On April 22, 2016, 50 mainly African-American, mostly millennial international travelers headed to Vermont for a weekend getaway of relaxation, connection, and bougie fun via carpools, trains, shuttle buses, tiny planes and more. This four-day event was hosted by Tamara Hawkins of Stork and Cradle, Noonie Greene of Socially Single, Omar McKenzie of Omega Imagery and myself, Sheena LaShay. Everyone attending were members of an online travel community known as Nomadness Travel Tribe, as well as many other network groups such as Bucket List Beast and Up in the Air Travel.
I previously shared an overview of WHY such a seemingly obscure place would be the hot spot for four incredible days of home cooked meals, fireplace talks, and one epic, glamorous photo shoot. I also shared HOW I made it happen with my personal logistics tips and I explained how I kept group dynamics in check with so many personalities including me, an introvert who gives no fucks but is extremely outgoing.
Today, I want to talk to you about FOOD!
Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale. – Elsa Schiaparelli
The concept of my group houses is that we LIVE together in one big house for a long weekend.
During the first “Weekend with Friends” trip, my co-host and I were only concerned about finding a house in the Hamptons that would be budget friendly for everyone. We told everyone, they were responsible for everything else. We simply didn’t want to be bothered. The problem is that 25 individuals each showed up with enough food to feed themselves for four days….with only space available in one refrigerator. Uh oh! Poor planning on my part. AHHH!!!
People also brought coolers and made do with the limited space. However, by the time our Maryland trip happened, we knew, we had to cook meals together and try a family style approach. Maryland was fairly easy because we only had about 15 people in that group house. However, Vermont? How the fuck do you plan four days worth of meals for 50 people split between two houses? How much does it cost? Who’s doing the cooking? WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Insert project manager hat here!
FIND OUT THEIR ISSUES
- I mentioned in the Vermont Logistics & Planning post, that I created Guest Profiles for everyone to complete. In those particular profiles, which I change for every trip, I also asked all the guest to list any food allergies or dietary restrictions. In one of my many spreadsheets, I kept track of everyone’s food issues.
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ASK FOR THEIR SUGGESTIONS
- In their guest profiles, I also asked them if they would be willing to prepare a signature dish, help the chef, chop stuff up, be a taste tester or be nowhere near the kitchen. Anyone who was willing to prepare a signature dish was later asked to share some of their favorite dishes within our group. ( We decided that in order to stay sane, each house would have separate food menus. It made it more manageable that way versus trying to cook meals for 50 people every day.)
Create a Menu with Their Signature Dishes
- Next, I took all of the suggestions of our chefs and began creating a matrix of how they all could work. I shared a draft of the menu within the group and asked for their feedback. One person noticed there were several meals that didn’t have something for a vegetarian or lactose intolerant person. So I had someone who knew more than me who was also attending the trip take my menu and revamp it to ensure everyone would be fine. We also decided to do one group meal together!
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Determine a Price For Feeding Everyone
- One of the things I did out of order was that I didn’t collect money for food at the time everyone had to pay for the house. I hadn’t determined what the cost of the food would be and nothing was fleshed out. I did tell everyone they would eventually need to pay an additional fee for food. So with a month to go before the trip, I announced how much every person had to contribute. For the price of 8 homecooked meals, I needed everyone to pay $50.00. I know. Its absolutely ridiculous and so expensive. **snicker**
Explain the Group Dynamics of Family Style Food
- A few days before our trip, I still hadn’t received everyone’s food payment. Also based on private questions being asked and lessons we learned from other houses, I felt the need to post a few notes on what our Food & Group Dynamics would be.
Create an Epic Grocery List
- A few days before the trip, I took all the final dishes, collected the chef’s recipes and then created an epic, ridiculous grocery list. Our initial goal was to grocery shop before our drive to Vermont but that just didn’t work out. We decided to do so once we arrived. Plus we figured food would be cheaper in Vermont than in New York. So about five of us headed to the grocery store, I assigned food items to each person and their cart and we basically shopped most of the store. Not really. But we did have a lot of fucking food. We actually had to return to the store twice during the weekend! Also, our budget projects were right. It came to $50.00 per person for their eight meals! I kept track of what items of food needed to go to which house so once we returned to the house with enough food to feed an army, I then I had to divide it all up and have some take half the groceries to the other house. (While the houses were on the same plot of land, they were equivalent to being about a New York Avenue apart.)
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What Went Wrong & What I Learned
- To keep your life simple, if you are preparing group meals, determine the cost per person ahead of time and have people pay at the very beginning when they pay their room & board.
- Fuck exceptions. Someone wanted to pay less since they were arriving a day later than the rest of the group. Listen, this meant they would have 6 meals instead of 8. 6 home cooked meals for $50 is still a huge bargain. I wasn’t trying to hear anyone’s shit. Pay or don’t eat.
- Be clear about how food needs to be handled. It turned out some chefs didn’t like certain items I bought, so they decided to make substitute meals instead. This meant food items needed for recipes later in the weekend were not available. I had no idea this was the case until the final day when I received messages that the other house didn’t have certain items. AHHHH! Normally, I’d say, if you’re doing two houses again, have the chefs grocery shop with you. I had the first people to arrive grocery shop with me whether they were chefs or now, so we had food in the house when everyone arrived. For my next trip, this isn’t something I’ll have to deal with. I’ll explain why in a moment.
- Even though 50 people went to Vermont after eight months of planning…during those eight months 16 different people dropped out and we found a replacement for them from our 70+ person waitlist. BUT what this meant is that if they were a chef with a recipe, now my whole menu matrix was fucked up. I had to find substitute recipes. Or if they were someone saying they were bringing ALL the ingredients for their meal and the day before they dropped out…especially without telling me….those inconsiderate assholes affected shit. (They were put on the black list and can’t attend the group homes anymore.) I found a way to remedy this though.
- Protect the people with dietary restrictions. Again, this didn’t occur in the house I stayed in in Vermont…as there were two, but I heard that greedy mofos ate some of the dishes specifically prepared for the vegetarians. One friend was livid and I was annoyed for her. We eventually got her something to eat but I need the inconsiderate behavior to be nil and void in the future. Having one house makes this easier to manage. I gotta figure out how we’d handle this for two homes or more.
- Don’t forget to assign helpers. I had a list of people willing to be kitchen helpers but by my own fault, I forgot to assign them for every meal. Luckily several people volunteered each day to either help the chef or clean the kitchen. I appreciate it. This won’t happen in Seattle. I will have helpers assigned for each meal!
- Stop the grubby fingers. So we had two homes. We had a schedule for meals. Sometimes the other house didn’t stick to the schedule. So the guests in that house would come over to our house to eat our food. And some of them would even go back to their house and eat that food too. Ugh! Let’s just say, we won’t have to deal with that with one home. Unless its a person trying to get a second or third plate, before everyone has had their first plate. Either way…many of these food antics will be remedied for Seattle and all future trips. Its not that serious and its why I encourage people to bring their own snacks and their own liquor!
What I’m Doing for the #SeattleBlackOut aka “Northern Exposure”
In July of 2017, I’m taking 30 people to Seattle for four days and based on what I learned in Vermont, this is what I’m doing regarding food. In a dream world, we would hire a chef and they would do all the cooking. But…that’s a different price point for a trip for eight meals. So until the majority of my group wants to invest in that, we will have to explore other options. We could eat out for every meal, but that cost a lot too and it means you need to either pay for gas for cars or taxis. Plus, I really like the concept of us all cooking for one another.
So this year, in the guest profile, I asked every person to tell me their dietary restrictions, foods they hate and foods they loved. I’m taking all their answers, plus the pinterest board for our trip and our theme and sending it over to my friend Jennifer Sterling. I previously hired her to prepare the menu, recipe list and grocery list for my “Sensual Eroticism” workshops and I’m asking her to do the same for this trip.
Jen will take what we love, what we hate and what our theme is and create a custom menu, recipe list and grocery list for the 30 guests. Now, if someone drops out of the trip, it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t their personal recipe anyway. I won’t have to redo my matrix. In fact, I won’t have to create the matrix because Jennifer is doing it. Now all I need are my volunteers who will be the “chef” to prepare the food for each meal and I’ll assign their helpers. I already know who’s willing because they stated so in their guest profiles.
To make our lives even easier based on how people tend to eat, we aren’t doing three meals each day. We are doing a LOOOOONG brunch and you can eat your brunch early or late. Then we’re doing dinner. Everyone is still responsible for their snacks and alcohol, but now life is made easier. ALSO, I collected their food money when the buy-in for the trip was first announced!
That’s what I have for you today folks. Is there also anything I’m not covering or questions you have that you’d like me to address? You can view all of our photos over on Facebook. And you can read part one, here and part two, here and part three, here. Also, if you’re interested in joining one of our future Weekend Trips, sign up for our mailing list. When we pick our next location or need to poll for the next date, you’ll be among the first to know. Go HERE!
- Vendors. Supplies & Tech – What vendors, websites and apps did I use to make my life simpler? There are some great resources out there to keep you from going insane.
- Agenda/Itinerary/Activities – how do you keep everyone entertained and ensure everyone’s having fun without spending more money on tours, events and such?
- On-Site Logistics – Now you’re at the event, as a host, how do you not go fucking insane? Is it possible to relax and enjoy the trip to?
- Feedback and Review – After all of this was it worth and did the guests have a good time? What did they have to say? What was their feedback, critiques, and review?