Themed dinners allow students to have a different experience in the Marketplace as it is covered with decorations and serves food outside of the typical menu. Do these dinners cost us extra, though?
According to Catering Manager Kathy Christopher, the price for a meal plan would not change if the theme dinners ended, as each student pays only $3 a year for these special dinners.
The John Gross & Company provides the College with food and supplies on a regular basis but is also actively involved in the spring themed dinner, including contributing financially.
“I can tell you that we, as a management team, meet with the John Gross & Company folks usually during winter break to plan the menu with their input and to brainstorm ideas for decorations, games, giveaways, etc.,” Lynda Hudzick, Dining Services office manager, wrote in an email.
This year’s spring dinner, which was a “Wizard of Oz” theme, began as the John Gross Food Show. The company brought new foods for the students to taste, and it was an opportunity for Dining Services to add new foods to the Marketplace menu.
“I’m not sure when the change came about. I remember the first dinner we did was more of just a food show, the second year was a country western-themed dinner, and when we do these, the foods are to match the theme for the most part,” Whitney Horn, of the John Gross & Company marketing department, explained in an email. “We initially brought along a country/guitar player that roamed around playing for students, and from that point the College really has taken over building a fun theme for the night.”
The spring dinner may also have impressive decorations now, but it is still a chance for students to try new or different products from John Gross & Company. Some of the new foods at the dinner may appear in the menu rotation again if the Dining Services staff found that a certain product received positive responses from students.
Planning for the dinner begins during winter break, when the management team decides on a theme that fits into their financial and space limitations.
“Myself and [John Gross Vice President] Scott Wagner are initially in the planning stage of the dinner,” Horn, who is in charge of Etown’s account, said. “We also incorporate the ideas of our company chef, Bob Brant.”
The theme is based around the materials available to the College. The dining services team rarely buys new objects to create the decorations. They recycle props from previous dinners, such as the Christmas tree, which was flipped to become the tornado at the “Wizard of Oz” dinner.
John Gross and Dining Services decide what products will go well with the theme each year. They are limited to a selection but always manage to find something to relate, even if it’s something small like poppyseed rolls, which were featured in the most recent dinner.
“Then about a month before the dinner myself and Scott meet with [purchasing manager] Diane Ricedorf and Chef [Charles] Downs [Etown’s residential dining chef and production manager], and we go over details of how much of each product, and we decide when it will be delivered and when it will be prepared,” Horn said. “Myself, Scott Wagner and our chef Bob come down usually two days before the event and help to prep and prepare for the dinner under the direction of Chef Downs.”
The company sends employees to the College the morning of the dinner to help members of Dining Services prepare for that night. These employees stay until the dinner begins, when they take over for the Dining Services staff and serve the students.
“When it comes time to work the dinner, I ask for volunteers from our company,” Horn said. “So it’s our employees that work, including the owner of our company, our seafood specialist, our chemical specialist, buyers and sales representatives. We all enjoy spending the evening serving the students.”
Christopher encourages students to email or call her if they have any questions about how the dinner is put together.
“To me, it’s worth the time I put in to give one person a day or a couple of hours to forget about their problems, forget about the stress at school, to eat some fun food and just be a child. What’s wrong with that? Laughter is the best thing for you,” Christopher said. “So, even if you think it’s ridiculous, if it made you laugh, it was worth it. And that’s how we get the satisfaction. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it for silly things, but it’s to make people happy and also ourselves happy. We like it. It’s good for our staff to have something different to focus on and be able to be a little creative.”
“It takes a lot of planning and preparation to pull these meals off, although, hopefully, we make it look easy!” Hudzick said.