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Reader Participation Day: Where Was Your Worst Dining Experience in the National Parks?


So many superlatives swirl around the national parks that at times we forget that things aren't always so rosy. So, tell us where you encountered your worst dining experience in the parks this year.

And tell us why. Was the food cold? Tasteless? Over- or under-cooked? Was service atrocious? Wine glasses or silverware dirty? Menus unimaginative or unhealthy?

If you ate several times at the same dining room, or in a series of dining rooms operated by the same concessionaire, was there consistency in your experience? If so, where? If not, where?

For sure, it can't be easy to cater to thousands of diners a day, a number you can easily multiply by three. And everyone has an off day. But a little constructive criticism can go a long way, especially with the off-season approaching and managers looking back over the summer season business to see where they might improve things.


I try NOT focusing on negatives while we are on vacation. I figure that vacation is when a person should be the LEAST stressed out in their life. Having said that though, it has happened to us, fortunately just once, turtle-paced waiters and kitchen staff. We shrugged it off and realized that some days are going to be like that, workers being overwhelmed. We gave them another try on the next trip and found that everything was just fine. I understand that some people feel that for the price they pay at one of the Lodge's Dining Rooms they should have a 5 star experience. I also understand that we can all have an off day and that a little grace and mercy can go a long way!

Dining room at Grant Village, YNP, about 3 weeks ago. Didn't know a couple of pork chops could be so tough. Waiter never came back to check on how the meal was. But, like Connie, chalked it up to just a bad day in the kitchen, or whatever, and let it go. Paid the $50.00 bill, walked outside, and thanked the good Lord for places like Yellowstone.

Connie Hopkins -- what a GREAT reply.

As for me, my worst dining experience was when I was camping in a drenching rain and all the firewood was completely fireproof and my little butane stove refused to operate. Have you ever tried raw Spam? :))

I agree with Connie. When we travel, we try not to focus on the negative. On the other hand, when prices are high and quality of service is low, some form of public notification should be warranted.

The NPS rates the performance of their concessioners, but these ratings and the justification thereof are not made public. They should be. Publication of reviews of visitor experiences will eventually lead to a higher quality service. I'm convinced of that.

For myself, where in recent times have I had a notably substandard dining experience in a national park? That would be the Wayside coffee shop at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, which is operated by Aramark. The service during lunch was so slow that we ended up (after a wait at our table of over one half hour) leaving the dining facility and purchasing snacks for an outdoor picnic. I've noticed that similar negative reviews have been posted online, . The consistency of such public reviews for this facility is a curiousity given the fact that quality of service of concessioner operations inside the national parks is overseen and evaluated by the NPS.

First of all, I love the comments by Connie and Jerry. We try to practice the same. I think most people's expectations are slightly lower in National Parks.
Our worst experiences have been more the inability to get a meal rather than subpar service. After a hike, we got to the lodge at Crater Lake between lunch and dinner wanting to eat and were told the dining room would not be open for another couple hours. We ended up getting candy bars and chips at the gift shop. Our memories of hiking to the top of Wizard Island are not diminished by the lack of a proper meal at the lodge.

Like everyone else vacation should be stress free but we had the worst meal I have ever had vacation or not at the Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone last month.Service was slower than slow,one entree was not what was ordered another was called prime rib but was grilled mystery meat and was overpriced.We mentioned this to several rangers and employee's of the company and they all agreed bad food dont eat there.This is in stark contrast to the meals we had at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel,service outstanding,food superb and the atmosphere sublime.

Kevin, between the hours of lunch and dinner, meals should be available at the cafeteria at Rim Village at Crater Lake, which is only a few hundred yards stroll from Crater Lake Lodge. Also, when the dinning room at Crater Lake Lodge is full, meals and starters can be served to those sitting in the Great Hall area of the Lodge.

I've told this before, but my experience was at Bryce Canyon Lodge in 2006 when it was run by Xanterra.

The food wasn't bad and I can't really complain about the prices. However - we got there at about 2 PM and there was one server and a late lunch rush with about 10-12 tables. Eventually people (not including myself) started complaining that their orders were taking forever and that water and other things weren't served to them. The server then started stamping her feet coming into and out of the kitchen and slammed a few orders on tables. Finally she went ballistic and started screaming in the kitchen that she couldn't handle it any more, and we never saw her come out. At our table we asked the busboy what the deal was, and he said that management didn't expect this late a rush. Finally the manager came out and covered for her. It was a bad experience, but I'm thinking it probably wasn't anticipated.

I've had many good experiences too. I thoroughly enjoyed the soda fountain at the Canyon section of Yellowstone. It was run by Delaware North and not Xanterra.

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