Anyone who has worked in the food service industry knows the challenge of keeping customers happy. It is an ongoing effort to maintain the highest quality of meal, every meal all day long and a nonstop commitment to service. Being a military facility is no different.

U.S. Army Garrisons Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels proved they could meet that standard this year. The USAG Grafenwoehr Main Post Dining Facility Bldg 101 won the Philip A. Connelly Awards Program for excellence in Army food service for the large facility (301 meals or more per meal), while Hohenfels' Warrior Sports Cafe took the runner-up position in the small facilities category (300 meals or less per meal).

The Grafenwoehr Main Post Dining Facility has the stress a normal restaurant does due to the fluctuating customer numbers. These numbers don't just change by 20 or even 50 persons per meal, sometimes they increase my more than 100 meals served.

Although an average meal head count might be between 500-600 people, shift manager Irmgard Eckert says it's not uncommon to have a special request for an additional 500 meals made and sent to the field during a training exercise. This additional load must be cooked often before and sometimes between the breakfast and lunch rushes of more than 500 Soldiers and civilians per meal.

In addition to that challenge, the facility is run with a combination of Soldiers and civilians. Of the more than 100 employees, approximately 66 are military. This means that when a unit deploys, the facility loses from 1-10 employees at once.

Patrick Sonneman, manager of Grafenwoehr Main Post Dining Facility, said the DFAC has to bring in contract cooks until the unit returns, but with the financial recession, it may not always get as many contract cooks as it had Soldiers. Although DFAC has learned to adjust, it keeps Mr. Sonneman on his toes. He must constantly review who is coming and going to make sure he always has enough people to man the facility.

The facility will be judged again on 9 December to see if it meets the Department of the Army's level of excellence.

Sonneman said commitment to customer service is something he and his employees strive for every day, not just when they are being judged for an award.

Every year dining facilities all over the globe are put to the test to see if they can meet the challenge of being the best. However, the Connelly award's objective is not merely to decide who is good and who is not. The intent of the award is to meet three key objectives:
Aca,!Ac Improve the professionalism of food service personnel, thus providing the best quality food service to supported soldier diners.
Aca,!Ac Provide recognition for excellence in the preparation and serving of food in army troop dining facilities and during field kitchen operations.
Aca,!Ac Provide added incentive to competitive programs of installation management command (IMCOM) and army commands (ACOMS) by adding a higher level of competition and appropriate recognition.

"Preparation is daily, all year long," said Patrick Sonneman, "We strive to provide the same high quality service every day. That is food service excellence."

Kevin Lassiter, USAG Hohenfels Warrior Sports Cafe dining facility manager, said that this year was the first time since 2005 that the Warrior Sports Cafe has competed in the IMCOM/USAREUR competition for Hohenfels and it is the first year he has been the manager.

"In previous years," said Lassiter, "the garrison dining facility has competed for Hohenfels. The garrison DFAC closed at the end of April."

The Warrior Sports Cafe absorbed the staff from the garrison's dining facility after the closure so both teams are now at one facility.

"We don't really see that as a challenge, just something we have to adjust to," said Lassiter. "The staff did a great job. I think they did outstanding, just like they do every day. They care about what they do."

Both Sonneman and Lassiter said evaluations are based on whether the facilities are following proper procedures and regulations, using recipe cards, how the team handles the unexpected, if the cooks know why they do what they do and how the staff works together.

"Our job is taking care of Soldiers and I think they could see that is our priority," said Lassiter. "As long as this community is happy, that is what I care about."

The Philip A. Connelly Award Program was established March 23, 1968, to recognize excellence in Army Food Service. The program is named Philip A. Connelly after the former President of International Food Service Executives Association (IFA,A!SEA).Connelly was responsible for obtaining IFSEA's sponsorship of the event.

Editor's Note: Kristen Bradley, U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, contributed reporting.