When Chris Hammond became corporate food and beverage director of Great Wolf Resorts about two years ago, he wanted to change guests’ perception of the food served at the company’s 12 properties. Time and again, guests said they had a positive experience in the resort’s indoor water parks and accommodations, but the food often fell flat. To jump-start the F&B revamp, in late 2013 the company introduced a new full-service, à la carte restaurant, the Lodge Wood Fired Grill. “We were telling our guests that we’re great at water parks; we want to be great with food too,” Hammond says.
As part of the process, the brand’s existing F&B outlets also made improvements. In the pizza shop, Hungry as a Wolf, properties started making their own sauces and blending their own cheeses. At the water park snack bar, Buckets, they began sourcing burgers from Pat LaFrieda, a highly regarded meat purveyor. “Guests saw that we were starting to put an emphasis on quality into all of our food,” Hammonds explains.
Most recently, Great Wolf’s culinary overhaul has zeroed in on healthier options for kids. As the father of a five-year-old girl, Hammond has been more in tune with the types of ingredients and production methods used to make children’s food. To improve the family travel experience, he took a hard look at what guests ordered from the F&B outlets, what they fed their kids, and what they chose not to order.
As a result of his research, Hammond is strategically implementing non-GMO, gluten-free, antibiotic-free, and peanut- and tree-nut free ingredients. Above all, Hammond wanted to offer guests a variety of options and leave the choice up to them. Kid’s meals come with a choice of vegetables, fruit, or french fries, and the default drink is milk instead of soda.
Purchasing quality ingredients obviously comes at a cost. To avoid a price hike, Hammond explains that they have found ways to operate smarter, such as by making better purchasing decisions and cross-purposing ingredients. “We knew we would inherit a lot more costs in switching to healthier, organic, non-GMO ingredients, but we also knew if we raised the prices and passed them on to the guest, it wouldn’t go over well.”
Hammond looks forward to the year ahead as guests begin to react to the menu changes. “I really want to put this in front of our guests. They deserve it. Seeing our guests happy about food is what’s rewarding to me.”