Queer Supper Club celebrates 23 years of food and friendship
By Nora Hertel | Sun, 04/01/2012 - 3:39pm
The group observes a strict routine each week, driven by four rules:
1. Meet at Memorial Union around 7:15
2. Decide on a restaurant at 7:30, and not before
3. Walk to the restaurant
4. Visit a coffee shop after dinner
Members are allowed some leeway on the rules, and can join the group for just parts of the evening. But rule two remains hard and fast every week, as they do not determine what restaurant to visit until 7:30 p.m.
QSC was founded 23 years ago, as a social space for food-minded members of the LGBT community.
“Legend has it that about 20 years ago [the founder] Don and his friend were single and sitting on the terrace,” explained QSC webmaster, Oliver Eng. “They thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have dinner with someone?’”
Eng and fellow group member, Jeff Smith, enjoy the consistency of the club’s schedule. Gay men make up most of the current regulars, although members encourage lesbians and friends to attend.
“I would like there to be more women,” Eng said. But the group dynamic reflects a common division in the gay community he explained, “Gay men have their social outlets. Lesbian women have their social outlets.”
Over the course of its history, the QSC has taken on a fluid form, with students and temporary residents attending for varying lengths of time.
Smith moved back to Madison in 2009 after finishing law school, and realized all his old friends lived elsewhere. He now considers the QSC a close group of friends.
Eng works as a data analyst and developed the group's website in 2007, as an exercise in programming. He maintains the site to keep past and current members in touch with the group’s events, personal news, and foodie tips.
Members can post restaurant reviews, RSVP for dinner, or read posts when they miss a meal for details on the food and the company.
Smith posts regular reviews on the website.
“I’m a food critic wannabe,” he said.
Eng likes to visit a restaurant alone if he’s reviewing it – to focus on the food and service, and take a few pictures. He explained that all members consider themselves foodies to some degree or another.
“We all have strong opinions about food, and they’re not all the same,” Eng explained.
The website features reviews of over 100 local restaurants written by some of the Club’s 25 members. Not all members attend every week, and attendance ranges from three people up to 15 a few times a year.
Some members just attend coffee, and locate the group through an iPhone app developed by Eng. He created the app so people can check the coffee location and meet the group after dinner.
The group also maintains a tradition to mark their presence in a restaurant or coffee shop—they can always be located by a fruit they display on their table. The “keeper of the fruit” carries the fruit of the month to dinner each week.
Eng developed the “fruit of the month” as a feature on the website, as a tongue-in-cheek profile of various members. But today, the fruit of the month refers to actual fruit, not people, and sits on the table to indicate the group to new members. They have had fruits from watermelon to kumquat.
At the heart of the QSC remain a group of friends interested in food and each other’s company. And that has been the goal since the group formed.
Smith notes that since attending QSC he has tried new, ethnic restaurants, that he may not have tried otherwise.
“[I’ve tried] places I wouldn’t have thought of going,” Smith said. "[But] where we go to eat is generally not as important as being together.”
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