Food for the Ages
Strategies from Zoos and Botanical Gardens to Satisfy All Guests

Visitors to zoos and botanic gardens range in age from the very young to the not so very young, and satisfying the taste buds of every guest can prove to be a challenge.  Food concessions managers and executive chefs work to offer foods and snacks that will quell hunger and keep their visitors content.
As Executive Chef for Utah’s Hogle Zoo, Cory Crozier bears the responsibility of feeding the 1 million visitors who come to the zoo each year from all over the United States and the globe. The zoo, which dates back to 1931 includes 42 acres and more than 800 animals and is located at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, one of the most visited attractions in Utah and the top-paid tourist attraction in Salt Lake.
“We serve a lot of food to so many different people with different tastes so we try to have something for everyone,” said Crozier. “We have worked since May to make a lot of improvements to our food offerings. We have a new café, the Beastro, which can accommodate 120 guests inside and 100 guests outside.  We have raised our food and beverage sales by 42 percent.”
Guests can choose from a variety of freshly made menu items from pizza made with hand-thrown dough to macaroni and cheese made with their own cheese sauce to freshly made burgers.
“The emphasis for us is on fresh,” explained Crozier, who works for Denver, Colo.-based Service System Associates, a retail and culinary operations company that partners with zoos and other cultural attractions throughout the world. “We have added a deli station which serves our own bread which we make daily and we also roast some of our own deli meats as well. We have gourmet salads and kids meals. We hand bread the chicken in our meals. We have made so many improvements this year that the Salt Lake Tribune gave us the Choice Award for Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant.”
Also new to the zoo is a smoker which will be used for ribs, chicken brisket and pulled pork sandwiches. There is also a gourmet burger stand as well as an Asian Rice Bowl Stand.  This year the zoo introduces a permanent barbecue and sausage station with Polish, Italian and foot-long sausage and hot dogs.
“We now have a great menu and we also give a good- size portion to guests,” Crozier said.  “We don’t overwhelm them because we don’t want food wasted, but we give them a good value for their dollar.
Nestled on 400 acres in the heart of California’s wine country, Safari West Wildlife Preserve is home to more than 400 exotic mammals and birds. Neither a zoo nor a drive-through park, Safari West considers itself a wildlife preserve where guests of all ages can experience some of nature’s most beautiful animals in a natural habitat.
“We have a snack shop and a restaurant on the premises,” explained Aphrodite Caserta, one of the directors at Safari West. “We have day guests and overnight guests, so we have to have food that will appeal to everyone.”
The snack shop offers sandwiches that are made in the restaurant and brought over to the shop. Considered an eco-tourism site, Safari West attracts guests who are more attuned to nature and live a healthier lifestyle, so all foods and snacks reflect that philosophy.
“Along with sandwiches, the shop carries peanuts and assorted natural snack items mostly all made in the Sonoma County region, but our Savannah Café is a sit-down restaurant that can seat up to 150 people,” Caserta noted. “To eat in the restaurant requires a reservation whether a guest stays overnight or is a day guest.  The café has a set menu that rotates every three days and we serve meals as a ranch style barbecue buffet which includes everything from appetizers to entrees to desserts and we also have wine and beer. We are in the middle of wine country so we want to expose our guests to these local treasures as well.”
Dinner in the restaurant is $29 for adults and $17 for children. On average, Safari West welcomes 60 to 80 guests per day during their season which runs from spring to November.
“In the early weeks of the season and after Labor Day, the numbers drop off a bit, but we do see a lot of people and they all must eat!”
Along with the snacks and dinners, Safari West offers marshmallow roasts each evening for the overnight guests.
“Everyone enjoys the marshmallow roasts and the camp-like atmosphere. We encourage our guests to sit with other families during dinner and get to know each other,” she said. “This is a nature preserve. We have no TVs or cell phone service or internet. People come here to commune with nature, so why not enjoy a good campfire with a marshmallow roast?”
Located on 17 acres and home to more than 500 animals, The Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Ariz., allows guests to travel from South America to the Asian rainforest to the African Savannah.  As General Manager and Executive chef for Reid Park Zoo, Don Morgan must tantalize the taste buds of those 1.2 million guests who visit each year.
“We have a wide variety of food on our menu plus specials each week,” said Morgan who works for Service Systems Associates, the zoo’s concessions operator. “Our emphasis is on having the best fresh, quality food for our visitors. Burgers and hot dogs are very popular with our guests and we serve them on fresh Brioche and potato rolls.  We also have freshly made entrée salads and wraps especially as it gets hotter.  In Arizona, guests want light meals as they walk through the zoo. Our portion sizes are a ‘good-size’ but you don’t want anything too much for guests walking in the heat in Arizona. ”
The Reid Park Zoo has an air-conditioned indoor concession area that can seat 92 people.
“Sixty percent of our guests are local and 40 percent from outside the region. As the weather heats up, not too many people can stay outside for any length of time, but in the spring months and then late in the year, our numbers really pick up again.  We want to welcome our guests with great meals and an inviting environment.”
Springfield Park District’s Henson Robinson Zoo is home to more than 90 species of animals from Australia, Africa, Asia and North and South America.
Although a smaller zoo, guests of all ages still want food when they visit, and they like the traditional zoo fare of hot dogs, brats, pretzels, nachos and corn dogs.
“Guests can either get the treats as a meal or a la carte,” said Lauran Scott, visitors supervisor manager. “We know that while some people want a full meal, others are just in need of a snack and the menu allows our guests to have just what they want without having to purchase too much food or too little food.”
Known as a top-ranked United States botanical garden, the Denver Botanic Gardens in Colorado offers spectacular garden displays, outdoor art exhibits, gardening classes and workshops. Situated on 23 acres, the Botanic Gardens contains a conservatory, a variety of ornamental gardens and a sunken amphitheater.
“We want our guests to stay and enjoy the beautiful surroundings, so we offer them a variety of food choices and snacks for all meals so they do not have to go elsewhere,” explained Concessions Manager Jeff Walling.  “In our Offshoots at the Gardens café, we have wraps, Panini, salads, pizza, corn dogs, eggrolls, soup and sandwiches made from fresh and local ingredients as much as is possible.  We also have vegetarian items as well. We want our menu to reflect our core value of sustainability. All our utensils and serving items are compostable. We also serve single portions to cut down on food waste.”
The Gardens also have an outdoor café called Monet’s Deck which is open when weather permits. The deck includes menu items such as hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, Grilled chicken, chicken nuggets, Panini, tuna steak and a Portobello mushroom sandwich.
“We are in the midst of changing our menu now and we always look for ways to offer more fresh choices to our guests. Our visitors encompass all age groups so we have food and meals that appeal to everyone from the very young to senior citizens.” –

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