Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen

By Quinn Ryan

Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation in Pearson, Wis., and Kandle Dining Services entered into a partnership three years ago to provide dining services for two sub-camps and to pack daily lunches for excursions. The scout reservation made the decision to contract these services after 87 years of in-house food-service control. The decision was made for several reasons, with the increase in prevalence of food allergies and special diets being one of them. It should come as no surprise that the relationship started with some turbulence. The camp staff had some deep-running traditions and vast institutional knowledge of food service. Upon arriving, Kandle employees had a steep learning curve to address in order to be successful. On the other hand, Kandle brought a wealth of knowledge in navigating the current best practices in the food-service industry. Together, a strong partnership was created, using the methods highlighted here. Many of these were hard-won lessons with much trial-and-error along the way. In hindsight, it all seems much more natural than it did in the moment, but that is often the case when forging new paths.

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Tips For Success
Shared goals and open communication are essential to forming a successful partnership with a food-service contractor. The following pointers will help to achieve success:

  • Open lines of communication will enable you to work as a team to develop a food program that meets your shared goals.
  • Begin the relationship early in the season—like October—so the new company can learn camp traditions, camper demographics, and staff preferences.
  • Make sure the new partner visits the camp and its facilities to properly develop a program and menu that is feasible.
  • Establish major and expendable equipment requests early in the season. This will allow you to work together to develop a dining program for the future.
  • Communicate to establish mutual first-, second-, and third-year goals for dining services.
  • Establish routine conversations to discuss the progress of food service, staffing, menu planning, special events, and food deliveries.

Above all, a successful partnership is built upon communication and trust. During the summer season, communicate with the contractor your goals for the upcoming season and trust that the contractor will listen and plan accordingly. Also, communicate with the dining-services team on day-to-day activities and trust that it will serve campers in a friendly, professional manner.

Becoming Camp Staff
It became beneficial to think of the Kandle staff members as our own, working hard to bring them into the fold of the camp staff. In fact, many of the issues during the first year of operation began to evaporate when the contractor’s staff felt like camp staff members. The first year was rocky at times—the camp staff did not see the Kandle staff as part of the team—but as outside actors simply providing a service. It all changed once the vendor’s staff members learned the songs, attended campfires, and joined us in the daily administrative meeting. One of the biggest challenges in any vendor/client relationship is getting past the “who benefits” feelings. Obviously, Kandle is a business, but so is our camp. Kandle wants to provide the highest quality food service, at the most competitive price. As a camp operator, I want to provide participants with the best quality food at the most competitive price. The goals are in alignment, but the benefits are not as simple. Kandle benefits from our business monetarily, and the camp benefits from reducing overhead for operating the kitchen. If you cannot define the benefits in the relationship between vendor and client, there is conflict. Once the vendor’s staff members felt like the camp was their home too, we all started rowing in the same direction.

There are simple ways to make a contractor feel like a camp staff member:

  • If members are willing, put them in camp staff uniforms.
  • Include them in staff-recognition programs.
  • Work with vendors to put them into the camp’s organizational flow chart.
  • Include them in evaluations of camp.
  • Invite them to staff-training opportunities.

Mutually Beneficial
Even doing a few of these procedures will improve a relationship. The benefit we saw—almost overnight—was efficiency in the kitchens as vendor staff began to feel more comfortable going directly to camp leadership with questions. We experienced more anticipation of the needs of the camp, like special meal requests. And for the first time this year, we have talked about leveraging the relationship with Kandle to obtain a better deal on food pricing for other programs—using vendor relationships to create purchasing power.

Understanding what is needed from a food-service vendor and working with the business to provide that will help create a beneficial relationship. Dining-service providers entered the field with a desire to feed people; if they are given that opportunity and work together with the vendor, they can deliver on that promise. Before we had a food-service vendor, there were many options we wanted to offer campers but were unable to because of the complexity of the situation. The major example is the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables offered on a daily basis. Previously, we were having difficulty managing the cost control of a regular salad bar. Today, we not only have salad at lunch and dinner, but a yogurt and granola bar every morning. This is in addition to three choices of fruit at every meal.

Vendor/client relationships do not have to be adversarial or contentious—they should be mutually beneficial for everyone involved. As a camp operator, I had a need to fill, and Kandle provided those services. In turn, I was able to relieve my camp of the burden of the food-service operation to provide what the camp does best—summer fun and value-based programs for young people!

Quinn Ryan is the Program Director for the Boy Scouts of America, Northeast Illinois Council. Reach him at Quinn.Ryan@scouting.org.