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my hospitality suite -- thanks for the help (really long)

Ruth Lafler | Feb 26, 200310:21 PM

Since squid-kun asked, I thought I'd give you all an update.

Quick recap: I spent the weekend running the hospitality suite aka "consuite" for a literary-oriented science fiction convention at the Ramada Plaza hotel at 8th and Market. We ended up having about 190 attendees. This particular convention rotates between Seattle and the Bay Area (with the occasional detour into Oregon) -- this was the 12th iteration, with this being the third time I've run the consuite, but the first time by myself.

The consuite opened at 4 pm Friday and closed officially at 1 pm Sunday (although there is an official unofficial afterparty called a "dead dog party" that lasted until well after 1 am). It closed overnight whenever the last person goes to bed (which was 3:30 Saturday morning, 2:30 Sunday morning) and reopened at 8:30 am. Have I mentioned a that I got almost no sleep for five days (starting Wednesday night with the running-around-like-a-crazy-person jitters)?

What this means is that throughout the weekend there has to be appropriate food: coffee and bagels in the morning, sandwich makings at lunch and dinner times, and snack/party food the rest of the time.

Now that I'm an official chowhound, I had ambitious plans for running *my* consuite. Based on past years' data, I knew that Friday night was the big party night (people are arriving and hooking up with their old friends, by Saturday night they've made plans for the evening). I decided to do a "taste of San Francisco" theme (in addition to the basic party food). So I solicited suggestions from the board, and this is what I came up with: banh mi from Wrap Delight, tamales from Virginia the tamale lady, foccacia from Liguria bakery, and potstickers from House of Dim Sum.

I would say that it fell short of my exacting standards, but far exceeded the expections of my guests.

The banh mi (skewered with frilly toothpicks and cut into quarters) were the most successful presentation. For both the tamales and the banh mi I had gotten two dozen: one dozen pork and six each chicken and vegetarian. I worried at one point that I'd gotten the ratio wrong, but it turned out to be just right. The tamales offered more presentation problems than I anticipated.

I had planned to cut them also into quarters, but that proved to be impossible. Halves were really too bulky to be satisfying "finger food" -- but they got eaten, so I guess people didn't mind (and at least one person complimented me on the quality of the tamales).

The foccacia was surprisingly less popular -- I had a fair bit left over, which nicely supplemented lunch the next day.

The potstickers also were less popular -- possibly a presentation problem in a covered chafing dish that hid them from view. I stuck the leftovers in the minifrige freezer and I'm still noshing on them -- they've held up well.

For Saturday night I planned for less substantial fare, figuring most people had gone out for dinner. "Chips, cheese and chocolate" was the theme -- which came acropper when I the person watching the suite for a while put the cheese out in the afternoon -- it was mostly gone when I returned. Oh well, there probably wasn't enough anyway, as I had cut back when they trimmed my budget about 25 percent at the last committee meeting (they were worried about getting enough memberships at the door to break even, even though we were ahead of the previous event's pre-reg rate -- but we agreed I could always run out and buy more stuff if more people showed up, which of course they did). The big splurge for the Saturday night party was almost five pounds of XOX truffles in six flavors (plus some vegan truffles, which made the vegan on our committee very happy).

I had thought these would be inhaled, but they actually went pretty slowly -- too rich to scarf, I guess. About half of them were eaten Saturday night, and most of the rest melted away during the day on Sunday (I had held some back to replenish the dishes, and when they didn't move quickly I just held onto those for special treats for committee members, etc.). The chips were about a dozen different flavors of potato chips (mostly Terra, Tim's and Kettle), which was kind of fun (although not being chowhounds, I don't think people really noticed).

As I've noted in a couple of other threads, I had put a lot of thought into the beer selection and then no one drank it! Based on data from last time (when 160 bottles of beer were consumed) I bought two cases of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (very popular last time), a case of Anchor Steam, and assorted six-packs of local micro-brews -- I wanted to serve local products -- a total of 156 bottles. I don't have an exact count, but we had at least four cases left over, which means people drank about a third of what they drank last time! One of the suggestions I got from the board was the most popular: Speakeasy Prohibition Ale. I don't know if they liked the beer, or the distinctive bottle, but it went. Instead, we went through three cases of Charles Shaw wines, and six cases of plain bottled water (in addition to about seven cases of assorted soda and three cases of flavored fizzy water).

To my great dismay, Levy's bagels (just a few blocks down Market St.) has gone downhill recently. Again following chowhound advice, I ended up making the morning bagel run to Manhattan Bagels in Noe Valley. Lots of compliments on the bagels (our membership is highly Jewish, and Noah's bagels and others of the "bread with holes" ilk would be a definite faux pas). For a sweet breakfast offering I ended up with Costco pound cake (a buget saver at three big loaves in different flavors for $4.67), which people also liked. Costco cream cheeses (whipped plain, green onion and lox) were also a good value at $3.99 for two tubs. And the great thing about the Ramada Plaza is that quick runs to Trader Joe's to restock are a snap (Costco is also nearby, but I don't think there's such a thing as a "quick run" to Costco).

Finally, I want to publically thank Derek for saving the day: as I was heading out Friday afternoon to pick up the stuff for the "Taste of SF" party, I realized the one thing I was missing (the only thing I forgot for the whole weekend!) was the paper with the phone number and address of the tamale lady. I knew the phone number was in a message on the board, but didn't have access to a computer. So I made several frantic calls trying to catch someone at his/her computer. Melanie (as I later found out) was incommunicado at the Masters of Food and Wine event (although she did call me back an hour later), chowfish had left the office, my mother was having a crisis of her own, but Derek, bless him, was at his computer and I talked him down the board to the right message. A few minutes later, I my car was filled with the fragrance of warm tamales.

The moral of this (very long) story: the two indispensible things for planning an event like this are a cell phone and chowhound(s)!

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