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WisCon 41 Con Suite — Seeking staff & at-con volunteers

WisCon Co-Chairs

Did you visit the Con Suite last year? Do you want to see WisCon’s Con Suite continue to be a place where people choose to eat and spend time?

Then we need you!

But there’s a catch.

Our intent is to specifically address the racist and misogynist abuse toward Con Suite staff and volunteers that we saw at last year’s con, so we are putting emphasis on recruiting Con Suite staff and volunteers who are white and male identified.*

What’s the difference between being Con Suite staff and a Con Suite volunteer?

Just a matter of scope and commitment.

Staff become part of our Concom prior to the convention, comprise a team under our Con Suite leads, are required to go through ServSafe training and certification (fees paid by WisCon) and to help to guide the work of volunteers, and will be asked to commit to a minimum of two three-hour shifts during the convention. Tasks will include setting and resetting the Con Suite space, preparing and portioning foods, maintaining and monitoring inventory, helping to order supplies, and unpacking and repacking equipment, among other things.

Volunteers are encouraged to go through ServSafe training and certification (fees paid by WisCon) though it isn’t required, must follow guidance from Con Suite staff and leads, don’t need to commit to any minimum number of hours, and are not part of the Concom. You can let us know that you intend to volunteer to help out in the Con Suite now or at any point before or during the convention. Tasks will include keeping the Con Suite clean and ready for visitors, directing foot traffic, assuring that everyone in the space is wearing shoes, helping staff to portion and set out food, helping staff to reset the space between mealtimes, and other things.

What will you get out of stepping up to become Con Suite staff, or volunteering?

The most crucial reward will be that we will continue to have a Con Suite where you will enjoy spending time and eating! We’ve had wonderful feedback — and very very high demand — for the Con Suite over the past two years. That means that the WisCon community loved what our Con Suite lead, Julia, created so much that she is no longer able to keep up with it. As a community we need to make sure that she and her successors lead a team that is both large enough that no one has to spend the entire convention working and capable enough that they can all rely on each other.

If pride in a popular Con Suite isn’t the reward you’re looking for, we’ve got more! All staff are automatically eligible to opt for a WisCon membership rebate of 40% of your registration fee, meaning that if you register for WisCon as an adult, you can opt to receive $20 of your $50 membership back after the con ends. Volunteering? You can get the same rebate deal as long as you volunteer at least six hours and ask the Con Suite lead to confirm those hours (ask how at the Registration Desk!).

To apply to join Con Suite staff, contact: recruitment@wiscon.net

To let us know you plan to volunteer in the Con Suite, contact: volunteers@wiscon.net

*Wait! You aren’t male identified, or you aren’t white, and you want to join the Con Suite team? Fantastic! We want to have you on the team as well, and we’ll work with you to make sure that your Con Suite experience is a good one. We are optimistic that we will not see a repeat of the poor behavior toward the Con Suite team last year, but we also assure you that behavior is a violation of our Code of Conduct, and will not be tolerated if we see it again.

Your new and improved Con Suite!

Con Suite

We have gotten a lot of feedback about how to improve the Con Suite, and we’ve been working hard to incorporate your suggestions to make the Con Suite a great experience for all our members.  The Con Suite is not just about fun and hospitality — though we’re big fans of both! It’s also an important accessibility and affordability measure, because it’s a way we can make Wiscon more financially feasible for people as well as supporting folks with special dietary needs. So here’s what we have in store for you….

What to expect

Grab & Go options! If you’re in a hurry to make that next panel and you need a fast meal, we’ve got you covered. We will offer a small set of one-dish meals and quick, protein-heavy snacks pre-packaged in takeout containers. And they’ll be right by the door so you really can just grab and go!

Meaningful veg*n options! You told us last year that you wanted more vegetarian and vegan options. We heard you, and we’ve got some wonderful plant-based chow in the works! We’re especially excited about Friday night’s aloo saag (spinach and potato curry) and grab and go options like squash and bulgur salad with pumpkin seeds!

Gluten-free snacks and meals! You told us that you wanted more gluten-free (GF) options. You got it! We’ll have gluten-free options at every meal and gluten-free snacks available all the time, too.

Coffee and tea room! Need a pick-me-up? You can get your caffeine on with coffee and tea available from 8am to 1am every day in room 626!

More info about the food! We will post menus on the wall outside of the Con Suite every day. We will also have signs inside listing ingredients.

Changes in the Con Suite hours.  To improve food safety and help us stay organized to serve you better, the Con Suite will close for cleaning twice a day on Saturday and Sunday, 2pm – 4pm and 7:30pm – 8:00pm. the Con Suite will also be closed during Opening Ceremonies, Guest of Honor speeches, and award ceremonies so our volunteers don’t miss out. But we’re also open later! We’ll have snacks and drinks available until 1am Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. If this seems complicated, not to worry! the Con Suite hours will be posted outside the room and by registration on the 2nd Floor.

Comfier, more accessible space.  We want to make sure everyone can get in and out of the Con Suite easily when it’s crowded, so everyone can get what they need and then get where they need to go. So we’ll have smaller tables and more open floor space. And we’ll have a dedicated zig-zag blue tape accessibility lane that leads straight to the main meal service area. We ask that, like in the 6th Floor hallway, all members keep that lane open and available for folks trying to get something to eat rather than just hang out. There is plenty of socializing space in the rest of the the Con Suite, and we welcome you to hang out with us there as much as you like. To make it easier to understand where everything is, we will also have signs up pointing the way to our different service areas — meals, snacks, drinks, et cetera.

We hope these changes will make the Con Suite more welcoming, comfortable, and accessible for everyone. We want to keep getting better, so we welcome your continued feedback! We’ll have a suggestion box in the the Con Suite, and please keep an eye out in June for an email with our post-con survey. See you in the the Con Suite!

Menus for the weekend

Grab & Go (pre-packed in take out containers)

  • Cheezy pasta salad (vegan)
  • Squash & bulgur with pepitas (vegetarian)
  • Turkey & parmesan pasta salad
  • Two-bean quinoa salad (vegan, GF)
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Hummus

Daily Breakfast

  • Coffee & tea
  • Bagels
  • Cream cheese & Tofutti spread (dairy free, vegan, & gluten free)
  • Doughnuts & Kringle
  • Cereal
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Hard boiled eggs

Friday dinner

  • Chicago style Italian beef on rolls (GF rolls available) MOVED TO SATURDAY LUNCH
  • Aloo saag/spinach & potato curry (vegan, GF) MOVED TO SATURDAY LUNCH
  • Ian’s Pizza! Expect a mix of the weird and mundane, including GF and vegan pizzas.
  • Creole roasted sweet potatoes (vegan, GF)
  • Gingered veggies (vegan, GF)

Saturday lunch

  • Chicago style Italian beef on rolls (GF rolls available) Moved from Friday dinner
  • Aloo saag/spinach & potato curry (vegan, GF) Moved from Friday dinner
  • Potato salad (vegetarian, GF)
  • Three bean salad (vegan & GF)
  • Carrot slaw (vegan & GF)
  • Jerk tofu (vegan, GF)
  • Turkey & ham cold cuts MOVED TO SATURDAY DINNER
  • Sliced cheese
  • Sandwich bread (including GF bread)
  • Sunbutter (nut free)
  • Peanut butter
  • Jams & jellies

Saturday dinner

  • Ian’s Pizza! Expect a mix of the weird and mundane, including GF and vegan pizzas.  MOVED TO FRIDAY DINNER
  • Turkey & ham cold cuts Moved from Saturday lunch
  • Garlic lovers pasta salad (vegetarian, GF)
  • Kale (vegan GF)

Sunday lunch

  • Potato salad (vegetarian, GF)
  • Curried potato salad (vegan, GF),
  • Kale (vegan, GF)
  • Jerk tofu (vegan GF)
  • Turkey & ham cold cuts
  • Sliced cheese
  • Sandwich bread (including GF bread)
  • Sunbutter (nut free)
  • Peanut butter
  • Jams & jellies

Sunday dinner

  • Chili night (beef & vegan)
  • Maple roasted vegetables (vegan & GF)

Monday lunch

  • Potato salad (vegetarian, GF)
  • Curried potato salad (vegan, GF)
  • Carrot slaw (vegan, GF)
  • Jerk tofu (vegan GF)
  • Turkey & ham cold cuts
  • Sliced cheese
  • Sandwich bread (including GF bread)
  • Sunbutter (nut free)
  • Peanut butter
  • Jams & jellies

Staples available all day

  • Popcorn (butter, cheese corn & kettle corn)
  • Potato chips & pretzels
  • Assorted cookies (including GF)
  • Assorted candy
  • Assorted fruit
  • Raw veggies
  • Pop Tarts
  • Crackers (including GF varieties)
  • Sandwich bread (including Udi’s GF bread)
  • Sunbutter (nut free)
  • Peanut butter
  • Jams & jellies
  • Assorted sodas & fizzy water

Be a hero — be a Con Suite ServSafe volunteer!

Chris W.
Con Suite

A green circle, overlaid with black text reading "I helped feed WisCon 40"One of the most beloved spaces at WisCon is the Con Suite — which makes our Con Suite ServSafe volunteers some of the most important hidden heroes of the convention.

What makes for a Con Suite ServSafe volunteer?  In addition to a commitment to volunteering in the Con Suite for a few hours, you must also have a current ServSafe food safety certificate.  In order for the Con Suite to serve any food, we’re required by our contract with the Concourse Hotel to ensure that all food preparation is overseen by someone with the ServSafe certification.

What do ServSafe volunteers do?  During your shift, you will essentially be the volunteer who supervises all food-handling.  Anyone volunteering in the Con Suite can help prepare food, but ONLY if there’s a ServSafe volunteer who’s overseeing all of the food prep.  You, as that ServSafe volunteer, will keep an eye out that all our food is being prepared safely according to the ServSafe guidelines.  Are all food-handlers washing their hands and wearing gloves?  Is food being stored safely?  Are hot foods are the correct temperature?  And so on.

Why is it so necessary to have ServSafe-certified supervisors?  Well, in a nutshell — we really, really don’t want anyone to get sick.  Those of us who are regular attendees of conventions may be familiar with concrud, but there’s a post-con cold and then there’s norovirus.  WisCon’s Con Suite, in all its years, has never been the source of a food poisoning outbreak, but during WisCon 32 in 2008 we were caught by an epidemic of norovirus that hit Madison.  Our Con Suite wasn’t the source and WisCon wasn’t the only group hit by it — many people who ate at downtown restaurants were also affected as well as lots of people involved in Madison’s Memorial Day marathon.  But because WisCon was the largest single group impacted, the particular strain of norovirus that hit Madison that year has been officially designated “AY502008 (Wiscon).”  Longtime WisCon attendees still refer to this as “Wischolera,” and after that year the Concourse Hotel began requiring that our Con Suite staff be ServSafe certified.

What is ServSafe certification and how do you get it?  The ServSafe certification course is entirely online — you’ll need an internet connection and time enough to complete the course and receive your certificate.  The course takes from an hour to two-and-a-half hours (depending on your personal pace) to complete, but you can stop at any time and return to the course later.  The course is broken into sections and you’re quizzed along the way so that you’re pretty well prepared for the final test at the end.  There is a cost for taking the course, but WisCon will pay for it.

Do you already have a current ServSafe certification in Wisconsin??  OMG, please come join us!  All we’ll need is a copy of your current certificate.

Are there any side effects associated with becoming ServSafe certified?  Well, it’s true that our ServSafe-certified Con Suite volunteers report a complete inability to eat any free food that appears at their day jobs, because who knows how long it’s been sitting out?  So if you have any food anxieties, this is probably not the volunteer task for you (but please do consider some of WisCon’s other at-con volunteer jobs!).

But if you do take up the ServSafe certification mantle, you will become a true hero of the Con Suite and can bask in the satisfaction that YOU helped feed WisCon 40!

For all the details you’ll need on taking the course, getting reimbursed, and choosing a shift, email consuite@wiscon.net!

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

Con Suite

  • contact:  consuite@wiscon.net
bowls of fruit, cookies, and crackers in the Con Suite
The Con Suite — fruits, cookies, & crackers

The WisCon hospitality suite, or consuite in fannish parlance, is a place for you to relax, enjoy a tasty snack or beverage, and chat with other members. WisCon’s consuite is widely known as one of the most complete hospitality suites at a science fiction convention. Our organizers work long hours to provide you with options for breakfast, lunch, and even dinner! If you just could not tear yourself away from the convention, you could conceivably eat Con Suite food all weekend. (But we do highly recommend Madison’s restaurants!)

the coffee/tea station in the Con Suite
The Con Suite — coffee/tea station

All the bounty of our Con Suite is included in your WisCon membership. You can enjoy it as much or little as you care to. Please stop by the sixth floor at some point during your visit and check it out.

Our Con Suite is overseen by volunteers who have been certified by ServSafe.  We are committed to providing delicious meals and snacks according to strict safety standards that keep every healthy.