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Buffet proves infinitely pleasing to thousands

Saturday's Infinite Buffet was a real crowd-pleaser for the hordes of MIT community members (almost 6,000 by one estimate) who packed the Infinite Corridor to socialize and fill their plates with tons of food -- literally.

All told, MIT Catering cooked and served up 5,400 pieces of fried chicken, 6,720 chicken wings, 1,200 pounds of beef in 16 steamship roasts (the hind leg of a cow), 170 gallons of soup, 2,135 pounds of side salads and 7,000 brownies, cookies and pastries. The international menu included southern fried chicken with honey thyme biscuits, curried couscous salad, calypso bean salad, quiche fromage, New England clam chowder, fruit and a variety of beverages.

Organizers had planned for thousands of hungry attendees, but the turnout exceeded everyone's expectations. "We were thrilled. Words cannot describe how surprised and pleased we were with the turnout," said Emily Sandberg, assistant dean and director of the Public Service Center. "It was a raging success. Tons of students went up to President Vest and said, 'Thank you, thank you!'"

Along with the tables of food stretching for several hundred feet were entertainers in the lobbies -- a jazz quartet, a steel drum band, palm readers, caricaturists, a clown who made balloon animals and even a person applying temporary tattoos.

"It was so nice to see faculty, students and staff together at an event like this," said Katie O'Dair, assistant dean for student activities. "I think it was really good for MIT."

Producing enough food for thousands of people presented a challenge to MIT Dining Services. However, Beth Emery, food services director, said the task was made easier by having the buffet on a Saturday. The Faculty Club had no functions scheduled, and Food Services closed Lobdell Food Court for the day.

"It was a treat to have the whole team work on one event together," she said. Operations manager Dave Danells and catering director Robert Planutis were instrumental in ensuring smooth operations, she added.

Food Services staff started preparing food on the Monday before the buffet in the Next House kitchen, which has many large walk-in refrigerators and freezers. "The hardest thing was just getting the food to the stations along the corridor, because there were so many people," Ms. Emery said. However, the slight delays caused by crowds meant the food lasted longer, she added.

Ms. O'Dair, Ms. Sandberg and Anthony Ives of the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education were the initial organizers, but they emphasized that the massive task of orchestrating an event like this in less than two weeks was very much a group effort. "It wasn't just the three of us that put this together. MIT has a great staff," Ms. O'Dair said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 26, 1997.

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