Outside Flavor

By Scott Gilbert

A contract food service management company is a foodservice operator that can provide some or all of your camp food needs. They can go from small -- like a local catering operation that provides daily basic entrees and baked goods -- to complete turnkey operators who manage all the goods and services of your dining operations.


There are many reasons to consider outsourcing your food program. Whether you're a small camp or a large facility with multiple food outlets, partnering with a reputable food provider can be a great weight off your shoulders and another marketing tool for you to draw campers to your operation.

Here are some of the pros to outsourcing food operations:

1. The camp managers can dedicate their time to running the key activities of your camp. The food managers employ their expertise to providing wholesome, balanced, nutritious meals within the budget and menus you have set up with them.

2. All daily operational food details and worries are taken off your busy schedule.

3. Stay-over camps are judged in part by the quality of their food program. Campers are a captive audience, and a sub-par food program will only hurt your return visits.

4. Food safety and nutritional considerations are a major part of any good meal plan. A professional foodservice provider will be able to assure the wholesome safety of the food served to your campers.

Stay in Control
As you consider using an outside food service source and managing that decision, know what you want from your food provider. Remember, you are not giving up control.

If you choose a limited food provider, are you willing to take care of the dining area, set up the basics and beverages and serve the food to the campers? Do you have a strong food manager who could use a service like this to manage the daily production, assure a consistent meal program without the headache of summer help and produce every part of the menu?

If so, you should look into a local catering operation that has a good reputation, offers menu options and services that you could purchase a la carte, such as opening evening buffets, special theme nights and has a reliable reputation in the community. This is a great first step into managing your food program more effectively and knowing your expenses will be consistent.

A full foodservice provider provides complete outsourcing. There are many wonderful national and regional providers who can take on all aspects of your dining services.

They provide the food, service, sanitation and on-site management. You interact with their team leaders as needed but all the daily food operation is in their hands.

Some top companies such as Aramark or Compass Group offer complete programs that can provide any service you might need. Many regional food contractors who manage elementary and secondary school food programs love to be involved with summer camp programs. This is a great way for them to balance out their year and have the expertise of providing balanced school meal programs within a budget.

The have mature trained staff and can be very reliable. Look into who is providing the elementary school or local college meals in your area.

Take the time to clearly set up menus and expectations. Like any business decision, knowing what you want and communicating detailed expectations will assure that you get the results you expect. Set up an open communication link with the key managers you work with and that they will be held to the quality you agreed to.

Keep the Veto Vote, and set up a clear understanding that you have the right to refuse any sub-par offering. Work with the provider and be fair, flexible but firm in your expectations and you will have a good experience.

Work with a food provider who has a strong reputation and has experience in preparing the volume of food needed daily by your camp.

This is why we do not suggest working with a small local restaurant. They are not set up with the type of equipment or personnel who can do this on a daily basis.

Professional caterers or on-site food managers have the experience and support needed to deliver a consistent, quality program.

Outsourcing has many positives and a strong food program can be a great marketing tool for recruiting. Nothing works in your favor as well as positive word of mouth.

The ability to market that your daily menus are provided by Award-Winning XYZ Catering Services can be a big plus, and a comfort to parents who see food service as important as all the other wonderful programs you offer.

If you have not tried anything like this, give it some thought as you put together your 2004 plans. Look around your area at who is catering local schools and business dining. Speak with them and get quotes on what it would cost. Sometimes it is less than staffing with a lot of summer help, the quality is consistent and you have one less headache.

Scott Gilbert is a corporate chef for Nestle Food Services Inc., and lives in Medina, Ohio.