Category Archives: WisCon 39

WisCon 39 Con Suite postmortem

Chris W.
Con Suite

By far the biggest changes at WisCon 39 were in our Con Suite. The most momentous of the changes was that Hope Kiefer, our Con Suite organizer for 18 incredible WisCons, stepped down from the concom. Together with David Devereaux-Weber, her co-organizer for many years, Hope made the Con Suite into the amazing space that we all know and love — a friendly, welcoming space where anyone can pick up a snack or a full meal. Our Con Suite is a great place to relax and chat with friends, and it’s also a key component to how WisCon works to make attending the convention more financially realistic for many members. This all came about because of the hard work and dedication of both Dave, who stepped down from the concom in September 2014, and Hope, and we’re deeply grateful to both of them.

WisCon 39 challenges

With Hope officially stepping down from the Con Suite at the end of March 2015, we were in a bit of a scramble to find someone who could take on the responsibility of wearing the apron. By late April, the concom had assembled a team of three for the Con Suite — Julia as lead, with Jen and myself (Chris) assisting as co-coordinators.

Julia immediately set about talking with Hope to get the basic Con Suite information and shopping lists so that we could place our food orders, but we immediately ran into one enormous problem — we were now only three weeks out from WisCon, and placing orders was not only difficult but impossible in some places. Our soft drink order was initially denied because the distributor required a longer lead time, although eventually we were able to make arrangements with them. Some of our food orders had to be placed with different vendors because many places in Madison were already tied up with the annual Memorial Day Weekend Brat Fest. And one of our supply orders expected on the Friday of WisCon was delayed in Chicago for the weekend, although they very helpfully offered to deliver it first thing on Tuesday.

We look back now and say, “Wow, we managed to pull the Con Suite together in just three weeks.” And it certainly was an epic accomplishment! But at the time, unfortunately, we hadn’t articulated all of our challenges and expected changes to our community prior to the convention. This, too, was a result of our extremely shortened timeline. We had hoped to have a blog post announcing the new menus to expect — because we had planned several changes that we were really excited about and we couldn’t wait to share them with everyone! But with food orders changing almost daily and the Communications team (hi, that’s me, Chris, again) juggling a packed editorial calendar, we unfortunately just ran out of time to post information ahead of time. We deeply regret this and apologize.

WisCon 39 changes

hot dogs::

And then WisCon was upon us and immediately, everyone noticed one major change:

The hot dogs were gone.

We heard about this on the blog. We had comments from many Con Suite guests over the weekend. And we discussed the issue during the WisCon Postmortem panel on Monday afternoon.

Unfortunately, the beloved hot dog roller and everyone’s favorite tubular meats will not be returning. We did not lightly make the decision to ax the hot dogs — we took into consideration complaints from over the years that focused on the smell. And there were, indeed, complaints from many areas: from members, from party hosts, from the Concourse. The persistent smell of the hot dogs, so welcome to many members, turned the Con Suite into a space that many other members could not access. Every day that we were open we received several compliments thanking us for removing the persistent hot dog (and popcorn) smell and thereby turning the Con Suite into a more welcoming space for all convention members to spend time enjoying.

This was a difficult decision to make for WisCon 39 and it continues to be a hard decision to make for all WisCons going forward, because it’s very obvious that we’re disappointing our members by removing the hot dogs. And, of course, we really do hate disappointing our members! But this is one of those turning points where we have to consider what will make WisCon overall better accessible to all members, and unfortunately that does mean eliminating a smell problem.

(And as a side note from a logistical and health perspective: Machines like the hot dog roller and the popcorn popper, which run all weekend long and get very greasy, are a pain to clean at the best of times and doubly-so when we need to make sure that they’re thoroughly cleaned before going into storage for an entire year — and I’m saying this knowledgeably because I spent almost a decade as a concessionaire at a cinema. In the past the Con Suite volunteers were primarily Madison locals with more time to clean the machines properly. These days, the Con Suite crew are all flying home on Monday and Tuesday.)

limited hours::

The other biggest complaint we heard was about our reduced hours: Instead of staying open until 3am, we closed four hours earlier at 11pm. This is entirely because of limited staffing. The biggest sticking point here is that the Con Suite must have a ServSafe-certified supervisor on hand whenever food is being prepared or served. This is, in general, an excellent idea for providing the happiest, healthiest convention hospitality suite we can! And it’s also something required of WisCon by our contract with the Concourse after an infamous incident in 2008 that’s become known as WisCholera — when a norovirus outbreak, which was ultimately not traced back to WisCon (let alone the Con Suite), swept not only WisCon but much of Madison.

The ServSafe requirement in our hotel contract is that if we don’t have a certified supervisor on hand, then the Con Suite must close for the time being. And because we had relatively few ServSafe certified Con Suite volunteers going into WisCon 39, we deliberately limited the hours so that we didn’t give any false hope. For WisCon 40, we may not be able to keep the Con Suite open quite so late as it had been in previous years, but we are already looking at possible ideas to keep it open later during the evening party hours. When we have a firm plan, we will announce it, I promise!

grab-and-go food::

One new feature of the Con Suite that was well-received was the introduction of lots of food that you could grab and take with you. Sometimes the Con Suite is full, sometimes you’re on your way to a panel, sometimes you just want to crash in your room with a snack. We’re hoping to expand this feature for WisCon 40.

expanded options for dietary restrictions::

Another goal that we had this year was improving our options for those with dietary restrictions. We tried to provide options that were gluten-free, that were vegetarian, that were vegan. We especially tried to expand the options for non-meat proteins. Overall, our options for restricted diets were extremely well-received — which meant, unfortunately, that we were also regularly running out! We’re increasing our orders for everything.

new hot meals each night::

We also experimented with not only having hot meals every night at dinner-time, but with offering a new main dish each time. Friday night was Ian’s Pizza, which was gobbled up in no time. Saturday night — because we were in Wisconsin, after all! — we had brats that had been slow-cooked all afternoon. (Yes, there was a momentary panic that the brats were undercooked, but the culprit turned out to be a defective thermometer. We tested things with our other two thermometers and got accurate readings. Plus we microwaved the rest of the brats just to be on the safe side.) Sunday night was cocktail meatballs which had been cooked in a mix of cocktail sauce and grape jelly — and which were, our volunteer reported, “hoovered down at an alarming rate.”

WisCon 40

WisCon 39 was definitely a bumpy Con Suite in many ways, but in many other ways it was also incredibly successful. The number of food runs we made during the weekend suggests that the menu was, overall, very well received. The catering from Willy Street Co-op in particular was praised all weekend long. At the Postmortem panel, most of the complaints centered on not understanding all the changes, which was entirely a communications problem that we are very, very cognizant of (since Chris (hi!) happens to be on both the Con Suite and the Communications crews), and we’re already planning to have blog posts leading up to the convention to announce both our hours and our menus for the weekend.

One thing we’d very much like, as we plan out the Con Suite for this year, is feedback from you — our community. How do you use the Con Suite? What times are you there? What did you think of the changes for WisCon 39? We’ve created a survey at SurveyMonkey, and we really hope you’ll take a few minutes to add your thoughts. The survey will close on Wednesday, March 30, at 11:59pm Central Time.  For those two weeks, we also invite comments from you here on this blog post.

We all had a tremendous amount of fun operating your favorite convention diner last year, and we can’t wait to tie on the apron and to serve you again this May. See you at WisCon!

-> Con Suite survey at SurveyMonkey

Errata for Sunday

134 Call Out Culture II: Follow-up to the Discussion Held at WisCon 38
Feminism and Other Social Change Movements • Senate A • Sunday, 10:00–11:15 am
Riley is no longer a panelist.

156 Triple the Strength, Triple the Power!
Reading • Conference 2 • Sunday, 1:00–2:15 pm
Laura Lis Scott was unable to attend WisCon.

163 Don’t You Think He Looks Tired: Strategies for de-Moffatting Doctor Who
Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction • Caucus • Sunday, 2:30–3:45 pm
Christopher Hatton has been added as a panelist.

166 Communities and Languages: A Dialogue Across Worlds
Feminism and Other Social Change Movements • Wisconsin • Sunday, 2:30–3:45 pm
Kimberley Long-Ewing is no longer a panelist.

172 Intersectional Body-Positivity
Power, Privilege, and Oppression • Conference 4 • Sunday, 2:30–3:45 pm
The Rotund is no longer a panelist.

173 Elim Garak’s Weird Cardassian Penis
Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction • Conference 5 • Sunday, 2:30–3:45 pm
Christopher Hatton is no longer a panelist.

179 Identity outside the United States
Power, Privilege, and Oppression • Senate A • Sunday, 4:00–5:15 pm
Ashok Banker was unable to attend WisCon.

186 Historical Vampires and Buzzfeed Monsters
Academic • Conference 3 • Sunday, 4:00–5:15 pm
Tassie Gniady was unable to attend WisCon.

What I do: Dessert Diva

(First in a one-part series.)
Okay, okay, so that’s not the actual title, but it’s a lot more fun than Dessert Salon Coordinator, don’t you think? Plus, it comes with a sash. Seriously.

So what does a Dessert Diva do?

It starts at the beginning of the year when I contact our hotel’s banquet coordinator and ask for a list of desserts and prices. They talk to the pastry chef and eventually I get a list of 25 or 26 options from which I choose 20. I make sure we have a variety of flavors and textures and I make sure that we have plenty of vegan, nut-free, and gluten-free items. Then I start crunching numbers. Did you know we order 822 individual desserts each year? (A secret: We order 7 dozen chocolate-covered strawberries.) I not only have to balance flavors, textures, and allergens but I have to make sure that we order the right amounts. I order a lot of chocolaty desserts and a few of each of the vegan offerings. I don’t want you to be disappointed and we don’t want a lot of one thing left over because I ordered too much. I also want to make sure that everyone feels like they have plenty to choose from, even those with the strictest diets.

Once I decide on amounts of things—including the coffee, tea, and milk—I put it all on a spreadsheet which tells me how much it will all cost. If that isn’t too heart-stopping, I send it back to the hotel and then I kick back and answer your questions about allergens—which are sent from me to the hotel banquet coordinator to the pastry chef to the hotel banquet coordinator and then back to me—until the night of the Dessert Salon when I dress up, make sure you don’t have any questions or concerns, and order more beverages if we run out before the speeches start. The number of desserts I make off with is a closely-guarded secret. (Six, okay? I tried six last year. Don’t judge me!)
Did you know I can hold a dessert or two for you if you have allergies and want to make sure you get something that you’ll be able to eat? That’s part of my job, too. I even have an email address: dessert@wiscon.net

After the con, I contact the hotel’s banquet coordinator again and they tell me which desserts were left over and which disappeared really fast so I have an idea for the next year of how to better balance the order. Voila! Job done!

How did you become the Dessert Diva?

Well, in this case, it was all about who I knew. I had a friend who wanted to take a break and I just happened to be ready to take on a little responsibility. But you don’t have to know someone to get in on the action! When we have volunteer opportunities we post them on our blog. You can also check our at-con volunteer board on the 2nd floor for at-con volunteer opportunities.

It’s a delicious job, but somebody’s got to do it!

Lighthearted Shorthand Sans Fail

Panelist Jeanne Mealy brings these highlights from the Lighthearted Shorthand Sans Fail panel:

“The moderator is laughing too hard to moderate.” said Sumana Harihareswara at one point, and Heidi Waterhouse says she won’t soon be getting over the “douche industrial complex.”

The alternatives to terms like “you guys,” that we perhaps unconsciously use all the time, were (and may still be) posted outside of Capitol A (on the second floor to the left of Registration).

Dessert Salon Bourse

by Lenore Jones

What do I do if my plans change at the last minute, and I suddenly want to go / can’t go to the dessert salon? Come by Reg if it’s before 4:30 to buy / sell your ticket. If it’s after that,  don’t despair! There will be a Dessert Salon Bourse as usual, for last-minute buys and sells of dessert tickets. The Bourse will open at 5:15 and close at 7:00, at the Reg Desk. No ticket buy-backs or sales after 7, so hurry on in if your plans change!

Tickets purchased at the bourse will be $20 each.

 

Don’t need it? Pack it!

Joanna & Gail
The Gathering

clothes & shoes lying on a bed
This savvy WisCon member packed up some clothes to donate to the Gathering.

Don’t forget to pack some awesome clothes for the WisCon clothing swap, happening at the Gathering from 1 pm to 3:45 pm Friday!  All clothes remaining at the end of the Gathering will be donated to the Community Action Coalition.

New this year — the WisCon Gathering will be hosting a nail polish swap! Bring some unloved but good-condition bottles & find new colors! Feel free to take a bottle home even if you don’t bring one.