Behind the Scenes at the Con Suite

In the rush of trying to see and do as much as possible, con-goers sometimes feel overworked and underfed.  Dragon Con offers help with those problems in its con suite.  The con suite director, Joe Campbell, has a finely tailored system for keeping the food and drink flowing during the con, and he has shared that with the Daily Dragon.

Daily Dragon (DD): For those who may be attending their first convention here, could you describe what the con suite is?

Joe Campbell (JC): It’s an oasis from the convention, a place where they can go, sit down, grab a bite to eat, meet up with friends, or just de-stress.  We usually are showing something on the screen or doing something silly.  We try to make it a place to relax.

We’re not really lost and found for objects, but we are for humans.  If you lose someone, you can come and meet them at the con suite.  It’s a fixed point.

DD: How early do you start preparing for the con, and what do you do first?

JC:  We start in January, at the very first directors meeting.  That’s when I start figuring out the vibe of the convention and get a feel for how much I’m going to need to feed people.

Sixty days before the con, I start placing orders.  I place the doughnut order, for example.  We go through about 65 dozen a day.  Saturday is more like 40, but Sunday and Monday are both 65.  That adds up to about 170 dozen for the entire weekend.

Fifty days out, I contact Restaurant Depot, which is like Home Depot but with food and foodstuffs.  Sysco are wonderful.  You can fax in or email your order, and they’ll have it wrapped and ready to go for you.  Beverage Control supplies our sodas, and we go through roughly 1000 gallons of product.  They come in and set up the machine, calibrate it, and fix any problems we may have during the weekend.

From 50 to 28 days ahead of time, I go back and forth between Restaurant Depot and Sam’s checking prices and try to figure out what we’re going to serve.  We always use lots of rice, bacon, meatballs, and salmon.  Also tuna, veggies, lots of peanut butter and jelly, and Spam.

At the twenty-day mark, we make sure our orders are all confirmed–Krispy Kreme, the Tasty Cake bread company, soda, Restaurant Depot.

Ten days out, I make sure everything is going.

Seven days ahead, we go to Sam’s to place our meat order.  We go through a metric ton of meat.  We buy about eight of those big blocks of meat you see in delis–turkey, ham, and pastrami–and they’ll slice it for us.  We also get our nachos.  We go through about 80 cases of nacho chips.  We usually are out of that by Sunday afternoon.

Three days before con, we go on our first buying run. We go to the Buford Highway Farmers Market for ethnic foods like kim chi.

Two days out, we get the van.

One day ahead, the day we move in, we pick up the bread and do our first Restaurant Depot run. We go out every day of the convention to go on a food run because we don’t have a storage facility large enough for our food.

We pick up the Subway subs in the morning all four days and the doughnuts about 3 a.m. daily.

After the con, I wait for Beverage Control to pick up.  Two days afterward, I get some sleep and eat something.  I don’t usually eat during the con.

DD: Can you estimate how many sandwiches and soft drinks you and your volunteers served last year?

JC:  Subway donates six six-foot-long subs every day of the con.  We go through 36 feet of subs every day, and we do that for four days.  That comes out to 144 feet of subs.  Within the four-day period, we go through 250 loaves of bread, and we hand out 480 hotdogs

I have a team of people who, the moment they get there Thursday, start making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tuna fish ones.  They do that every day, nonstop.

DD: How many people does it take to keep this going?

JC: I have 50 people on my staff and usually shanghai another 10 volunteers.

DD: What’s the most challenging part of running the con suite?

JC:  Not giving everyone what they want.  That’s the most heartbreaking, actually.  I get a lot of email suggesting several things we already do.  We do provide vegetarian meals and other beverage choices besides caffeine.  But then people start asking us for gluten-free items, and unfortunately gluten-free items are expensive.  Due to our budget, we just can’t provide it.

The most challenging thing is power consumption.  We’re running a small kitchen on hotel power, so we’re usually blowing circuits left and right.  We’re running a popcorn machine, several electric roasters, two 50-cup rice makers, two electric woks, several blenders, a couple of hot dog machines, and a six-spigot soda machine.

DD: How did you get into this job, and what’s the most fun part of it?

JC:  I originally got on the con suite staff at the very first convention and have worked there ever since.  I was made director three years after I started.   I love cooking.  I love entertaining.  It’s one of my passions.  I love working the crowd.

DD: Where can Dragon Con attendees find the con suite, and what are the hours?

JC: We’re on the second floor of the Hyatt in rooms 223 and 226, right above the Hyatt bar.  We open 10 minutes after registration opens on Friday and we shut down about 20 minutes after closing ceremonies.  In between, we’re open 24 hours a day.

DD:  Thanks for your time today.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.