Redifer Dining Commons will transform from its staid self into a glittery, red carpet-draped upscale venue for its annual Hollywood Nights Dinner tonight.
It’s a special themed dinner, held once a year, to thank not only the dining hall’s frequent guests, but its employees as well, said assistant manager Maria Kim.
“Many of the families of our workers come and enjoy the meal,” she said. “It’s one of our biggest days of the year.”
Indeed it is. On a normal weekday, the Southside Buffet (the buffet portion of the Redifer food district, which also features ten other dining venues) feeds about six or seven hundred hungry students during an average dinner and late night meal. The Hollywood dinner will serve nearly 1300 students.
“We don’t have enough seating so we have bracelets so there’s seating on the other side [of the buffet entrance],” Kim said. “All of our employees wear black and white and bow ties. We try to put them in a special seating area where there’s fancy linen.”
But what’s an upscale meal without refined food? This year’s rendition will feature lobster tail, Italian mussels, prime rib, shrimp cocktail, a chocolate fountain, cedar plank salmon, and much more. It will run students about twice the cost of a normal dinner, but, according to Kim, that’s usually not an issue.
“A lot of people have a lot of extra dollars on their meal plans this late in the semester,” she said. “So it works to have a more expensive meal at this time.”
A normal dinner service requires six workers. The Hollywood dinner will need 20 to serve out dishes and mandate portions.
“We have extra workers serve this meal because we don’t want anyone taking six lobster tails,” Kim said.
The idea for a Hollywood Nights-themed meal was born four years ago, when the South Dining Commons — which houses Redifer — did upscale dinners every Tuesday night.
“The reason we call it Hollywood nights is because the MTV show ‘The Hills’ was very big then,” Kim said. “The name stuck. We wanted to keep it because people remembered the name.”
But continuing to put on such a memorable event is no easy task, especially when 1,300 hungry students are waiting to be fed. Working with her chefs, Kim went through her large freezers, searching for what leftovers could be combined to make a lasting meal.
“If we have 25 cases of lobster that still need to be used, we’ll use that,” she said. “Our mussels are ordered fresh. It’s a lot of what we have in house that we need to use in the end.”
In the end, however, the annual Hollywood dinner reaffirms Redifer’s position as Penn State’s most innovative, forward thinking dining hall.
“Redfer tries to do things that set themselves apart from other campus dining,” Kim said. “You want people remembering they ate lobster tail in the campus-dining hall. We want to keep that legacy.”
Most importantly, it’s a final thank you to her staff, both student and adult workers. Food service is made up of long shifts at inopportune hours, as Kim can attest to first hand.
“You don’t get to see your family,” she said. “I work from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. I don’t get to see my family. I don’t get to tuck my son into bed. If they see ‘Hey, mom’s work is really cool, they serve lobster,’ it’s something they can be proud of.”