NPS=Bad Food Service

balzaccom

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Why is the food so universally bad in our national parks? It’s true that they located in difficult places: food deliveries are going to be limited and expensive. But there has to be more to it than that. On our last trip to Death Valley, we waited more than forty minutes to be served a BLT at Stovepipe Wells, and when it arrived it was stone cold. The next night, at Furnace Creek, our salads and entrees arrived at the same time, within three minutes of ordering them, and well before our drinks made it to the table.
It’s as if nobody in the dining room is paying attention. And it’s not just that we’re from Napa, and used to better things. As we look around the restaurants in our national parks, we see looks of confusion and bewilderment on the faces of all the customers. Why is it so hard?
The worst restaurant we have ever visited is the one at Grant’s Grove in SEKI. A few years ago, they were simply a disaster from beginning to end: bad reception, lousy service, and terrible food, all bundled up into one restaurant. And the prices in these places are way above what you would pay anywhere else. In Death Valley, one steakhouse is asking more than $65 for a steak—and given the rest of the operation we can’t imagine that it was very good. Two days before we had eaten at Harris Ranch in Coalinga—not exactly the culinary capital of the Western World—where the steaks were certainly better, and certainly less expensive. And the service was attention, and the whole thing worked.
We wish that SOMEBODY were paying attention to this, but they are not. Sure, it might be hard to get good staff to work at a national park, (Really? Wouldn’t bright young people want to do this for a season of adventure?) but there seems to be almost no training of the people they do hire. And there seems to be no supervision in the dining room. Again, nobody there is paying attention…
 

Aldaron

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I've just always attributed it to Aramark, the primary NPS concessionaire. They know you're a captive audience that can't drive 50+ miles outside the Park to get lunch and you have "vacation" money to spend. Consequently, they get the absolute cheapest food they can buy and charge you the absolute most that they can get away with. And that equals lots of profit.

And you're right, Park food always sucks. Sometimes I'd rather eat cold crackers than a chicken sandwich at Mammoth Hot Springs.
 

Nick

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Aramark, Xanterra, they all suck. Why try to do a good job when there is no possibility for competition? It's a terrible system. I understand why the NPS awards these contracts but I think everyone would be greatly benefited by making it a little less permanent and much more performance-based.
 

Joey

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Not all park food is bad. Signal Mountain Lodge in Grand Teton National Park has great food. I would rather eat there than many places in town.

When I worked in Glacier National Park, Sysco Foods was where all the food came from that GPI was using. It got old fast, and really messed up our stomachs having to eat it every day. Really low grade quality, but its about money.

Companies like Xantera plain suck. They mislead international workers into coming over here, they abuse employees, and have little competition to force them to improve things. I could go on and on, but I think most of us already know how this is.

I don't have a problem with food being served in the parks. Especially when I've been out backpacking. It's convenient, and still better than the pasta I've been eating in the woods. I don't expect much about the food service I get, actually I could care less. I'm just happy to be there.

On our last trip to Death Valley, we waited more than forty minutes to be served a BLT at Stovepipe Wells, and when it arrived it was stone cold. The next night, at Furnace Creek, our salads and entrees arrived at the same time, within three minutes of ordering them, and well before our drinks made it to the table.
It’s as if nobody in the dining room is paying attention. And it’s not just that we’re from Napa, and used to better things.
o_O My god man. I'm sorry for your inconvenience. Perhaps just stay in Napa from now on. You deserve better.
 

Ben

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i second Nick's comment. personally i've never been that turned off by park foods, but then i've never eaten at an actual restaurant in a park, only cafeterias. and mostly at the end of a backpack, which kind of influences my perception.

regarding @balzaccom 's $65 steak, you can get one for less than that at phantom ranch AT THE BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON.
 

Bob

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It all comes from the same food supply company.......supplying cafeteria style usually isn't great. I have had good and bad at Yellowstone Inn. But it's all overpriced.
 

ogg

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After my experience with Xanterra at the south rim of the Grand Canyon, I don't see myself eating at or lodging in any of their establishments any time soon. Stovepipe wells is now managed by a smaller concessionaire. I think its pretty much hit or miss anywhere you go regardless if the establishment is run by a large corporate entity or more mom-and-pop. However, I have no faith in any Xanterra run operation. My mother has worked for them and has nothing good to say. Panamint Springs Resort just outside of Death Valley National Park is worth the stop. Good food and service, large selection of good microbrews. Motel gets mixed reviews but I like the campground, especially at $10 per site. Downside is that its a 30-45 minute haul over the pass just into Stovepipe wells.
 

balzaccom

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After my experience with Xanterra at the south rim of the Grand Canyon, I don't see myself eating at or lodging in any of their establishments any time soon. Stovepipe wells is now managed by a smaller concessionaire. I think its pretty much hit or miss anywhere you go regardless if the establishment is run by a large corporate entity or more mom-and-pop. However, I have no faith in any Xanterra run operation. My mother has worked for them and has nothing good to say. Panamint Springs Resort just outside of Death Valley National Park is worth the stop. Good food and service, large selection of good microbrews. Motel gets mixed reviews but I like the campground, especially at $10 per site. Downside is that its a 30-45 minute haul over the pass just into Stovepipe wells.


Nice tip for next time. Thanks
 
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Although a lot of the park concession employees are still kids, some choose and want the opportunity to work and enjoy beautiful places such as Yellowstone etc.. My friend worked in Yellowstone for a summer and had a blast. Let's face it though park food is made for the masses and usually when food is made this way it's less than desirable. Prices are always going to be high because they are tourist destinations. Like @Joey said, it can actually be convenient and I have utilized the concessions a few times when we were camping at Grant Village or at Canyon. It can be pricey, but sometimes it's much easier than cleaning dishes everyday or having to worry about storage of food.
 

balzaccom

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After yesterday’s post, we did want to share a great place to eat in Bakersfield. Yes, Bakersfield. As we drove along highway 178 across town, we noticed a small café: the 24 St. Café. It isn’t hard to find. It’s on 24th St. and Highway 178. And it is everything that a small café should be: lively, fresh cooked food, inexpensive, hearty portions, friendly and helpful service. It is only open for breakfast and lunch, and even on a Wednesday it was pretty full at 12:15. But they squeezed us in at the counter, gave us our delicious lunch with a smile, provided some welcome driving directions, and had us on our way in less than 45 minutes. You can’t ask for more than that, and everyone in that restaurant was enjoying the experience, from the customers to the staff. And yes, the owner was present and paying attention to the customers with a smile.

In Stovepipe Wells we would have been just biting into our (cold) food. And paid double.
 

Kullaberg63

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I was dirt bagging in Yosemite for months at a time back in the 80's and early nineties. Without a car (pretty much the only way to overstay in the Valley) we had to eat what was there. And it wasn't bad, at least not for a hyper active 20 something climbing bum... Degnan's Deli, Curry Village pizza shop, village cafeteria. All good.
 
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steve

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I guess it depends on your view of what a national park should be. In my opinion, restaurants are appropriate for Disneyland, carnivals, and cities. It seems like the more we try to make a national park like a city, the less it feels like what it used to be (nature.) national parks urbanize nature.

I think national parks feel too much like Disneyland anyway. Lodging, food, and stores are definitely convenient, but I'd be happier if national parks didn't have any of these. If the purpose if a national park is to make nature convenient and accessible, then I could see the appeal, but I think national parks should focus more on nature than turning it into a mini city.

I much prefer going to places like great basin np, canyonlands, and arches than Yellowstone because it feels more like what it used to be 100 years ago. One or two roads and two visitors centers and that's it.

Imagine how different canyonlands or arches would be if they had lodging and restaurants up there. It would totally ruin it in my opinion.

I'm convinced that the fastest way to overcrowd and dirty up a beautiful hiking trail or vista is to turn it into a national park. Not because the employees don't do a good job, but because national parks attract people who would never visit otherwise.

Think about yant flats. Not a np or state park or even a pay to use area. No restaurants, no roads, no lodging, no overcrowding, no trash everywhere. If it were turned into a np, all that would change and it would lose its appeal to me.
 

toejam

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My best NPS restaurant experience was breakfast at Longmire in Mt. Rainier NP. Yosemite Valley restaurants are o.k. I always loved the food at the place in the Chisos Basin in Big Bend NP, which is about as remote as you can get. The SEKI restaurants have a reputation for being awful.

Government does everything badly, and the concessionaires are probably complying with lots of silly government rules that affect the quality of the product. If they get away with keeping employees who have no talent and don't care, then it's gonna be bad.
 

Ben

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i think that you're right and wrong @steve . i think while making an area a national park has some of these effects, it's some what more complex than you're making it out to be. coyote buttes and antelope canyon don't have to be national parks to have crowding problems. and i've had difficult times finding parking at trail heads in the sawtooths and the winds before. at the same time, i hate to think if there were ever a national park in the cedar mesa area.

in spite of development and amenities, i think that a lot of parks still do a good job keeping backcountry areas wild. like yellowstone, grand canyon, and other large parks. teton. while there are certain short hikes that see a lot of crowding, there is a lot of wilderness that does not. and i think that many of those areas, like angels landing, or inspiration point at grand teton would still see a lot of people regardless of the park situation, just like a place like antelope canyon does. i think the real problem isn't so much any thing the national park service does as people's general tendency to over focus on popular areas. the reality is that we all live in a world full of other people that likely won't feel the same as any one of us do. and i think that over all the nps does a good job of managing exceptional natural areas for all of those people, backcountry and frontcountry user alike. honestly, i think that places like the grand canyon, yellowstone, yosemite, even zion, would likely be worse off if they weren't managed by national parks. i can see exceptions, like capitol reef, that would probably see fewer visitors if they weren't parks. but in general i stand by what i said. personally i'd love to see more wilderness, but i don't think that my interests should out weigh those of all the people who want to and do use those lodges and restaurants. honestly, i can understand the appeal of staying at a hotel on the rim of the grand canyon. though i have a hard time imagining ever doing it. i think that seeing phantom ranch is a little ridiculous, but again, i can imagine how some one would be interested in that. and i think that frontcountry access that you find in a lot parks makes a good introduction to the backcountry for a lot of people. i've experienced some of that personally.

sorry for writing so much.
 

steve

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True, it's far more complex than I'm making it, I'm definitely over simplifying. And I don't necessarily blame the NPS for this. I attribute it to the status that a NP designation makes to an area. So many people have a goal to hit every NP in the US, which is great that people are getting out. However, the more ammenities they have, the more city-like they become and the less "wild nature" they are. Just my opinion.

In my opinion, if yosemite had a 40 mile dirt road leading into it, rather than paved roads with amenities, I think it'd be far more preserved and far less busy than it is now. This is all speculation and I haven't studied it nearly as much as some people here, so take my comments with a grain of salt. Great discussion.
 

Nick

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Interesting discussion. In an idealistic way, I totally agree that it would be nice if they were all wild places with difficult access and no amenities.

I don't think that they would necessarily be better preserved or better managed were that the case though. If you've ever been out to The Maze, you know how amazingly tall that crypto is out there, specifically in places like The Land of Standing Rocks. It's huge! It can be pretty tough to find a way around it sometimes. But 50 or 60 years ago there were cows grazed out there and in many of those canyons. If it were just a monument or BLM land, there probably still would be cows all over and that land would probably be trampled to crap (and covered in crap). That's just one narrow example, but you get the point. And I suppose that district of Canyonlands gets by without as much visitation, not only because of it's remoteness, but because people can 'check off' Canyonlands in much easier ways. In reality, that could basically be three separate parks.

I think that we absolutely need amazing places with easy access and amenities that appeal to a broader audience in order to preserve those more rugged, hard-to-access wild places. Hotels, restaurants, etc. definitely have their place there, in my opinion. Most people on here get in touch with the landscape in a very close and intimate way, but for most people, just standing at an overlook over Bryce Canyon could give them the same effect. If those millions of tourists didn't have that opportunity, they may never feel that connection to the land, and when questions arise about how to use public land, I would wager that they wouldn't care as much. It's hard enough to keep places open, accessible and preserved the way things are now. It's scary to imagine how hard it would be if people didn't have memories of Zion, Yellowstone, Yosemite, etc. in their memories to help sway their opinions.

One other thought - think of Glen Canyon. It was the perfect example of extremely difficult to access, no amenities and hardly anyone really knew about it. I'd be willing to bet that if it had been exploited a bit more, it wouldn't be under 400 feet of water right now. I imagine that area was as worthy as National Park status (or more) as just about anywhere else. We just never got to know it, before it was too late.
 
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