Community dinner economics
From: Hungerford, David (
Date: Wed, 3 Aug 94 16:25 CDT
At Muir Commons:

general meals structure/guidelines:
 * each adult cooks once and cleans twice per month (about 20 meals/month)
 * two adults cook/4 adults (or two doing "doubles") clean
 * near the beginning of the month, cooks find partners, then sign up on a 
large wipe-off calendar near the bulletin board in the common house.  
Cleaners sign up here as well.
 * date choice is first-come, first-served.  We encourage only 5 meals per 
week so we don't end up with a week with no meals at the end of the month.  
This is a flexible guideline, to accomodate people's schedules.  Weekend 
brunches (usually served at 10am) are popular, especially for those with 
strict 9-5 work hours.
 * we work on an honor system/no policing (i.e. The question "Why didn't you 
cook last month?" is never asked)  People tend not to cook the month they 
take a vacation (we end up with fewer meals in the summmer,) when they're 
lives are in crisis, or they're under extreme (time) pressure at work. The 
convention, though, is to at least notify a "meals" committee member that 
you're bailing. One member did the Jenny Craig diet for about 6 months, and 
didn't cook during that time; no one complained.
 * meal sign-up sheets are posted, with the menu, on the bulletine board at 
least 3 or 4 days before the meal.  These forms have a grid, each family has 
a row, with the columns being: adult meals;kids meals; # meat; # veggie; 
#late across the top.  Each family "signs up" by tallying how many adult 
meals, kid meals, veggie meals etc. in the appropriate cells.  This way the 
cooks can estimate how much food to buy, how to split between meat/veggie, 
and how many late plates to prepare.
 * Leftovers.  People tally leftovers taken on a list on the refrigerator 
door.  They are charged as a kid's meal (1/2 price)

meal economics: 
 * meals committee keeps a separate bank account
 * meals committee stocks the kitchen with basic food supplies (tomato sauce, 
beans, pasta, cheese, eggs, spices, flour, oils, etc.)
 * we have a delivery account with a local bakery; the cooks order bread, if 
they want it, they day before they cook.
 * cooks shop for their own meals, buying what is not in stock out of pocket, 
including such things as condiments, spices, and even 20-lb bags of flour, if 
the larder is out
 * after the meal, cooks turn in their sign-up form to the meals committee 
along with their receipts (actually, just writing down total spent is okay) 
 * at the end of the month, one person tallies the total number 
of meals eaten (adults=1 meal, kids & leftovers=0.5 meals) and divides the 
total amount spent that month through bulk buying, bread orders, and 
individual expenses by the number of meals eaten, then multiplies for each 
household the number of meals eaten by the average meal cost.  We get a bill 
in our folders (we all have a folder in a file box in the common house for 
such things) which shows us the cost/meal, number of meals eaten, total meals 
cost, the amount we turned in receipts for, and the amount we owe to the 
meals committee or amount the meals committee owes us.  A debit or credit of 
<$25 is carried over. We use Quicken, by the way, to handle the accounting. 
 * we don't worry about variations in meal cost, we figure it all averages 
 * once, however, another cook and I decided to grill Coleman (organic) 
T-Bones and filets, to order, for dinner.  Since the steaks alone cost about 
$8, and our average meal cost hovers around $2, we charged for "multiple" 
meals that night (i.e. one T-bone meal cost 4 meal tallies). 

We like our system.  It has a great deal of flexibility and freedom, and the 
costs have actually been very low. Meals cost in summer sometimes drops well 
below $2 since our garden provides lots of fruits and vegetables 
in the Summer.  I should also note that most of us buy the bulk of the food 
at our local food co-op, buying organic when possible, which makes the price 
a little higher than it could be.

Hope this is useful

David Hungerford
Muir Commons
dghungerford [at]

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