk their heads. We used a 6 foot table under the window, and 8 foot table between the seating area and the food area, and a four foot desk we moved from one of the adjoining rooms to fill in the space between the six foot table and the built in bureau. This gave us lots of space to lay out food and for people to be able to access it easily. Keith Kurek set up some computer monitors showing pulp magazine covers on top of the bureau, so we could have had even more room if we'd wanted/needed it.

We used the bathroom area in the main suite for prep and storage. There's a roomy hallway leading back there, so we put one shelving unit there and another in the closet. We stacked some boxes in the bathroom itself, used the bathtub for cold storage, and had a few things behind the bar in the main room. It was tight, but we managed, and there are other bits of furniture in the room that could have been used for storage if necessary.

The left had side room, with the regular pop, we coined the Beach Room. We had some ambitious decorating plans, but Chris ran out of time getting lights up, so we weren't able to do the patio lanterns in that room. But we did wrap most of the room in a 50 foot long, 4 foot tall, plastic sheet printed with palm trees and the like. Friday night we had a Beach Party in the beach room - we played surf music (thanks to Erik V Olson for burning me some CDs), Wyn and Matt mixed up blender drinks, and we handed out leis as the door. We ran it for just about an hour - it was a good party and got people in good spirits to start off the convention. It got off to a messy start when I knocked a container of drink mix off the table and it cracked open, spilling pina colada mix all over the floor. But we got it cleaned up in time, and the coconuty smell just added to the ambience, right?

The right hand side room, with the diet pop and the beer, we thought of as the bar. Cause, well, that's where the bar was. It had rope lights in different colors around the ceiling, as well as big 4 foot tall sillouhettes of jazz musicians. We removed the beds and most of the other furniture from the room, and put in 3 small cocktail rounds and chairs, as well as a classroom table along the wall for the beer. It was a little crowded, but mostly worked well. During the day on Saturday we used that room for readings. I had originally suggested to Jeff that we hold a couple of Literary Beers Saturday afternoon - basically a Kaffeeklatch with beer instead of coffee. What I ended up with was all of the readings for the weekend being scheduled in the consuite, which was NOT what I had in mind! We moved out the Friday night (do you see now Jeff how that just *wouldn't* have worked!) and the Sunday morning ones. The early ones on Saturday were okay, but as things got busier and noisier in the main room of the consuite, some of the authors were having a hard time hearing themselves read. But because half the soda was in that room, we couldn't just close the door. If we do something like this again next year, it should go back to the literary conversation idea, not a formal reading.

We had a couple of other events too. Saturday night we held a wake for Howard DeVore. I'd guess we had about 60 or 70 people crowded in to the main consuite to drink Jim Beam and tell stories about Howard. During the 45 minutes that was going on we closed the main door of the consuite, and routed people directly into the side rooms to get soda, which worked really well. Sure did get hot in there, though!

Saturday morning I scheduled a "Stitch and Bitch" and invited people to bring their needlework, etc and hang out for a couple of hours. It wasn't tremendously well advertised - it was in the program book and I sent it out to a couple of email lists before the con, so I was really pleased when 6 or 8 crafters showed up and worked!

In the early hours of Sunday morning we hit upon a great event for next year - ToddlerFusion! Between about 8 and 9:30 am, 80% of people who came into the consuite had a baby or toddler in tow. I think it would be great fun to schedule it as an event and put out some toys for the kids to play with.
As I was lying down in elevator lobbies and the like on Sunday morning, I was telling people "Don't mind me, I've been standing since Thursday" and that was mostly true. I got out to the convention around 1 pm on Thursday, and Chris Wurtsmith and I discussed the decorating plan. Chris has hundreds of strings of Christmas and other lights, and I recruited him to jazz things up for us. We used the 3-M Command adhesive clips, which worked great and didn't hurt the hotel wallpaper in the slightest.

I'd hoped to put a good dent in my shopping on Thursday, but I spent far too much time dithering about the room setup. I did get out to Meijer, so I could get the portions of my shopping list that I needed to get from there, some things [livejournal.com profile] celticmom1967 needed me to pick up for KidFusion, as well as supplies for the party after the concom/GoH dinner. Got back to the hotel and got things all ready for the gathering, then we headed off to dinner. I was between Author GoH Vernor Vinge and Fan GoH Chuck Firment, with Science GoH Mitchell Burnside-Clapp seated across from me, which made for interesting dinner conversation to be sure. Towards the end of dinner I started not feeling well and just started feeling worse once I was back at the hotel. By then my ConSuite head, [livejournal.com profile] dlacey, had arrived, so I passed things off to her and headed off to bed around 11. I'm really glad I did that. Even though I was only able to get about 6 hours of sleep, I felt much better in the morning and was able to head into the weekend something less than fully exhausted.

Woke up Friday morning intending to get off to Costco early and get that shopping run out of the way ASAP, only to get online to get directions etc and realize that Costco didn't open until 11. I also realized that I'd neglected to get a check from [livejournal.com profile] rmeidaking on Thursday night, so couldn't actually pay for things at Costco. Roxanne wasn't expected to arrive until 1, so I made arrangements to have her meet me there when she arrived, figuring even if we arrived right at 11, it was going to take two hours to do that much shopping anyway. Meanwhile, Diane and I met up with [livejournal.com profile] rikhei at GFS, and grabbed the items we needed from there. Unfortunately, they did NOT have the pre-hardboiled and peeled eggs at that location. So I called (and woke up - sorry!) [livejournal.com profile] elizilla, who had not yet left Ann Arbor and agreed to stop and pick up a couple of cases for us. We picked out our meat and set the deli guy to slicing it for us, but he wasn't done by the time we finished our other shopping, so I sent Rikhei and Diane back to the hotel with what we'd already picked up, and I went off to Trader Joes.

At Trader Joes I got a case of wine, 3 different bottles of four $4.99 wines, including this really nice Spanish wine I'd enjoyed a couple weeks ago. Plus some cookies as a gift for the hotel front desk staff. Back to the hotel to meet Matt Fanny, who had agreed to drive the big rental truck to Costco for me. Didn't get out nearly as promptly as I'd hoped, in part because of discovering that we'd received a bunch of donated food, including 4 or 5 flats of 60 individual bags of potato chips! As well as some crackers, cookies and 3 jars of marshmallow fluff. And the same person was offering to get bread for us for an Aunt Millie's warehouse near her house for 39 to 89 cents per loaf! All very cool, but figuring it out took time, so we it was after 12 before we got on the road to Costco.

Roxanne met us there, and she, Matt Fanny and I started working through the shopping list I'd made. I was really happy to have done the pre-research that led to the shopping list, because it was very fast to just buy instead of also shop, and as long as I was only buying what was on my list, I knew I was on target for my budget. We filled two flatbed carts (one with soda, one with water) and 3 or 4 large shopping carts! I'm planning to post my shopping list once I've had a chance to update it, so you can all see the crazy quantities!

It was about 2:30 when we got back to the hotel. So much for the consuite opening at 3 pm... I recruited some early arrivers to help us get things set up, and we were pretty much up and running by 4 pm. But I spent much of the rest of the evening feeling overwhelmed and behind. We were still decorating the beach room after the consuite was officially opened, but that had to get finished, because the beach party was scheduled to start at 10.

But that will have to wait until another post.
Well, things appear to be coming together as well as they can be expected to. I realized in time that the person who had offered to make my beer arrangements and I hadn't connected as well as we should of, and that no beer had yet been ordered. So I made a couple of calls to the same suppliers we used last year. From Leonard's Syrups, I got two "SuperDraft" beer coolers systems. Then I called Danny at Starr Market to hook me up with beer and cider. "Okay, baby, no problem. I got you covered." There's nothing like ordering kegs of beer from a man with foreign accent who calls you baby. Woo-hoo. I feel like I've completed some right of passage. Now the big question - send someone else to pick up the beer, or meet Danny myself? Hmmmm...

Meijer had a sale on potato chips this past weekend that made them cheaper than I could by from Sam's Club, so I bought 20 bags of potato chips, carefully bringing them home in boxes so they wouldn't get crushed. Corn chips and pretzels and other crunchy salty snacks will be purchased at Costco, along with a whole heck of a lot of canned soda. I did buy a few cases at Meijer - the unusual varieties that Costco doesn't carry. Also got the blender drink mixes there, since they were also on sale. Still need to get rum for the blender drinks and Jim Beam for [livejournal.com profile] bighoward's wake.

Thursday morning I'll stop at Trader Joe's before I head off to the hotel to pick up a case of cheap but interesting wine. I have no idea how much wine to buy, but I figure that's a good place to start. Thursday afternoon we'll start setting up the room and decorating, and I'm hoping to get some shopping done that day as well. If nothing else, I need to pick up a few things for the gathering that follows the GoH/ConCom gathering.

Initial indications look like attendance might be down a little, so I'm planning to buy low and do a restocking run on Saturday. Weather for the weekend looks good, so I won't have to worry about not being able to get to the store, like last year.

I sent out the schedule of who's working when. Smoking consuite is still woefully understaffed, so I'm going with my no alcohol, minimal munchies plan. The advantage of that is that I'll be able to have two different beers plus cider on tap in the main consuite.

Tomorrow I need to call Panera and place my order for 18 dozen bagels. But I think that's the last thing on my to-do list, outside of the last minute shopping bonanza.
ConFusion is coming up really quick. Less than a week away now!

I've got a shopping list that I'm pretty happy with, I think. Got two years worth of receipts to look over - neither of which managed to include the soda buying information I was looking for. So I'm going to use my best guesses, and return cases as necessary. But I got some good ideas for quantities of other things.

[livejournal.com profile] rikhei came out shopping with me yesterday to pick up decorations for the Beach Room and the Bar. We got a 4 ft tall by 50 ft long "scene setter" for the beach room. It's plastic sheeting with a beach scene to wrap the whole room in. Should look pretty cool. And leis and umbrellas for the beach party on Friday night.

The response from my smoking consuite staff recruits has been utterly underwhelming, so I've pretty much decided that I'll do a scaled down smoking consuite - no alcohol, minimal food, just pop and munchies, and if people want more substantial stuff they can come upstairs. That way I can run it just with a gopher to make sure they don't set the place on fire. I'm sure I'll take some criticism about it, but I think it will be much more manageable this way. I don't think they need to be separate but equal.

I'm sad so many of you won't be there this year, but hopefully it will still manage to be fun. We're flying Liam's grandma in to babysit for the weekend, so Eric and I will be on our own - that's pretty exciting, although I'll be busy running hospitality.
The good news - Costco is cheaper than Sam's Club on almost every item I need to purchase for the ConFusion ConSuite. I felt I needed to do the cost comparison, because if we could save a huge amount by shopping at the place of evilness, then I at least needed to consider it. But I'm very happy I don't have to. Costco has a slightly lesser selection of soda than Sam's, but a much better selection and better quality for some of the other items on my list. Now I just need to figure out which items to buy from Costco, and which to buy from Sam's. And to investigate further the delivery option described in the Costco membership book, because that could be extremely useful.

The bad news - I need to develop a shopping list, and I'm feeling woefully unprepared for the task. This should be a solved problem - people have been running ConSuites at ConFusion for decades now - I really shouldn't have to be figuring out how many cans of soda to buy!
As mentioned in my earlier insomnia post, I'm running Hospitality for ConFusion, which includes Consuite and Green Room. I'm looking for a few (or many) folks who really enjoy throwing a party and would like join my staff team. When it's done well, ConSuite isn't just a place to grab a soda or a bite to eat, it's the social center of the convention. Here's the bar we're striving for this year - I want ConSuite to win the party contest! To do that, I need cheerful, enthusiastic, friendly people who'll help create a warm, welcoming and fun environment.

If you're coming to ConFusion (January 20-22, 2005, Troy MI) and would like to help out, comment or email me.

Even if you're not coming, or can't work, I'd love to hear your ideas, or stories of when you've seen a ConSuite really shine. What's the best ConSuite you remember? What made it so good?

Thanks!

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tammylc

April 2010

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