Re: how many people for common meal...just starting
From: Douglas G. Larson (ddhleearthlink.net)
Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2006 17:21:45 -0700 (PDT)
I have a few comments. 

1) You have 26 households. How many adults capable of doing the work
does that equate to? So the 6 workers per meal you are asking for comes
from a pool of how many people? A large pool will minimize burn-out a
small one will be more likely. Also, is your common house kitchen big
enough to handle 3 cooks at one time? In our kitchen at Songaia we
recently had 3 cooks and it was barely tolerable with the small space
and each person moving around as they worked. Our meals require only 2
cooks and 2 clean-up people. This is much better for our kitchen. For us
to be in the food program requires you work 1 slot per week. I agree
with making it mandatory. 

2) At Songaia Cohousing we started our food program over 5 years ago.
Before starting the food committee created an information night where we
1)created a dinner for the community prepare by the committee members,
2) presented the entire proposed program. We asked that everyone,
without exception, try the program for 3 months, then after that time if
there was dissatisfaction people could discuss it or leave if it seemed
to not have value for them. Well no one left after 3 months. We just had
our first 2 drop-outs after 5 years. 

3) We pay a flat fee by the month without reimbursement for missed
meals. We chose to operate out of abundance rather than tracking
precisely each person's meals and money. 
Our monthly fees are - $95 per adult, $5 per year of age for each child
(age 1 = $5, age 10 = $50). If people are going to be gone they can sign
up to have a plate saved for them on meal nights. When the get home they
find it in the common house refrigerator. 

4) Only 3 meals per week seems small. Consider that more meals per week
may have more appeal, staying power and sell better than fewer, even
though its more work and requires more people. Of course you could start
with 3 and after a while expand if it seems do-able and desirable. 

5) We have food buyers who do all the buying. In fact we discourage the
cooks from doing the buying, to minimize impulse buying and expenses. We
buy a large part of our food wholesale and the buyers watch for specials
and the various outlets they use. As a cook I personally would feel
overwhelmed if I have to plan a meal and buy for a crowd of 36 people. I
am thankful for our buyers. Of course this systems only works if you
have people with the time to do buying. 

6) We honor all dietary restrictions in each meal. It was a burden at
first but now its pretty routine. 

7) I agree with Rob Sandelin, do your best to devise a system and give
it a try. Don't expect it to be perfect but revise as you go along. 

Finally, to answer your question about what contributes to success, I
believe the following are key elements

A)  Honor everyone's dietary restrictions, even if its difficult. You
will generate more good will and praises and staying power this way than
any other. On the reverse side, there is nothing quite like coming to a
meal with dietary restrictions and finding that you can eat very little
of what is there or perhaps nothing at all. Its something akin to being
punched in the gut. 

B) Charge a flat fee per month and don't allow reimbursements for missed
meals. Create a system of abundance. 

C) Have food buyers to minimize costs and shop efficiently. 

Douglas Larson,
Songaia Cohousing,
Bothell, Washington





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