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Thousands Turn Out for Buffet

By Dana Levine

EDITOR IN CHIEF

Over 6,000 students, faculty, staff, and alumni attended MIT’s Infinite Buffet, a community-wide event that filled the Infinite Corridor and Killian Court with food, entertainment, and nearly twice as many people as expected.

Sina Kevin Nazemi ’03, one of the organizers, said that the projected turnout for Saturday’s buffet, 3,000-3,500 people, seemed optimistic when compared with the 2,000 who attended the buffet in 1997. Nazemi, the Class of 2003 president, organized the buffet along with Satwiksai Seshasai and Soulaymane Kachani, members of the Graduate Student Council.

Kachani said that without an RSVP process, it was impossible to gauge attendance in advance.

“If you look at student-run events in recent history, the numbers would make this the largest student-run event ever. Our estimates in the eyes of precedent were not conservative at all,” Nazemi said.

Nazemi said that attendance was significantly bolstered by Saturday’s nice weather and the heavy advertising campaign. “Everything lined up perfectly,” he said.

Caterers fed most diners

Despite persistent rumors that food had run out earlier in the day, Aramark’s caterers were able to provide food until 3 p.m., feeding 6,000 of the estimated 6,500 people who attended the buffet.

Nazemi said that “at 1 o’clock, messages were relayed to people that they might want to know that some items were not available.” Miscommunication may have led some volunteers to tell people that there was no more food. “We’re talking about an event with 6,000 people, so there may have been miscommunication among a few people,” Nazemi said.

Elizabeth Emery, regional district manager for Aramark, said that it was possible to feed nearly everyone because Aramark initially accounted for extremely generous portions of food.

Each buffet table was run by a group of 5 to 8 workers, who ensured that enough food was available and brought in replacements when needed. In some cases, food was moved between tables to ensure that every table had a good assortment.

At some points food supplies ran low at particular locations, but supplies were quickly replenished. “There were points at which [the volunteers] told people that there would be no food, but 2 or 3 minutes later there was more food,” Kachani said. “Even those people who came and didn’t find food, they still had dessert and drinks in Killian and entertainment.”

Although most of the food was prepared in advance, Aramark purchased extra fried chicken in case more food was needed. “We continued making fried chicken throughout the day,” Emery said.

As the buffet went on, a decision was made to close down tables one-by-one. “I know that at some time we realized we were running out of certain products. We decided to have less buffets with more food,” Emery said.

In total, MIT diners consumed three quarters of a ton of fried chicken, 770 pounds of roast beef, and 6,000 jerk chicken wings. “People particularly liked the jerk chicken,” Emery said.

Planning aids success

Emery attributed the buffet’s success to the planning by the student organizers.

“If you had been at the last one, this was a huge success. This was managed so much better,” she said. “The event was a success because they set up the flow and because of the number of volunteers.”

The organizers attempted to create a one-directional flow in the corridor, which reduced congestion and decreased waiting time. When one buffet was particularly crowded, people were redirected to another station. Kachani estimated that the waiting time for food was 20 to 30 minutes during the busiest times, and averaged about 10 to 15 minutes.

Volunteers also attempted to keep people from entering the buffet from any location other than Building 8, 13, or 7. Overall, 225 volunteers helped out with the buffet.

Buffet successful, leaders say

Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict called the buffet an unbelievable success. “I look forward to doing it every four years,” he said.

“One of the things we talk about is building community. This is one of the things that makes you feel part of the place. It makes you feel good about the place. We would definitely support it in the future,” he said.

GSC president Dilan Seneviratne said that the buffet helped to bring people together. “I saw a lot of faculty who were hanging out with students from their research group,” he said. “A significant number of staff and administrators showed up. On a Saturday, that’s amazing.”