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What It Took to Craft a Dinner for More Than 18,500 Conference Guests

Levy Convention Centers recently executed a dinner for 18,587 attendees at a biennial sorority conference in Houston.

By Ian Zelaya July 16, 2018, 7:15 AM EDT

Levy Convention Centers prepared and served 18,587 meals on site for more than 1,800 tables. 

Photo: Courtesy of Levy Convention Centers

Crafting and executing a dinner for a few hundred event guests can sometimes be a daunting task. But recently, a restaurant company worked to serve more than 18,500 meals to guests at a conference.

For Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s 68th biennial “Boule” conference, which took place July 6 to 12 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Levy Convention Centers—the venue’s hospitality partner—crafted one of the largest family-style meals ever. Executive chef Dominic Soucie and his culinary team prepared 18,587 meals on site for more than 1,800 tables for the conference’s closing gala.

At the last conference in 2016, Levy served a dinner for 23,500 guests in two buildings at the same time. This year, the entire dinner took place in the same hall.

“There was a lot that went into this event beyond the final seated dinner for 18,500-plus guests,“ said Frank Abbinanti, vice president of culinary for Levy Convention Centers. “A.K.A. members started arriving five days beforehand, and our teams were providing services for thousands of guests daily. For executing a large-scale dinner, having an experienced team that starts planning early is key. We assigned a project manager to assist the location team with communication, follow-up, and coordinating procurement.”

To accomplish the feat, the Levy Convention Centers team worked seven hours overnight to set up dinner tables, chairs, decorations, and place settings, after the events preceding the gala, explained Chris Bupp, general manager for Levy at the venue. More than 2,000 support team members from Houston and close to 2,000 servers executed the dinner.

“The biggest challenge faced when executing an event of the magnitude of the A.K.A.’s Boule Gala is the logistics of turning and/or flipping the space. At the George R. Brown Convention Center, our team had to reset the space for 18,500-plus guests in rounds with an extensive head table for 87 guests,“ said Bupp. “This required almost 75 Levy team members and 20 managers and an additional 50 partner team members. It was an impressive showing of planning, coordination, teamwork, and commitment. Though we accomplished many amazing things throughout this convention, these flips or turns were some of the most impressive.”

The meal consisted of herb-roasted chicken breast with pesto cream and braised cabbage; braised sirloin with pot roast vegetables; smashed potatoes with gravy; spring beans; potatoes and tomato with cilantro lime vinaigrette; and chocolate mousse with a white chocolate mousse center decorated with the sorority’s crest. 

In addition, Bupp noted that the Levy team had to plan several other large meal services for 2,000 to 3,500 guests in the days leading up to final event. 

“The planning process took more than eight months. When serving a group of this size and multiple events over the course of four days, we have to break down and evaluate every single aspect of the services and how we can best execute it,“ said Bupp. “Whether it was securing the staffing for all of the group’s events or the logistics involved with renting the equipment for the gala, no detail could be overlooked. We estimate that from the planning to production to finally the service of the event, that approximately 228,000 hours were spent on this event. We brought in more than 49 chefs, managers, and Levy senior leadership to support this event. They traveled combined 34,000-plus miles to get to Houston and support this convention and truly bring these events to life.”

Bupp also said that Levy is submitting the dinner for the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest silver-service dinner party, a process that began in February during the conference planning process. He said the team hopes to find out in the next few months that the world record is official.

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