Our teams at the National Parks are getting ready to serve visitors from around the world as they explore our country’s national treasures. Denali National Park in Alaska, possibly one of the most remotely located park operations, attracts more than 400,000 visitors who are looking to catch a glimpse of its abundant wildlife, majestic mountains, spruce forests, frozen tundra, and glacial lakes during the spring and summer months.
For many, Denali is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so we may have just one chance to make a lasting first impression. Denali Park Village lodges many of the park’s visitors, and while a remote location impacts the way we operate, it doesn’t change our desire to create memorable food experiences for our guests. We stick to some of the same tenets that hold up wherever you are – incorporating local foods, healthy options, and a variety of offerings that appeal to diverse consumers.
Visitors hiking in Denali National Park. The park offers numerous activities and we facilitate lodging, food and tour experiences for visitors.
While traveling, a person’s sense of adventure, curiosity, and awareness are heightened; and with that comes elevated expectations. Guests at Denali National Park are taking in everything around them, from the beautiful scenery, to the fresh air in their lungs, to the food on their plates.
We spoke with Brian Stapleton, VP of Food and Beverage, Susan Liston, VP Growth, and Andrew Stanfield, General Manager at Denali Park Village, to provide insight into how this remote park operates. The learnings below are just some of the ways Denali has found its success and could be a starting point for any food provider. In fact, they set the bar high for all our locations when it comes to addressing challenges and delivering a consistently great experience.
Innovative food offerings, no matter the location
Denali National Park has several places to dine; from sit-down restaurants to fast casual locations. Each offering has a different menu with a variety of food offerings to ensure they’re adding to the guest experience in a positive way. Finding ways to make each dining location unique and authentic is both a challenge and an opportunity to make a great impression. To meet this challenge, you’ll find wild-caught Alaskan salmon burgers at the burger shack and oven-roasted Alaskan salmon with lemon butter sauce at the dinner theater, all prepared with local Sockeye salmon sourced from fish houses in Anchorage.
A favorite of guests, the Sockeye salmon filet is locally sourced from fish houses in Anchorage and regularly delivered to the park.
Serving local foods, craft beers, and unique dishes is a key part of the consumer experience. “There’s regionality built into each of the menus to capture the essence of the park. It’s not only about going out into the park to explore. We’re enhancing our visitor’s experience through the food and beverage team’s knowledge.”
Consumer insights guide the menu
The needs and desires of consumers are the chief driver behind menu-building. Through research and insights analysis, the teams can find the best ways to meet consumer needs. “Even if you’re working in a park or a lodge area, what consumers are looking for is not very different from any other location. People want healthy, quick-service options as well as variety and the ability to customize as much as possible, which can be difficult when you’re operating in these remote locations,” Liston notes.
To get a jump start, the Denali team will start menu-planning for the next season before the park has even closed from the current season. By starting this process while the facility is still open, they’re able to capture insights in real-time. “Using the Point of Sale (POS) system and what items are popular, we begin to analyze what the guests’ preferences are so we can begin to build out the menu for the next year. We take a look at the trends along with marketplace insights, and see if anything has changed,” Stapleton explains, “that’s the fun part of the job, always trying to stay ahead of the trend and what the guest is looking for. It’s a combination of guest feedback at the property level and consideration of national trends to support menu development and meet guest expectations.”
There’s no substitute for planning
For remote locations like Denali, securing ingredients begins several months prior to opening, so planning is of the utmost importance. A four-hour drive from Anchorage, Denali National Park relies on a few deliveries each week, so “if you don’t get your order right and you don’t have something, you’re not going to get it,” Stapleton says.
As any food provider will tell you, proper forecasting is a huge part of the food industry. Teams spend a lot of time planning out meals to figure out how much food to order to adequately feed guests. This also ensures we’re actively minimizing food waste.
Another way Denali and other locations reduce their environmental impact is by using the process of cross-docking. This means several farms will deliver their offerings to one distributor that will take it to Denali, so instead of five trucks making the trek, there’s only one.
Sustainable practices and tasty, locally-sourced foods
Denali National Park is first and foremost a park - a piece of nature that deserves to be appreciated and treated with respect. Through practices like purchasing responsibly-sourced Alaskan seafood and sourcing local foods whenever possible, we make sure we’re giving back to the region, in addition to keeping our visitors healthy.
“While we have a limited growing season in Alaska, we’re able to use the Yukon gold potato and other root vegetables that grow very well in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley outside of Anchorage,” Stanfield says.
The National Park Service’s Healthy Parks, Healthy People guidelines are a baseline for setting our own practices. The NPS put together these guidelines several years ago under the belief that, “Park systems have an opportunity to serve as powerful symbolic and economic drivers of the national movement toward healthier and more sustainably produced food.” As Stapleton comments, “It’s a focus from [the National Park Service’s] perspective to make sure that the park has longevity to protect the resource, but also provide an interactive guest experience throughout the visit. We like to ensure that there’s a variety of products and menu offerings available that meet all different price points and interests in terms of dining options.”
It’s a practice that can be implemented in nearly any location. At Denali, bringing in fresh ingredients from local partners helps us build a strong relationship with the area and its fishermen and farmers. We get to serve foods our guests want, all while cutting down on emissions from transporting.
Visitors to Denali National Park are looking for authentic Alaskan food that connects them to their travel destination. See how we bring food to life at this unique destination.
Service is only as good as the people serving
“We’re successful in our locations when we can source what we need, and we deliver it with a high-level of service,” says Liston. At the parks a top priority is the health and wellness of the people who get to enjoy these natural wonders, including the employees who make everything possible. Delivering a great experience to park visitors starts with our employees. Stapleton’s view on this is in line with Healthy Parks, Healthy People guidance. “The general employee of these parks is really focused on enjoying the park as well as working. It’s important to consider keeping these employees not only happy from a work environment perspective, but also ensuring guests and employees have access to proper nutrition, tools, and safety knowledge,” he says. When this happens, the visitors’ experience is better too.
Part of Alaska’s draw is reconnecting with the natural beauty it has. This helps keep the team behind Denali grounded, giving them the ability to meet unique challenges and solve them in a way that is customized to the location and culture. Liston admires the work of the team at Denali, “the passion that many of our people have for what they do in working in these areas and dealing with some of these difficulties is pretty amazing.” The success they’ve had in doing so is as inspiring as the scenery that surrounds them.
Protecting The Environment – Our partnership with Denali National Parks builds a recycling infrastructure that limits the visitor footprint of the park