Why does UMass serve lobster on Halloween? An investigative report into the annual Halloween dinner

By Emily Johnson

(Daily Collegian Archives)
(Daily Collegian Archives)

It’s a typical sight on Halloween: college students in costumes planning an evening of festivities. But at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, October 31 also marks the annual “All Treats, No Tricks” dinner, when all of the dining commons transform into a spirited, spooky affair and serve lobster.

On Monday night from 5 to 9 p.m., the dining commons will host a special dinner with lobster, grass-fed grilled steak, chicken chesterfield and baked macaroni and cheese. New to the annual dinner, retail dining locations Blue Wall and Roots Cafe will offer special meals as well.

But the question remains: why lobster every single year?

UMass Dining and fishermen in Maine teamed up 15 years ago to serve the first lobster dinner. According to Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises Ken Toong, other universities celebrate the holiday with festivities in the dining commons, but no other school has a lobster bake. UMass’s dinner is one of the biggest celebrations.

“It is an urban legend that someone sponsored this; it is not the case,” Toong said.

Some students still seem to believe the rumor that Bill Cosby sponsors the event, despite the fact that there is no truth to this claim. Cosby is an alumnus of the university, but has no involvement or relation to this tradition.

Jacklyn Giampa, a junior studying psychology, has never been to the event but said, “I do think it’s weird that we still have a man such as Bill sponsoring anything for us. Especially as liberal as UMass is.”

“Everyone says the lobster dinner comes from Bill Cosby, but I don’t think it’s from him,” Elena Lopez, a UMass senior studying comparative literature and Spanish senior at UMass, said.

“I heard it was funded by Bill Cosby but didn’t really believe it,” said Devrim Dereli, a senior who studies electrical engineering.

So, to put rumors to rest: Bill Cosby has nothing to do with this dinner.

The Halloween dinner is special for Toong, whose birthday is Oct. 31. For the past few years, he has celebrated with students in the dining common and plans to do so at Hampshire Dining Commons this year.

During a four-hour period of time last year, the dining commons served 14,000 lobsters. This year they expect to serve anywhere between 13,000 and 15,000 lobsters.

The hard-shell lobsters are caught in the gulf of Maine on Halloween morning. Hard-shell lobsters have “better flavor,” said Christopher Howland, director of purchasing and marketing of auxiliary enterprises.

In addition to the special dinner, students will be entertained while they eat. At each dining common, there will be fortune telling, pumpkin painting, table magic, make-your-own caramel apple and a DJ. The first 100 students to arrive at each dining common will receive a gift.

Students and dining common staff are encouraged “to come in costume,” said Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining services auxiliary enterprises. From 5 to 7 p.m. there will be a costume contest, with the first prize winner receiving a $100 gift certificate, second prize winner receiving a $75 gift certificate and third prize winner receiving a $50 gift certificate.

The Princeton Review recently ranked UMass Amherst as the best campus food, so this event is an opportunity to celebrate “the greatest dining experience,” said Toong.

A popular event, the dinner promotes a safe, yet exciting way to celebrate Halloween for the campus community. As Toong says, it is “one of the most anticipated dining events every year.”

Emily Johnson can be reached at [email protected]