Crater Lake Lodge dining room captures vintage experience – August 7, 1995

Crater Lake Lodge dining room captures vintage experience

Nation’s Restaurant News

August 7, 1995
By Carolyn Walkup
CRATER LAKE, Ore. — Operators of the dining room at the newly reopened Crater Lake Lodge are striving to make dining as much of a peak experience as viewing the country’s deepest and perhaps most awe-inspiring lake.

Crater Lake Lodge Inc., a division of Portland-based Estey Corp., the foodservice contractor for 18 years at Crater Lake National Park, operates the 72-seat lodge dining room, which reopened this summer after being closed for construction for seven years. The lodge and dining room, a National Historic Landmark dating from 1915, were painstakingly rebuilt at a cost of $18 million after they were condemned in 1988.

The contractor also operates foodservice at nearby Oregon Caves National Monument, business-and-industry foodservice, vending, mobile catering and some non-food service divisions.

So far this summer, the nostalgic lodge’s 71 rooms have been filled every night, and the dining room has been turning the 72 seats nearly three times nightly for dinner.

“In every aspect they tried to uphold the historical significance of the building,” said Michael Romick, Crater Lake Lodge Inc. director of sales and marketing. That’s why dining room seating was limited to 72 seats and no bar.

Most guests want window tables that offer clear views of the 1,932-foot-deep lake in an ancient volcano crater, at 6:30 p.m. — a wish that only a few are able to have granted. “We’re still working on what we can to do accommodate everybody,” Romick said.

“If a guest wants to eat here, we will do everything we can to allow them to eat, even if it’s at 10:15 p.m.,” he noted. Judging from this summer’s high foodservice sales at the park’s other more casual food concessions, Romick estimates that park visitation will be up about 17 percent over the 1994 May-October season.

“A lot of people just come up to see the lodge,” said William Beatty, food and beverage director. Since lodge guests have first priority for dining room seats, the lodge must turn away considerable business, including requests from large groups. Such groups occasionally can be served between 5 p.m. and 6.

Although the dining room could feed more people by speeding table turns, such actions run counter to the philosophy of the management. “The dining room carries over the whole national park experience,” Romick said. “We are not into the cattle business; we don’t kick you out.”

The average table turn takes between 1.5 hours and two hours, Romick said. “`If we do under 200 covers, the revenues are as high or higher than if we did more turns because they buy more,” he added.

Chef Wayne Turnipseed prepares entrees that range in price from $15 for steamed vegetable platters to $18.50 for Pacific Nortwest cioppino or tournedos Rossini. Dinners include soup, starch, stir-fried Oregon vegetables and a loaf of bread. Checks average $33 per person.

Incremental sales come from a la carte items, such as smoked Northwest rainbow trout, Oregon game sausage, Caesar salad prepared tableside, desserts and wines from Oregon and Washington vineyards.

Alcoholic beverage sales average between 11 percent and 15 percent, depending on the weather.

On rainy or foggy days when visitors spend less time outdoors, alcohol sales rise, Beatty said.

Drinks and appetizers are served in the Great Hall near the massive stone fireplace and on the patio, which takes some pressure off the dining room.

The dining room also serves breakfast for a check average of $7, and room service breakfast is available.

Since guest rooms have no telephones, room-service orders are made only with printed door hangers hung out the night before. Room phones and televisions are absent from guest rooms to preserve the historical integrity of the restoration.

Internal staff communication is perhaps even more critical at Crater Lake than in most restaurant operations. The park is located 62 miles from the nearest town, so if the restaurant runs out of an item, it can’t be replaced immediately.

The primary storage area is located in another building within the park, so the kitchen staff must be accurate when ordering foods and other items for delivery to the lodge.

“If we run out of something, we can’t just run out to the grocery store to get it,” Romick said.

The shortage of storage space in the lodge’s new basement is the primary reason why the dining room is not open for lunch at this time, Beatty said.

Other outlets that Crater Lake Lodge Inc. operates nearby for lunch and other meals are the Watchman, a family restaurant; Llao Rock Cafe, a cafeteria; and Gabby’s, an espresso stand.

Even though the dining room’s customers are a captive audience, its management hopes to exceed guests’ expectations.

“Dining here wraps up the whole national park experience. They relax and enjoy it,” Romick said.