13 May 2022

2022 Commencement and Reunions: Q+A with Restaurant Associates Managers


by Shona Simkin

As the campus begins to buzz in preparation for the upcoming Commencement, special commencements, and reunions, we asked Todd Mulder, Restaurant Associates (RA) general manager, and Alex Calisto, RA wellness and sustainability manager, about how they’re going about feeding and hosting an unprecedented number of people over the next six weeks.

How have your teams been preparing for all of the events?
Mulder: We’ve been developing menus for months. After we finalized them in March, Alex reviewed them for any potential allergens and to get the nutrition and allergen labels started. We started food prep today in the Grille, which is now closed until Class Day. We have a truck with paper goods in the parking lot and three more on the way. There’s an additional freezer truck by the loading dock. Andreas, our master baker, has already started baking and putting items in the freezer. It’s a lot of work.

We’ve never had this many big events in such a short period of time. In normal circumstances we’d be holding big events more regularly, such as student conferences throughout the year, with maybe 1,000 bento boxes or bagged lunches every weekend during the spring semester. It’s different when we go right into events with thousands of people. Commencement alone is about 5,000.

Do you hire additional staff to help?
Mulder: Yes, we pull from different places. We have about 10 dining services managers coming in from around the country, some for as long as three weeks. On the service side we get local temp agencies to bring in extra staff and we do what we call “friends and family,” where staff can bring in their friends and family to work–that’s not typical, but we do it for Commencement. We’re also working with students from the BU School of Hospitality and our executive chef is bringing in high school students from a program that introduces them to culinary career tracks.

What food items does RA take extra pride in making for Commencement and reunions?
Mulder: In the bakery it’s probably whoopie pies, cupcakes, and brownies. We can make many of those ahead of time and freeze them. For lunch events with 2,500 to 5,000 people it’s all cookies and brownies for dessert. One nice thing is that typically the commencement receptions are the first time we buy cherries. It’s early, so they aren’t quite as good as cherries available later in the summer, but it’s the first time we can buy them, and we look forward to it.

What tends to be most popular for the guests?
Calisto: Cupcakes!

Mulder: Definitely. When we replenish the cupcakes, they often get taken before we can put them down! As you’re walking to put more out guests are taking them off the tray. It’s incredible how much food gets consumed in the Commencement reception tent in just an hour and a half.

Are there any new menu items that you’re excited about?
Calisto: We worked to move the menus towards more sustainable plant-based items for Commencement and reunions. For breakfast we have the typical bagels and oatmeal, but have added a greens and grains station for building your own grain or salad bowl with fish, tofu, chicken, quinoa, and farro.

What are other sustainability efforts?
Calisto: We worked a lot with the HBS Green Team on programs and planning. This year is different with so many reunions and celebrations so we’re planning different pickups for our donations. We donate extra food to Food for Free—we never know how much leftovers we’ll have so we scheduled more pickups to make sure the food is repurposed properly. Commencement will have a lot of bento boxes, prepackaged boxes, and baked goods. Reunion buffets are more complicated, but we usually have pans of some things that can be frozen easily. There will be an extra bin on the loading dock for compost.

We also ramped up signage around campus and will have 3D displays for everything that is compostable—all containers and flatware are compostable—so they’re putting a container on display to show what goes in which bin. We also put stickers on all the food boxes to show that they’re compostable. We’ll also have the three different bins all over campus for recyclable, compostable, and trash.

Mulder: The custodial team does a huge lift on Baker Lawn—they go through and sift and separate everything so there’s as little trash as possible. We also will have Quench Buggies, which are mobile water stations that filter water so that people can use cups and fill up their own water bottles. That cuts down on water bottle usage, which has been a big initiative over the years. Several years ago we switched to metal silverware and linen napkins for reunions just so we can cut down on paper and plastic, and we’re also using aluminum water bottles

What is your team most looking forward to?
Mulder: We’ve been talking about it for so long, we just want to do it. Once we get going we just get very excited—we’re hospitality people. We just love seeing families here having a good time. You can’t not be impacted by the feelings on campus that day. And the same for reunions. We’ve had staff that’s been here for 20-30 years, and they remember some of these people as students even five years ago. It’s fun to see people again. Graduates are happy, reunion folks are happy to see each other, and we like to see that and make sure that they’re all being well taken care of. That’s what we’re here to do. We all want to feel wanted and needed and see people having a good time. That’s what makes these events really special for us, and we’ve missed not having them for the past two years.

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