Exchanging value for more speed

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 6.16.07 PMIf you’ve walked through a food line at camp this year, did you get your meal faster? Was the line cleaner?

If so, you can credit a small shift in philosophy, where we traded cost-effectiveness for convenience in several areas of service:

• Gone are the Heinz ketchup and mustard pumps that needed constant refilling and allowed kids to dispense a quarter-cup of ketchup for their small handful of fries (and, worth noting, provided temporary shelter when fruit flies arrived in a batch of bananas and needed a new place to go). In their place, individual packets of Heinz ketchup and mustard. For continuity’s sake, we also traded in small squirt bottles of relish (which made very unappealing noises when air was also dispensed) for relish packets.

• Also gone, the squirt bottles of mayonnaise and Ranch dressing that would be pressed into service every time we served sandwiches. Small ones would be empty before a meal was over. Large ones looked too industrial. Plus, they were difficult to clean, bringing a potentially unsanitary temptation to reuse them. They, too, have been replaced with packets of one of our purveyor’s private label mayonnaise and a Ranch dressing from the makers of Diamond Crystal salt.

(Speaking of ranch dressing, we also began using 1-ounce dipping cups of Ken’s Steakhouse-brand ranch dressing to accompany fresh vegetables, like cucumber and carrot sticks. This led to an unexpected cost increase when children began eating more vegetables — an increase I am more than happy to absorb.)

• Gone this year are the crocks of pancake syrup, along with the ladles that dripped stickiness all over the table. In their place, 1.5 ounce syrup cups with a peel-away lid — cups large enough that they can be used for dipping; not so small that guests need more than one. This is probably the most costly change, as bulk pancake syrup is inexpensive, maybe $5 a gallon, and the smaller packaging multiplies that cost several times.

• The crocks also aren’t being used for salad dressing this year — a practice that historically resulted in way too much dressing being discarded (we do not have a chilled salad station, so we cannot reuse dressings). Instead of a quart or more of Italian, ranch and Thousand Island dressings, we set out a basket with 0.44-ounce packets of Kraft salad dressings. While we initially used a larger dressing packet, we realized they were simply too large for side salads; most were being discarded. One small Kraft packet fits the bill, and I’m content with their flavor. We still use dressings the old-fashioned way for special occasions.

• On taco night or Ultimate Nacho Day, when fixin’s included a bowl of sour cream that inevitably would be polluted by shreds of cheese of drips of salsa from sloppy guests, we switched to 1-ounce foil-lined packages of sour cream. Same product — still refrigerated — but clean, unpolluted by shards of lettuce of rogue chunks of tomato.

• The results have been immediate. Guests, particularly children, are moving through lines faster with a grab-and-go mentality. The serving surfaces are cleaner, with no pancake syrup trails or ranch dressing glops to distract guests, or create line hangups when me or my staff would clean them. The waste is far less, with children seeming to take only what they need; nobody has taken a handful of ketchup packets.

The change has not been inexpensive; it was clear within a few weeks that the cost difference would be measurable, but our food budget, though tight, has accommodated it. In the offseason, my dollars don’t stretch as far, and we may switch back for a few months. But through our busiest days of summer when 230 guests pass through our doors, it has been a happy change.

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