Starved For A Makeover

Photos Courtesy Of Patricia Lindsay, Oakland County Parks photographer

In an effort to provide enhanced customer service at 13 locations and host 1.6-million visitors annually, the OaklandCountyParks and Recreation Commission completely revamped its model to provide food-and-beverage services for weddings, golf outings, family reunions, waterpark visits, and other events.

Since 1974, the parks system—based in Waterford, Mich.—relied upon a single provider to meet all of its food-and-beverage needs. E. A. Fuller Oak Management Corporation was responsible for lunch or dinner for golf outings, concessions at waterparks and campgrounds, limited vending, and high-end banquet services at multiple locations—the largest segment of the contract.

Creating The RFP

“One of our priorities is to mirror the parks system’s exceptional recreation experiences with a superior food-and-beverage service. Changes needed to be made to maintain the highest quality service for our patrons,” says Dan Stencil, executive officer for the parks system. “We weren’t unhappy with Oak Management, but staff realized greater efficiencies could be attained [by] breaking down the single contract into several smaller contracts to allow for more diversity in pricing, products, and services. This allowed vendors to concentrate on particular areas based on their expertise, and ultimately provide specialized service to our guests. The Request for Proposals (RFP) focused on concession operations, approved caterers, vending, and banquet services.”

Park staff members enlisted the assistance of the county’s purchasing division to facilitate the RFP. The county is a partner in the Michigan Inter-governmental Trade Network System, a group of agencies that joined forces to create a regional bid-notification system.

County parks and recreation Business Development Representative Phil Castonia researched and developed criteria that included experience/background, quality of service, variety of food, company policies, and procedures for daily operations/safety, financial capability, and additional services. An interviewing team comprised of key administration and operations staff and parks commissioners reviewed proposals.

Additionally, staff enlisted the assistance of the county health department to evaluate proposals based on its expertise in food-safety regulations. A senior health inspector accompanied parks staff members on site visits to answer questions, including any health implications.

“We then traveled to each site to do a complete walk-through to make sure the vendors were fully aware of the layouts of each facility, and for them to garner information that would give them as much knowledge as possible when they were preparing their bids,” Castonia says. “This process was very well received and appreciated by the vendors.”

Grow Market Share

“In this … economy, we were aware that we have to offer guests a distinctive impression in order to capture, maintain, and grow market share,” Castonia says. “At the same time, we realized current aging facilities and equipment needed to be upgraded, revamped, and revitalized, and bidding vendors needed to have the ability to meet our need. One lesson learned in the process is that we did not have a current inventory of all the equipment in our kitchens. So, we had to inventory the items and indicate who the equipment belonged to as well as determine the condition it was in and what needed to be replaced to be brought up to our standards. We now plan to upgrade some equipment and maintain an upgrade or replacement matrix going forward.”

The first area addressed was the concessions at two waterparks, two campgrounds, and one golf course. These key areas allowed for a quick turnaround before the 2012 season.

“We wanted to provide our guests with options, including new health-focused menu offerings and greater availability of traditional camp-store goods, such as sunscreen, charcoal, pancake mix and syrup, dish soap, bug spray, and toothbrushes,” Castonia says. “This is where there’s also great potential to sell logo items in the future, such as beach towels, T-shirts, and other items that could enhance our revenue stream.”

One of the selling points of the vendor selected—Kosch Hospitality, a locally headquartered hospitality, catering, and food-service company—was its plan to support local farmers and producers of Michigan-made products. A 5-year contract was awarded. Kosch was also innovative in introducing mobile ice-cream carts and cotton candy with affordable pricing. This new addition has been favorably received by park patrons.

Quicker With Liquor

One lesson learned in the process was during the transfer of a liquor license from the previous vendor to the new one via the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

“Since this was our first time dealing with the issue in 37 years, we had no idea of the timeframe required for a liquor-license transfer. The rest of the new contract was on fast track, and we hoped this would be expeditious as well,” Castonia says. “With the golf course opening March 2012 due to an exceptional early spring, operating until June with no alcohol available for our patrons was extremely tough. We started the season at a huge disadvantage, not being able to provide what our guests expected. Once the license was in place, we then worked with Kosch to run specials to try and bring people back. Many of our golfers and league members would play their 18 holes then drive 10 miles or more to another location for food and drinks. Our big lesson learned was to allow ample time for the transfer and have an attorney who specializes in liquor-license matters involved from the start.”

Caterers, Vending, And Banquet Services

The second part of the RFP created an approved caterer list for company picnics, family reunions, and weddings.

“Competitive pricing is a key to providing each customer with the right value. Menus are tailored to the customer market and demographics,” Castonia says. “We are also offering peace of mind to patrons because the vendors have all been pre-screened and approved. Historically, any vendor could show up to cater an event, and we would have no control over the quality of food or service, and it would still reflect on us. We also were not able to obtain any revenue through commissions from these vendors.  This new process will allow a consistent commission to be paid by all approved caterers.”

Vending—the third area addressed—was also the easiest to standardize. Castonia says parks and recreation simply became another user of Variety Food Service—a vending contract currently in place with the county.

“We’ve already seen major improvements because Variety Food Service has the right staff, equipment, product, and reporting system that details how much of each item is sold at every location on a monthly basis,” Castonia says. “We can track trends and respond with product changes based on input from our guests.”

The last element still to be sent out for competitive bidding is banquet services at an historical estate, and banquet-and-grill service at three golf courses. A vendor should be named shortly.

“OaklandCountyParks and Recreation is a world-class park system. We chose and will continue to select food-and-beverage companies that have committed owners, administrators, managers, and staff dedicated to exceeding patrons’ expectations because that mirrors our vision for excellence,” Stencil says.

Desiree Stanfield is the Communications and Marketing Supervisor for the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission. Reach her at .