Summer's belated arrival to Mt. Rainier has depleted visitation to the national park, and thrown its flagship restaurant into turmoil.
In its heyday, the 120-foot-long dining room at Paradise Inn hosted celluloid celebrities and political leaders. But the restaurant has lately struggled to meet the high standards its founders touted, a failure managing director David Wilde attributes to the seasonal nature of the restaurant business at 5,400 feet. "It's always challenging up there because you lack continuity," he says, citing Paradise Inn's May-through-October operating schedule.
Wilde wasn't surprised to learn that dinner service on a recent weekend had dissolved into a chorus of guest complaints, as diners demanded a manager's explanation for warm water glasses, empty bread baskets, forgotten drink orders, and long-missing servers. "This place is terrible," the harried manager grumbled to a set of sympathetic guests.
Wilde blames the problems on an extraordinarily high employee turnover this season. Confronted by a record-setting snowfall, he says, many young staffers opted to relocate to other parks.
Nearly one-third of Paradise Inn's dining-room workers are non-U.S. citizens. Guest Services, the concessionaire which has managed the Paradise Inn account for 39 years, is an active participant in the J-1 visa Summer Work Program. And although the 50 dining-room employees sign contracts indicating their commitment to stay until season's end, Wilde says they're unenforceable.
Between ferrying prime ribs from the kitchen and refilling iced-tea glasses, Paradise Inn's manager paused to grouse about the restaurant's "Romanian hostesses." But Wilde doesn't think poor communication between native-born and international staffers is undermining the hotel restaurant.
"It's general to the logistical issues of working in a remote location," he says, outlining what happens when a manager forgets to place an order. "In a normal environment, if someone forgets to order something, I can go to the store and pick it up," he says. Atop a mountain, where deliveries "have to be off-loaded outside the park," a manager's oversight "can cause some significant issues."
Still, Wilde believes the restaurant is doing a reasonably good job of feeding the tourists who pile into Paradise Inn. Although the 200-seat dining room has been stripped of the glamour it radiated when the crown prince of Norway ate there, Wilde is confident that most guests are pleased with their meat loaf.
"I would say when we look at comment cards and Trip Advisor, in general, we do a pretty good job of service delivery," he says.