Summer camp is the highlight of many kids' break from school. A week away from home brings all kinds of excitement, activities and a chance to experience independence. But there are usually a few moments of missing things back home, like a familiar bed, a family pet, and familiar food. As a camp kitchen manager you can help make mealtime a comfortable, enjoyable part of camp life, even if you can't do anything about sleeping arrangements and four-legged friends. How you set up the service line is an important step in making camp meals memorable.

Classic camp style meal service starts with stacks of trays, plates and utensils. Many kids are used to this from school lunch service, but you'll be serving all three meals of the day this way. Your first decision is whether you'll offer self-serve, staff-served or a hybrid of both ways to get the food from trays onto the plates. As you make the decision, consider:

  • The age range of kids attending the camp. Younger children often do better when they simply ask or point at the items they want. Older kids appreciate being able to help themselves.
  • The amount of space available. Measure the amount of space you'll need between the food preparation area and the service line in order to maintain efficiency. And leave plenty of room for the kids to move freely as they load up on good healthy food to fuel their activities.
  • Access to the power supply. You'll need electrical service to keep the warming tables heated, power the drink dispenser, and provide ample lighting. Ensure that there will be extra outlets available in case you want to set up a separate special service area, such as soup warmers or waffle makers for older groups to help themselves.

When you've completed your assessment of the square footage you have available, sketch out a drawing on graph paper. Include relevant measurements. This layout will be an invaluable tool when you work with your serving system and warming equipment supplier. Based on your plans and your budget, the supplier can make preliminary recommendations. Depending on the scale of your project, there may also be an on-site visit to verify and finalize which equipment is necessary and where it will be placed.

Set aside some of your time with the supplier to learn about any training that is provided with the equipment. Online video training will help you get up to speed quickly. Additionally, online and hands-on training is important as you hire staff members and prepare them to work in the vibrant, fast-moving world of hungry youngsters. Training on how to properly and safely use the serving line equipment is an important addendum to the knowledge your staff gained to earn their food handler certificates.

Beyond the practical matters of how the equipment functions, warranties and affordability, you'll also need to determine how it fits into the design and atmosphere of the dining hall. Hot and cold drop-ins may be installed in cabinetry from a wide range of design ideas. Popular summer camp designs include:

  • Rustic wood with sturdy counter top material to match an emphasis on outdoor activities and nature study.
  • Sleek metal finishes for a modern, contemporary look at a camp where classroom activities are paired with recreation.
  • Bright colored cabinets and counters for a cheery, uplifting atmosphere that younger campers particularly enjoy.

When the equipment is installed and you've tested every component to make sure it's functioning properly, it's time for a party. There's no better way to inaugurate the new installation than to serve a fabulous meal to the counselors and staff before the first round of young campers arrives. For more information, visit websites like