SOUTH KINGSTOWN - As students entered the University of Rhode Island’s Hope Commons for dinner last week, they were greeted not by a cacophony of cell phone talk and clanging plastic dinner trays, but with a first class ticket onto the H.M.S Titanic. The ship’s sinking on April 15, 1912, was not the focus of this affair, however, but a chance for students to dine in another time period and enjoy a break from their course work.
“We wanted to have a themed dinner, which we call ‘monotony breakers’ for the students,” said Director of Dining Services Steven Mello. “We wanted to transform our largest dining hall into something a little different than what we had done before, and thought it was great because we tried to have a reveal so that the students didn’t know anything was happening until they came for dinner.”
Mello and his Dining Services team incorporated numerous aspects of the first class eating on the ship, as well as props which were more reminiscent of the 1997 film “Titanic.”
“We had a lot of interactive events throughout, and one part of the Commons was the steerage part of the ship,” said Mello. “We had an artist there sketching and brought in a Victorian couch. We set up a bar downstairs in front of the Corner Store, where we served Razzbulls, or drinks of Red Bull with raspberry flavoring, in plastic champagne flutes.”
The lobby stairway in Hope Commons was decorated with lights as though on the Titanic’s deck, where a lone violinist played, and students were even handed invitations which were similar to those served on the ship over 100 years ago.
“We got costumes form the Theater Department and made some vests out of felt,” said Mello. “We had some chandeliers and brought in a raw bar from Matunuck Oyster Bar. We did everything on a really tight budget but made it look expensive.”
Mello stated that 50 percent of what the students were served was the same cuisine as that on the Titanic. Dining Services cooked up lobster, beef, shrimp cocktail and salmon, as well as a giant 4-foot Titanic cake for the end of the evening celebration. Throughout the day, Mello also went around quizzing students about the Titanic movie and disaster, giving away prizes such as book autographed by the ship’s discoverer and URI professor Dr. Robert Ballard.
The Dining Services Director was more than excited from the students’ positive response to the event.
“We tried to make it really upscale and the students were really surprised and had a lot of good comments about the event,” said Mello. “There were lines at every interactive thing we had, and we even set up a hashtag with a feed and got a lot of good responses from the students immediately.”
“A student came up to us and said she wanted to sing Celine Dion’s theme song from the Titanic movie,” he added. “The students at the time went completely quiet and she just belted it out. I had goosebumps.”
Because of the enormous effort to organize and put on a dining show as has been done, Mello was quick to praise his Dining Services staff for all of the hard work that they put in to make the event a memorable one.
“We started talking about this in the summer, and the Dining Services staff got together in October to plan the look and feel, and what we needed to do to transform a large space such as this,” said Mello. “When we collaborated, everybody had a lot of good ideas.”
“The menu was the easiest thing, but the hardest part was how do we change the environment so that students have a feel for the event, “he added. “Everybody brought design ideas to the table.”
Mello and his staff are now looking toward next year’s event, although he is not revealing any details about what surprises they may have in store.
“Now we start talking about next year,” said Mello. “This is one of those things, however, that came out better than anticipated, so it will be a hard one to beat.”