Jenae pensively evaluated whether to continue as the camp food service manager. "There are so many things I like — even love — about my job. It gives me a mix of menu planning, cooking, and guest relations. However, I just don't feel valued. I see other management staff go to national or regional conferences, and sometimes attend meetings at a local restaurant. Yet our director tells me it's not in the budget for me or my kitchen staff to participate in a national camp or food service conference or invite a chef to give a demonstration/ cooking lesson in our kitchen. And my last pay raise? Three percent — three years ago."

Do your food service staff and other camp staff experience comparable training opportunities? As food service manager, do you feel valued, appreciated — important? Sure, food service is vital to your camp program; everyone has to eat, right? My point is, you should feel affirmed and appreciated, and your kitchen staff should too. It's your job to show appreciation to your staff and, yes, sometimes it's up to you to seek affirmation in ways that enhance your knowledge and affirm you.

Ways, rewards, and incentives can enhance staff return on investment (ROI) and help keep morale up.

Actions of Appreciation

Flex time — "In Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report, which surveyed whether or not employees would change jobs for benefits and perks closely related to their quality of life, 37 percent of respondents stated they would change jobs to have a flexible working location where they could choose to work off-site part time" (Breather, 2018).

A change of scenery can give you a lift, whether while sipping coffee on your porch or in a bookstore café. Some practical ways to provide flex time without making major schedule changes are:

  • Allow employees with children to leave to pick up children after school and return to work.
  • Allow yourself or other kitchen management staff to occasionally place orders remotely via computer.
  • Allow scheduling of employee hours to sometimes take place remotely.

Lower-cost, simple ideas to show you value employees include:

  • Give new staff a welcome basket containing a camp mug, cap with camp logo for wearing in the kitchen, notepad and pencil set, and an enthusiastic "Welcome Aboard!" ribbon or card.
  • Recognize and celebrate work anniversaries with a signed letter from the director.
  • Celebrate birthdays with cake and a card signed by all employees.
  • Show gratitude publicly at meetings for a job well done the previous camp week (Hoppe, 2016).
  • Give candy with funny and encouraging slogans on handmade tags.
  • Give gift cards from Starbucks, Amazon, etc., for meritorious work during special events, such as a gluten-free week at camp.
  • Award hard work with movie tickets, sport event tickets, or zoo tickets.
  • Try giving vouchers for professional cleaning — house, car, or dry cleaners — to show your appreciation (Nichol, 2018).
  • Provide breakroom snacks.
  • Treat employees to dinner out after the busy camp season.
  • Place a large, colorful appreciation banner on your camp website with a photo of the kitchen staff.
  • Verbally express accolades — genuinely and frequently.

Listen and Involve

A significant way to show your investment in your employees is to listen to them and continue the feedback process, including following up on their concerns, ideas, and requests. "There should be documented evidence of management listening to and acting upon employees' ideas and pain points," emphasizes, and keep a record of all employee suggestions and critiques (Breather, 2018). This enables you to give importance to ideas and issues of concern to your employees, which fosters coalescence as a team.

Involving employees in decisions instills a sense of importance and tells them they are an integral part of your team. Joint outreach efforts can serve to bond team members while focusing on the needs of others, such as collecting coats for a coat drive, a food drive for Thanksgiving, or providing Christmas gifts for children in need.

Provide Growth Opportunities

Business writer Chiraq Kulkarni (2018) says, "Some of the most driven employees prefer their rewards in the form of additional knowledge."

"Regular training doesn't only make employees feel more valued, but also more competent and confident in their roles," says Clear Review CEO Stuart Hearn, "and continuous training highlights areas for improvement" (Hearn, 2017).

Consider these low- to moderate-cost avenues for training and knowledge:

  • Plan a field trip to a successful regional camp and observe their food service processes and kitchen organization for ideas. Allow their chef to provide a cooking demonstration or class. Turn it into a retreat, including training sessions, some rest and relaxation, and team building on the camp ropes course.
  • Join with another camp food service staff to complete ServSafe together.
  • Vendor food shows/exhibits for US Foods, Sysco, etc., will sometimes host training seminars, and some will provide the customer a complimentary night in a nearby sponsoring hotel.
  • Attend a Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Expo ( to learn about the vast array of special dietary products and how to cook/ bake for these diets.
  • Schedule an Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals member ( to lead a workshop on diabetes food preparation.

Continuing Education Conferences

Regional or national camp conferences can provide multiple food service sessions, while food service conferences specialize in this field. Both will offer networking and camaraderie with other camp food service professionals; the cost factor is medium to medium-high.

Collegiate Continuing Education 

For your most invested and interested employees, consider college/university dietetics, nutrition, and culinary arts program classes. Consider asking a university program director about the possibility of a program instructor or students leading a seminar or workshop at camp. If you have an education fund, employee scholarship fund, or a donor invested in education, pay tuition for food service-related courses, certificates, or degrees at a local college/ university. This could be in the form of individual classes, six-week adult education courses, or one-semester courses.

Tuition reimbursement determinations to consider before offering this option:

  • Determine minimum length of employment before this is offered.
  • Ensure the courses are job related.
  • Decide how many classes staff members are eligible for.
  • Determine the minimum grade required before reimbursement.
  • Decide what percentage of reimbursement camp will provide.
  • Will there be a cap on number of semesters?
  • Is reimbursement for bachelor candidates and below, or those taking graduate courses also?

Adequate Pay

Rusty Lindquist, vice president for strategic HR insights at BambooHR, says, "Compensation is the communication of how much we value that employee. So if they feel undercompensated, they're feeling undervalued," he added. "This is deeply emotional" (Miller, 2017). Compensate your staff commensurate with their qualifications and according to regional, state, and national industry standards. Place incremental raises in your annual budget with the goal of reaching a competitive level. Invest in your employees in a variety of ways, and you will receive loyalty, engagement, and return on your investment.


  • Breather. (2018, April 30). People first: The ROI of keeping your employees productive and happy. Retrieved from keeping-employees-productive-happy/
  • Hearn, S. (2017, December 8). How important is continuous training to your employees?, Inc. Retrieved from
  • Hoppe, K. (2016, September 13). 10 delightful employee reward and recognition ideas (on a budget). Justworks. Retrieved from
  • Kulkarni, C. (2018, April 6). 6 ways to show your employees you appreciate them — without paying them more. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from
  • Miller, S. (2017, November 8). Employees want to know how their compensation is set. Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved from
  • Nichol, J. (2018). 16 clever ways to show employee appreciation. CultureIQ. Retrieved from

Kimberly Whiteside Truitt is former food service manager at Camp Gilmont and Camp Zephyr, and has served on Camping Magazine's Editorial Advisory Committee. Kimberly was a presenter at the 2018 North American Food Service and Maintenance Conference.