Re: Question about Meals...
From: Kay Argyle (
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 14:04:58 -0700 (MST)
As background, we have 26 households with 37 adults, about five of whom
participate in the community little or not at all, and 19 children or
adult-children ages 1 to 20, including shared-custody part-timers.  We've
been having common meals for six months now.

> 1. How often do you have meals?

Meals are scheduled three times a week, alternating
Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, Wednesday-Friday-Sunday.  In the first flush of
enthusiasm (first meal was July 19) we were doing pretty well at holding
this many, but in December a lot of meals got cancelled for lack of a cook.

Weekday meals start at 6:30.  This is too early for several households;
seven was too late for several others.  Weekend meals are 11 a.m. or noon.

> 2. How do you determine who is going to eat?
> 3. How do you determine what is for dinner? Are menu's posted in advance?

Attendance (eating) is totally voluntary.

There is a core group of ten to fifteen (community population ~55) that
attend almost all meals.  Rarely fewer, often more.

The cook posts a menu and dining signup.  Some cooks include columns for 
options, such as gringo chili, vegetarian, or kids' menu.  Enough cooks
were late in posting the signup that the dining committee has put up a
clipboard with preprinted sheets -- which will probably work better once
they get it to quit falling off the wall.  ;-)

Diners are requested to sign up 48 hours in advance, but may show up at the
start of the meal and ask the cook if there is enough food for latecomers.

Most meals offer meat and vegetarian options; some are entirely vegetarian.
 We've had simple one-pot meals (chili), and authentic  ethnic (curry with
dal, nan, etc.).  One cook is known for his sumptuous multicourse Italian
feasts, and always gets a big turnout.  Some of the children don't like the
common meals, especially those in the "if I don't have it every week
obviously it's poisonous" stage (probably a valuable survival trait in
hunter-gatherer cultures).  I regard myself as somewhat adventurous
culinarily, but even so there've been a few meals that I regard as having
been interesting -- once.  

The dining committee keeps the fridge stocked with salad mix.  Some cooks
set it out as is, some do a salad bar, some do a dressed salad.  Some meals
feature dessert, others not.  Most meals don't offer coffee, simply because
nobody seems interested (I don't know why; it's not because it's Utah).

> 4. How do you pay for meals?
> 5. How much do meals cost?

Meals are $3 adults,  $1-$2 for children, with the parent deciding based on
their knowledge of how much food their child takes (as opposed to "eats,"
since some "have eyes bigger than their stomach" as my mom used to say --
they want seconds, take two bites and leave the rest).

Books of 10 tickets are sold by the dining committee in denominations of
$1, $2, or  $3.  Diners write their name on their ticket and drop them in
the box by the dining room door.  The cook collects these after the meal
and turns them in with their receipts to the dining committee for a
reimbursement of the amount they spent.  Except for the first month, when
there was nothing in the kitchen, almost all meals cost less than the
ticket total; the excess is used by the dining committee to purchase
staples (flour, dish soap, salad mix, milk). The dining committee requested
and was given a couple of hundred dollars as a start-up from community

The dining committee has a separate checking account from the condominium

Residents who wish may donate money to the dining committee to help
low-income residents purchase tickets.  Low-income residents who desire
this assistance talk to the dining committee privately.  Some low-income
residents prefer to pay full price or not eat.

> 6. How does your cook,help,clean up sign up system work?

There is a sign-up calendar posted by the kitchen.  For each meal there are
slots for a head cook, assistant cook, and two clean-up people; in practice
there is usually only one clean-up person. For some meals the same person
does everything.  Meals are cancelled if nobody signs up to cook.

When common meals started, the dining committee requested that everyone
sign up to cook once & clean once on a six-week rotation.  Most signed up
that first rotation; fewer the next.  After six months, we're down to half
a dozen regular cooks and a scattering of occasional ones.

A couple of the teenagers have been either head or assistant cook.

We discussed recently whether cooking should be mandatory, and several
residents expressed the sentiment that they didn't want to eat a meal from
someone who hated to cook, and people who are doing a lot of volunteer work
for instance on landscaping maybe shouldn't be asked to take on more.

[That was written Monday.  Tuesday evening I found a proposal in our box to
require everyone to sign up for either a cooking or cleaning team during
any given month, probably to be responsible for two meals.   >:-(  ]

The cook does his/her own shopping.  They may request an advance from the
dining committee or be reimbursed afterward.

In the planning stages a number of people expressed a preference for
family-style service.  The furnishing committee decided not to make
assumptions about whether service would be family-style or buffet and to
acquire kitchen items to allow either.  It was left up to the individual
cook to decide, and so far almost all have done a buffet.

After the meal diners take their own dishes to the kitchen and set them in
the waiting bus-tubs.  

We've never come up with a policy on leftovers.  Sometimes leftovers are
sent home with anyone lingering in the dining room, sometimes set out for
the next meal; sometimes we've had a "no ticket" leftover-night to clear
out the fridge.

We still have potlucks for special occasions.

> 7. When did you figure out your meal system, before you move in or after?

I sympathize with the people who want advance planning.  I found it very
stressful not knowing what to expect about so many aspects of life after
move-in ("through the looking glass," as some people have called it!).  I'd
have been more comfortable (and maybe less rigidly controlling about what I
felt I could control) to talk and clarify everybody's vision of what it
would be like.  I started circulating "think about this" questions during
our construction phase.  However, other people asked plaintively, "Do we
have to decide this _now_? I've got all I can handle already."

Our first move-ins were November 1998; the last was September(?) 1999.  We
got the occupancy permit for the common house June 24.  Before that we were
holding potlucks maybe twice a month, mostly outside.  I don't know when
the dining committee was set up, possibly during a community meeting I
missed in July.  The first common meal was July 19.

It has been understood that all policies were on a trial basis -- and there
have been changes, a raise in price, a change in time, this month the
addition of a Saturday brunch.


Our common kitchen has an undercounter commercial short-cycle dishwasher (a
Hobart? you can't get a rack unloaded and reloaded before it's ready for
the next one), commercial six-burner gas stove, double wall ovens, large
side-by-side refrigerator, an icemaker, a normal kitchen sink by the
pass-through into the dining room, a deep double commercial sink with a
drainboard over the dishwasher, shelves on most walls, and a walk-in
pantry.  The pass-through has a counter (bar-stool height) on the dining
room side.

I've wished we had a work island like I've read about, where two people
could face each other and talk while they chopped veggies or mixed things.

We don't have enough counter space in the cleanup area.  Most is used by
the bus-tubs for diners to put their dishes in (pans go in the sink to
soak).  We can put a dishwasher rack on the drainboard to load, but there's
no room to set things to dry after handwashing, and the dishwasher racks
get set on the stove (on a center island) to air dry a minute before

Two racks came with the dishwasher -- a flat one and one with prongs. 
Someone found another flat one, used, for cheap.  We could use another rack
with prongs also. We seem to run more loads  in the pronged rack (plates,
glasses) than we do in the flat racks.  It's helpful to be able to load one
rack while one is in the dishwasher and another is airdrying (at the
temperature the dishwasher reaches, that takes just a minute or two).

We have talked about eventually getting tables and chairs that will fold
and can be gotten out of the way to allow other uses of the dining room,
but -- gotten out of the way where?  We keep coming up against the problem
that there is no storage. To groups whose common house is still in the
design stages, get your architect to put a _large_ closet opening onto the
dining room where you can put wheeled racks of folding tables and chairs
(enough for the whole community).

I find the amount of noise distressing.  The building is mostly open plan. 
You can't shut the dishwasher noise out of the dining room, the dining room
noise out of the sitting room, or the exercise equipment on the landing
upstairs out of downstairs.  We tried holding meetings in the dining room
and found some people had trouble hearing because of the way the room
echoes.  At least the laundry room is at the end of a hall and has a door.


I was on our common house furnishing committee during construction.  There
wasn't money budgeted to buy anything for the common house, so we  needed
to hold down costs.  We circulated a multipage list of suggested donations
of used household items -- pans, utensils, small appliances, rugs.

Messages in the archives said commercial cookware was worth the extra
expense.  We were unlikely to be given these (how many households own a
24-quart pot?), so we purchased a stockpot and saucepot from a
restaurant-supply store.   As I remember these were about $250 each.  The
saucepot gets a lot of use.  The stockpot on the other hand takes _forever_
to come to a boil, leading to at least one meal where the salad plates had
been licked clean an hour before the main course was ready.

We had a debate over the safety of plastic vs. wooden cutting boards, based
on articles in Science News -- turns out wood has natural antimicrobial
properties, which shouldn't have come as a surprise -- and decided to leave
it up to the individual cook.  One resident was worried about aluminum
cookware and not reassured by the fact that the initial results (many years
ago now) suggesting a health hazard haven't held up in subsequent studies,
but the restaurant-supply store recommended steel-lined pans for other
reasons, so that evaded the problem.

It's worth checking thrift stores.  I found eight plastic restaurant-type
pitchers for 50c each, which get heavy use.

Knives are stored on a magnetic rack mounted about head height on the wall
beside the fridge -- out of reach of kids, not dulling their edges banging
around in a drawer.  That position was chosen on the logic that knives are
usually used on things taken out of the fridge.

We got a few dishes donated but not enough for the whole community.  After
a month of bringing their own dishes several residents urgently requested
that the next purchase be dishes.  After some research I found that a
nearby factory outlet Corning Revere store would be having a 40% off sale
one Saturday, and we bought ten boxes (service for forty, dinner plates,
small plates, bowls, and mugs, plus a serving bowl in each box) for about
$160, and even got some free mixing bowls and pie plates because it was a
large purchase.  The mugs don't get much use; people seem to prefer our
mismatched glassware.

The Corelle is lighter than stoneware, a godsend when carrying a stack of
20 plates into the dining room or lifting a full rack out of the
dishwasher, and takes up less shelf room.  So far we've only lost one bowl
to our cement floors.

Good luck and happy eating.

Wasatch Commons

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