Each semester, senior students in the Hospitality Management major at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) host the Gourmet Dinner as part of their capstone project. The event is entirely planned, organized and executed by the students, giving them an opportunity to implement in-class lessons into a real-world experience.
Kendra Stefanski, the general manager of this semester’s Gourmet Dinner, said that the planning process started on the very first day of class. When asked about her goal in holding such an important position, she replied, “We all had to pick our top three positions that we wanted. Since our professor knew us since we were freshmen, we were assigned [to a position] based on our strengths.”
From New Orleans cuisine to Gatsby-inspired decor, the theme for the event differs every semester. The theme for the Gourmet Dinner this semester is “Community Harvest: Keeping it Local.” However, due to the pandemic, this event had to undergo a few changes to provide a safe environment without sacrificing the event’s success.
The committee members are aware of how the coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken a toll on the community as a whole. This is one of the factors that made them chose “Community Harvest” as their theme this semester. “COVID is a hard time for our community so we are trying to do our best to support our community,” said Assistant General Manager, Anne-Sophia Rioux. She explained that most of the ingredients for the dinner service were purchased from local farmers.
In terms of their biggest challenge for this event, Rioux said that the committee has been working with the COVID-19 guidelines to try and figure out and decide what UNH will and would not allow. One of the changes that the committee has made was changing the duration of the event to just dinner on Friday and Saturday, as opposed to years past where they have also had brunch on Sunday.
While the duration of the event has been decreased, the committee still had to “figure out a way to safely execute this event.” In addition to the shorter duration, the seating capacity has also been decreased to only 24 guests per night. According to So, these minor changes will allow them to execute this event while still being COVID-19-friendly and following the protocols set by UNH.
On the marketing side of the event, the target market has shifted due to the guest list being cut by half. In previous events, aside from students, staff and faculty, this event also targets parents and alumni. But this semester, only those who are a part of the UNH testing program are allowed to be a part of this event. “Our target market is condensed to just the students and faculty,” said Julia Marzullo, one of the co-marketing directors.
The committee has also decided to take a different approach to maximize the experience of this event by introducing a curbside pickup service. “We are doing up to 50 orders per night for our curbside pickup service. We have no expectation on how many we would sell through this service because this is our first time doing it,” said Co-Marketing Director Jess Gorman. She added, “I think pick-up will be bigger this year versus dine-in.”
Since this year’s event is limited to the UNH community, both marketing directors had to figure out an alternative marketing strategy to spread awareness of this event. “Students in PAUL College had always known [about Gourmet Dinner] but other colleges don’t,” said Gorman. “We try to get our marketing promos across other colleges through posts on electronic boards and mass email,” added Marzullo.
Gorman explained the math behind the $40 per person for dine-in and $25 per person for the curbside pick-up charges. “We actually have to do a project for the pricing and go through every single item on the menu and figure out the price that we’re spending on the event, so the price is extremely accurate,” she said.
“Dine in is $40 with a five-course-meal, mocktail, coffee and tea. It’s $40 but you get so much food that it’s worth it,” said Gorman. “The curbside pick-up does not include the appetizers and is only three courses, so it’s cheaper,” added Marzullo.
Currently, Stefanski said the process is “going great.”
“We are making our final last-minute checks and putting all of the final details,” she added. By reaching out to students, faculty and staff from other collages, the committee have managed to increase their dine-in bookings and take-out orders. “The numbers are coming up really strong,” Stefanski clarified.
Stefanski and Rioux both hope for the best when it comes to the outcome of the event. “Our goals are to obviously sell all of the tables on both nights, but we also want to have a successful COVID-friendly event,” said Rioux.