Originally published on Marist Media Hub
Written by Alyssa Hurlbut
High ceilings descend into walls, and walls into archways, which hug the center of the room. Chandeliers dangle above, radiating a dim light. This light trickles toward the ground, until it merges with the light of the lanterns, strung along the wall. Oh, and tables. Long, long, tables scattered across the wooden floor. Throw a few flaming cauldrons and wizards into the mix and Harry Potter would be able to call the place home.
Well, maybe the Marist College Dining Hall isn’t an exact replica of Harry’s Hogwarts. And swarms of students scarfing down burgers after their 5:00 classes aren’t nearly wizards. But this past Wednesday, the two scenes reflected remarkable similarities.Emily Baska, marketing coordinator for Sodexo food services, crafted the idea to illuminate the similarities between the Marist Dining Hall and the Hogwarts Great Hall by transforming the cafe into Hogwarts itself. “It was a connection that was always there but never became a reality,” Baska said.
Baska and her team worked tirelessly to create this reality. Signs, Facebook reminders, and countdowns served to promote the event. Baska even engaged the help of many Marist student organizations to bring the night to life, including ROTC and SGA. These groups embraced the culture of Hogwarts by dressing in costume and staging for pictures. “We have a lot of decorations,” Baska promised beforehand, “and many references to the books. We want to give a pop of ‘you’re at Hogwarts.’”
Her promise was not broken. With a touch of witchcraft and a few magic wands, Emily and her team succeeded in creating nothing less than the extraordinary. By 4:30 on Wednesday afternoon, what was formally known as the Marist Dining Hall was now officially the Hogwarts Great Hall. Tables were strung together and set with plates and silverware; registers were decorated with the Marauder’s map; Harry, Hermione, and Ron cutouts stood waiting for pictures; flaming cauldrons ran along walls; front pages of The Daily Prophet decorated the archway across from the deli station; Sodexo workers decked out in wizard costumes; and let’s not forget live Harry Potter gracing us with his presence in the form of student body president Timos Pietris.
But the ambiance was just the beginning. The night was further enhanced by the Harry Potter/British-based food. The menu featured golden snitch cake pops, mini Victorian cakes, Ollivanders wands (chocolate covered pretzels), a Hagrid “Happee Birthdae Harry” cake, mandrake pots, vegetarian Gillyweed balls, and the ever famous Butterbeer. Even more, raffle prizes in the form of the Harry Potter books and gift cards to on-campus food cafes provided incentive to dress the part—resulting in hundreds of mini Harry’s swarming the Great Hall. The dinner received an overwhelming amount of interest. Lines filtered out the door, as the 991 students arriving within the first hour of opening vied to land a position on the long tables in the center.
“We were so happy with the turnout,” Baska commented. “The atmosphere in the room was phenomenal between all the décor, music and enthusiasm from students, faculty and staff.” The night at Hogwarts was undoubtedly a success, and an innovative way of engaging the Marist community. However, the event served a larger purpose than embracing a funny comparison. In hosting the event, Baska hoped to instill an appreciation in students—one that would allow them to recognize the value of having a meal plan. “The dining hall isn’t just a place to scarf down food and leave. It’s a place where you can try new foods, talk with friends, and just have fun.”
The festive night was the perfect opportunity to showcase the skills of the Sodexo workers that make this experience possible. Chef Anthony, head of the culinary staff, for example, worked with his talented team to keep up with the rapid rate at which the food was being consumed. Meanwhile, Vanessa Renta, Resident Dining Director, took pride in her staff’s efforts to swipe and serve over 2,000 guests.
The hard work involved in coordinating this night, as well as the daily Marist dining experience, is oftentimes overlooked by students, as they grow accustomed to the system of being served. It is certainly not lost upon Baska, however, who has seen great strides in Marist Dining since she graduated the college in 2014. “The demand for food as gone up, and rightfully so. Sodexo has expanded to meet this need. I just want people to understand that and appreciate that we’re dedicated to great food and service.”
The spectacular dinner will further embrace the Marist community, as it is being used as an awards submission for the Resident Dining Event of the Loyal Horton Awards hosted by NACUFS (the National Association of College & University Food Services). “We have never won gold before,” Baska commented. The gold might have already been captured, however, in the minds of the students. Pictures were taken, Wizard hats were broken out, and a little bit of magic was created in this fun-filled, meaningful night in Hogwarts.
(Featured image courtesy of Marist Dining Services)