The largest formal dinner ever held in North Carolina is being staged Thursday in uptown Charlotte, with 10,450 people set to eat 7.68 tons of food at 1,000 tables.
It starts at 7:30 p.m., with sparking pink Moscato served in commemorative glasses and will conclude 2 1/2 hours later with a peach almond tart.
So massive is the event, seven conveyor belts are being used to roll the plates by as 80 kitchen staff dole out 2,000 pounds of salad, 4,000 pounds of potatoes, 2,500 pounds of green beans, 2,500 pounds of chicken and 4,375 pounds of short ribs.
On top of it: 200 gallons of sauce, which a chef started preparing at 3 a.m. Thursday.
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It’s all part of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority convention this week at the Charlotte Convention Center, an affair that attracted 11,500 women from around the world.
The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority sees the dinner as the latest example of Charlotte’s growing national reputation as a “top-tier city” convention host. That reputation got its biggest boost when the Democratic National Convention brought 35,000 people to the city in 2012.
However, the delegates didn’t sit down together to eat.
“It’s taking every square inch of the exhibit hall: 280,000 square feet,”said Tom Murray, CEO of the CRVA.
“This is double the size of any meal we served in the past, and bigger than anything that happened during the Democratic National Convention. I don’t think I’ll get into trouble for saying it’s the biggest dinner in the state, because no other venue has the capacity.”
The Alpha Kappa Alphas have a tradition of sitting together for a big meal during their conventions or boule, as they call it.
In fact, the sorority holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest-ever silver service sit-down dinner in history. That was in 2008 when 16,206 members dined at a convention in Washington celebrating the organization’s 100th year.
Prior to the Alpha Kappa Alpha convention, the biggest formal dinner served in Charlotte was for 5,600 people at a 1995 Amway event.
“This will be a spectacle,” said Melody McDowell of Illinois, who is a spokeswoman for Alpha Kappa Alpha.
“We have these big meals at the end of the convention as our final moment together as sisters. Some of the members may not see each other for another two years, at our next convention. It’s our chance to throw down, as they say.”
Steve Bagwell is the vice president of venues for the CRVA, and he says one of the most impressive points of the big meal is that most of the 800 servers are volunteers from area schools and nonprofits.
The CRVA makes a $10 per hour contribution to those charities in exchange for the free labor.
The staffers will be fed, too, which means CRVA is actually serving 11,250 dinners Thursday.
Bagwell says he’s confident the food will taste good, including a New Orleans Spiced Chicken Supreme and boneless short ribs of beef.
Coincidentally, he’s the man behind the conveyer belts, which will fill a 1,000-square-foot room.
“People will be on either side, putting different food on the plates, and making sure the plates are clean and the food is presented correctly. If it’s wrong, they discard it,” he said.
“We want to make these women as happy as possible. They chose Charlotte for this event, and we’re proud of that.”