Serving dining hall meals to as many people as we do at Philmont presents some unique problems. The sheer numbers (we serve in excess of 1,000,000 dining hall and trail meals at Philmont each summer) and Philmont's remote location are factors that prevent us from doing everything we would like to do. An additional factor is the unknown of who is going to eat in the dining hall at any given meal. We know who should be there but many of you choose the Burrito Banquet or other place in town for a meal when you get off the trail, or arrive earlier or later than expected. That causes us to either waste food, or not have enough. Further, most of those that dine in the CHQ dining hall are youth and tend to be very picky eaters.
A little history, prior to 1996, with the exception of a couple of years when Marriott had the contract in the 80's, Philmont did its own dining hall food service. It was a real challenge getting the food we needed delivered and to get the qualified staff we needed. 1995 was a disaster. We ran out of food constantly and at the end of the summer were down to 18 year old cooks - or actually food warmers. Those of you who have operated camp food service know that getting qualified cooks is a problem, and we need them from May 11 to August 22.
So, for 1996 we put the service out to bid. We took the lowest bidder and paid for it. The food and the service was terrible. So in 1997 we fired the caterer and switched to Aramark, one of the largest companies in the food service industry. Through their resources we have access to more workers and food suppliers.
In order to minimize the waste, we decided to go with a 3-day menu in the camper dining hall. With a 3-day menu we have several advantages. Leftovers do not sit for a long time and storage space need is minimized. "Normal" crews - those that arrive for lunch or supper on day 1 and depart after breakfast on day 13 will not have a repeat meal. Anyone that had the same lunch probably arrived early and left late, or got caught in a mid-summer cycle change we made to give the rangers some more variety. We have also chosen items that are "youth friendly" and can be prepared quickly in the event of unexpected arrivals.
On the staff side we have a 14-day cycle. This is because the base camp staff eats there every day and needs more variety and since the numbers are smaller we do not have the storage problem.
As for special dietary needs, they present us with additional problems since more and more people are requesting different things. It would be impossible for us to meet all of these needs and still provide food that the majority of the youth would eat. That is why we have the salad bar, the P & J, and the breakfast cereal. We can also help to meet special dietary needs if at all possible - for instance we do prepare Kosher meals for Jewish or Muslim crews if we are aware of it well in advance.
Our desire is to give each camper a quick meal (that they will eat) and not have him or her spending a lot of time either in line or in the dining hall when there is so much else to enjoy at Philmont.