BY RON BARGER Park Owners Find Success Providing On-Site Food Service to Campers Along with the amenities and spending time outdoors, camping is also known for offering campers a chance to enjoy some great food. From ice cream to slushies, to pizza or even a giant Philly cheese steak sandwich, savvy campground owners know that vacations mean expanding caloric boundaries while exploring geographic regions. But they don’t necessarily need to go off-site from the park to find great food. Studies by Milford, Ohio-based Leisure SystemsInc.,whichfranchisesmorethan80 Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts acrossNorthAmerica,showhavinggreat— or even more modest — food service at a campgroundkeepscampersontheproperty longer each day and even may promote longer stays. Jim Westover, vice president of product development and sales forLSI,helpsparkown- ers develop new rev- enue streams — and partofthatentailslook- ing at ways that own- ers can provide more food options to their campers. Westover shared with Woodall’s Camp- ground Management (WCM) that in the JellystoneParksystem,thesizeofthedining area is dictated by the size of each park and theamountandtypesoffoodservedmustbe convenient. “If you don’t have a large dining area, one of the things you can do is in-park pizza de- livery,” he explained. “Whether you deliver to somebody’s RV or cabin via golf cart, or you have it ready for them to pick up at a central location, this type of service gives smaller parks the food options that larger parks normally have.” Leslie Kelch, general manager of the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg Kampgrounds of America (KOA) Holiday in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., believes firmly that knowing your campers’ taste is important. “Knowyouraudienceandtrytogearyour offering to what they want,” she implored. “Theproductswehave are simple, like pizza, hand-dipped ice cream, hamburgers, that type of stuff.” Kelch is a big be- liever in delivery, too. “We will deliver di- rectlytoacamper’ssite or, if they are at the pool, we will deliver it to the pool,” she pointed out. “We have plenty of staff to handle that. In the slower seasons we are only open weekends, but from Memorial Day through Labor Day we are open daily — and we try to have enough people to cover delivery almost anywhere.” Westover said the statistics clearly show thatfamiliesspendmoreandstayinparksas a result of conveniences such as delivery. “It’sanadditional30%ontopofwhatthey generally spend,” he shared. “Probably 20% or more is going to be on the food side of the equation. We do offer merchandise, but if you are able to take care of a dinner or lunch for them it makes it easier for the family to stay put — particularly if you have water featuresoron-siteactivities.Thoseelements go hand-in-hand. “Profits can be very significant,” West- over continued. “There are campgrounds that offer home-cooked meals. Others have bigpancakebreakfasts.Understandthatitis a unique dining experience and you have a captive audience, so you can charge a little bit more.” Westover told WCM that as long as you bring a quality product, food service should be an important part of the business model. “It should become an asset at that point instead of just providing a service,” he said. “I think people in the camping industry have lookedatitasjustaserviceinsteadofaprofit center. It can be a nice profit center if it is done properly and priced properly.” Being part of a franchise or purchasing groupcanmakethefoodsideofthebusiness even more profitable. “If you are involved in a larger organiza- tion,” Westover noted, “you have the ability to negotiate contracts with distributors that can bring in products at a much lower price. That is the benefit of being with a larger organization; you get those economies of scale.” Westover said that his group negotiates on behalf of its franchisees and then passes the savings down to them. “It can be as much as 25% or more in some cases,” he said. “When you are dealing with a large number of venues like ours and the amount of people that come through our parks, it is not uncommon for there to be thousands of people through one parkeachweekend.Thosetypesofnumbers make negotiating a lot easier.” “Starting out it was a struggle as far as the food costs and overhead,” added Kelch. “We are in our fourth year of the café, so we have gotten things down to a science. Knowing when to order things and when we didn’tneedtohaveahugeinventoryonhand was key.” Erin Phipps, office manager of the Port Huron KOA Resort in Port Huron, Mich., con- curredthatlearningtomasterinventorycon- trol and delivery is key. “It’s a profit center,” shesaid.“Butweorder weekly, so we try to keep the order num- bers low and try to get them in each week. At the end of our season, we have a relationship withouricecreamdistributorwheretheywill purchase some of what we have left over at Jim Westover Leslie Kelch Erin Phipps From ice cream, like this huge cone at the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA Holiday, to hot dogs and other goodies, the food service business is becoming more lucrative for campground owners. 20 - July 2019 Woodall’s Campground Management