Planning and running a Halloween promotion for customers of all ages can bring out the chuckles and childhood glee. As operators report, all you need to do is provide the suggestion of ghoulishness and creepiness—and food, of course—to create an awesome special event.
Bart Hipple, associate director of communications for dining services at the University of Maryland in College Park, notes that the annual traditional festivities are fun for managers and students alike. “Our dining hall is a foodcourt and we try to have our theme items featured in most of the ‘shops,’” Hipple says.
At the North Campus Diner, serving approximately 3,500 students for dinner, lights are dimmed and the ambiance is ghostly: Buckets of dry ice emanate an otherworldly chill while strategically placed synthetic cobwebs brush the faces of the unsuspecting.
Ghoulish menu: Tradition dictates the serving of Baked Bones: two manicotti shells with mushrooms, tomato sauce and cheese, available in the special value meal section. Stuffed Monster Heads (stuffed bell peppers, olives, onion straws, couscous, veggie crumbles, asparagus and marinara sauce), plus a side order of Black Bats Wings (chicken wings with barbeque sauce), are offered in the deli and rotisserie chicken area, respectively.
To complete the festive meal, there are homemade caramel apples on a stick, five types no less, available from the Ice Cream Shop and Bakery.
A Southwestern version: Leslie Bulkley, director of dining service for Chartwells Dining Services at the University of Texas-San Antonio, featured the following menu at the Roadrunner Café last Halloween and expects her staff will try to top it come October. The menu included: Assorted Road Kill with Albino Slime; Spooky Spuds; Steamed Grasshoppers; Boiled Mini-Hamster Brains; and Witches Brew. Worm Cake and Chilled Liver Cubes (red gelatin) were offered for dessert.
A note on the menu provides a more mundane translation: Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Cauliflower Florets; Witches Brew is a mixture of Orange and Grape Punch with Ginger Ale. “Don’t forget the frozen floating hand and dry ice,” Bulkley warns.
Worm Cake is a crumbled chocolate cake, layered with Oreos and gummy worms, topped with pudding.
Being kids at heart, the 200 residents of Health Advocate, a luxury retirement community in New York, look forward to the Halloween celebration that is held in the dining room each year. According to Kelly Friend, Whitsons Culinary Group’s vice president of operations, the themed buffet luncheon draws a crowd—many in costume—and staff are encouraged to bring their children, also in costume, to enjoy the festivities.
The menu boasts a Witches Brew Soup (typically it’s chicken noodle), Skeleton Stew (a traditional stew served in a “witches’ cauldron” borrowed from the catering division), Baby Ghost Potatoes (mashed potatoes with cloves for eyes) and store-bought orange and black cupcakes along with novelty cookies.
‘How to’ tricks to make those treats
Food colors are “just the trick for conjuring up some wickedly good party favorites.” Consider these suggestions: