From: Alex von Thorn
Subject: Re: "The High Resolution Minicon"
To: [A convention runner's email list]
I hate to say this because I know it will start an argument, but I'm not convinced that the average con suite is such a great idea.
The people who go there are the ones who aren't busy volunteering and can't find any worthwhile
programming to go to. They are the ones for whom free food is one of the attractions of the con,
or free beer. Especially at a large con, there is very little prospect of pulling a large fraction of the
membership into the con suite, so it really doesn't serve a big role in bringing the community together. British cons, apparently, get along just fine relying on the hotel bars for this function (which saves money and people). Until late in the evening when programming shuts down, they don't seem like a great place to meet interesting people. That's where a lot of the "tourists" end up. In short, I think that the philosophy of hospitality is not actualized very well in the typical con suite.
And yet, in my limited experience with bid parties (everybody's, not just the ones I throw), they have a completely different character. That's where people come to talk, to relax, to have a good time. Not just bid parties but themed parties in general; I thought the Z'hadum party at LoneStarCon was hilarious.
So, IMO, the solution is not to drop the con suite altogether, but to change its character.
During the day, I see it as a low-key break room, where people can catch their breath between events. Use a minimalist approach, a quiet setting. Serve coffee and tea, but not beer or chocolate. Don't try to make it a party. It'll be a lot easier to run, easier to clean, and more functional.
Then shut it down, and organize a real party. Bring out the beer, the wine, the desserts, maybe even hot food. Have a focus of some kind: a reception for local authors, a thank you to special volunteers, a fundraising raffle, maybe just adopt some kind of theme based on the committee's less-well-known interests. If the con is really big, spread into multiple rooms and run multiple themes. The point is: make it hop. Make it one of the essential stops on the party tour, make sure that the party is well-stocked with concom and interesting authors. Bring out special treats once, and run out. If people miss them, well, they should've been there. Create the right atmosphere, and then add to that atmosphere with beer, chocolate, chili, whatever. Make the party interesting, and interesting people will show up. And then when the party begins to stall, shut it down. Always leave them wanting more.
If you try and be too "hospitable" throughout the entire weekend, you spread money and people resources too thin, and you suck in the tourists. Don't rely on serving food and beverages to create an amosphere, because you can never serve enough. A party should be worth coming to even without food or drink. I don't see how you can sustain this on a 24-hour basis; trying to do so doesn't seem to work well.
I've been to a lot of cons where the con suite was not memorable. If it can't be done well, it doesn't need to be done at all; a lot of people won't miss it.