Business (Managing Higher Ed)

Magic and Muggles at MSU

Harry Potter themed Culinary Services


On a February evening, a line wrapped around the sidewalk outside Landon Hall at Michigan State University (MSU). Despite the chilly weather, guests were in great spirits, as they waited to enter Heritage Commons dining hall wondering who they would encounter, what delectable menu items were in store for them and what the transformed venue would reveal for this special event.

The Culinary Services department at MSU brought together more than 1,000 muggles, witches and wizards for the Great Winter Feast to celebrate the classic Harry Potter series. Featuring a unique menu, handcrafted decorations and interactive elements, the dinner allowed various groups to collaborate and reminisce about cherished moments from the novels and films.

“We continually seek out opportunities to advance our dining program to the next level and one way to do that is by bringing the campus community together at special events,” Cheryl Berry, marketing and communications manager for Culinary Services, shares. “These occasions not only allow guests to explore unique foods and experience unfamiliar dining venues, but they also increase engagement, especially when we incorporate interactive elements.”

Harry Potter themed dining area


Spreading the Word (No Owls Involved)

Fun hashtags on social media and creative marketing pieces developed by students helped spread the word about the dinner. With its museum-like features, Landon Hall proved to be the perfect setting to recreate the Great Hall at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Culinary staff collaborated for weeks, developing menu items and testing recipes that are true to the Harry Potter theme. Executive chefs incorporated dishes featured in the book such as pumpkin pasties and butterbeer as well as traditional English cuisine, including roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and bangers and mash. “We had a great time planning the meal for this event,” says Dien Ly, executive chef for The Gallery at Snyder/Phillips Hall. “We researched the characters and brainstormed how we could incorporate concepts from the series into our menu. In the end, we captured the prevalent features of each character, and created a menu item that we felt best encompassed their personality.”

Along with the menu, guests delighted in the character portrayals and decorations. Upon arrival, they were greeted by Rubeus Hagrid (portrayed by dining services assistant manager Tony Uraz) as he accompanied them to the castle, which is traditional of the Keeper of Keys and Grounds. From there, they wound their way into the lounge where they met the Michigan State competitive Quidditch team and completed a short survey at the Sorting Ceremony to be placed in their rightful house: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin. After receiving a hand-pressed button to signify their fate, attendees enjoyed hors d’oeuvres while they waited to cross the magical barrier to Platform 9 ¾.



Setting the Scene

Entering Heritage Commons, diners were in awe of the decorations and displays. Hogwarts acceptance letters seemingly flew from the fireplaces, and house banners hung over the long tables. Potion bottles lined serving areas and culinary staff draped in scarves donned artistic nametags. Additionally, golden snitches embellished tabletops and murals and framed portraits graced the walls. There was even a large castle display surrounding the dessert station.

The event incorporated academics as well, with MSU Department of Theatre students playing the role of several characters. Harry, portrayed by Lukas Jacob, was popular among the students, who posted selfies with “The Boy Who Lived.” Attendees were offered many photo ops, including a booth with props, an appearance by school mascot Sparty and life-size cardboard character cutouts located throughout the dining hall.

Detailed desserts and creative dishes tied the night together. Chefs transformed the menu to incorporate unique names and diners truly experienced the color variety described in the books. The menu included captivating shades of orange (pumpkin pasties and carrot ginger soup), green (Leaky Cauldron pea soup and herbology salad), red (Molly Weasley’s meatballs with fire-roasted marinara), yellow (Yorkshire pudding) and brown (meat dishes and chocolate-covered frogs). Other tasty dessert creations from MSU bakers included butterbeer cupcakes, mandrake dirt pudding and cockroach clusters, as well as display cakes that showcased the Hogwarts crest and illustrated a spell book. Enchanting beverages, including butterbeer and hot cocoa, were also served from silver antique dispensers.

Harry Potter themed decoration


A Magical Success

Eric Batten, executive chef for Heritage Commons, remarked on the fun elements of planning the meal. “For us chefs, events create an experience that’s out of the norm,” he says. “We get an opportunity to step outside our typical day-to-day operations and play in the kitchen with other staff. It’s great to get back to the roots of it and I’m fairly certain the cast of the films would have felt welcomed at our event! Butterbeer is definitely my new favorite drink!”

Cardboard cutouts, murals and figurines were raffled off to fans in a prize drawing at the end of the evening. The excitement built by attendees who came in costume, sharing photos and posts on social media, added to the atmosphere and made the event a success.

The post-event survey showcased guests’ appreciation for the opportunity to gather with friends and fellow students, interact with culinary staff, and relive beloved moments from the books and films. “The Harry Potter dinner was absolutely fantastic,” one attendee expressed. “A lot of work went into it and it showed. The food was great; the Harry Potter cast looked and acted their parts perfectly, which really made the experience. Thank you for such a fun dinner!”

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Leah Ball, B.A., is the communications manager for Michigan State University Culinary Services.